As pop music’s summer season hits its stride, the race at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 single chart is generating heat.
If Columbia Records has any say in the matter, at the end of the month Lil Nas X’s left-field smash ‘Old Town Road’ will surpass four months at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.
It’s a marker that only two other songs in history — Mariah Carey’s ‘One Sweet Day’ and ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee — have achieved: 16 weeks at No 1.
As a signal boost, on Thursday night Lil Nas X issued a new remix, this one featuring charismatic rapper Young Thug and viral yodelling tyke Mason Ramsey. The aim: adding enough energy to drive ‘Old Town Road’ toward a historic, chart-topping run of 17 weeks.
The problem? Billie Eilish’s summer stunner ‘Bad Guy’ has been hovering near the top spot for nearly as long, and on Thursday afternoon the Highland Park-raised hit maker dropped her long-rumoured Justin Bieber remix of her breakout song. The idea is that, just as country singer Billy Ray Cyrus’ remix helped ‘Old Town Road’ achieve ubiquity in the spring, Bieber will push ‘Bad Guy’ to overtake ‘Old Town Road.’
“They’re all aiming for the record books,” says Lenny Beer, editor in chief of the music-industry trade journal Hits. “It doesn’t matter if the Billboard charts are right or wrong. It’s history that matters.”
The duelling tracks highlight what some might call a remix loophole in the Billboard chart system, one that artists have exploited as a way to maintain buzz once a song gains traction on the singles chart. Billboard will combine the performance data on all three versions of ‘Old Town Road’ — original, original remix and new remix — to determine the song’s chart position.
Billboard calculates a song’s success through a complex equation that involves tiers adjusted according to format. On-demand streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, for example, are weighted more than ad-supported radio-style platforms such as Pandora. Billboard also factors in terrestrial radio play, YouTube views and more.
Across four months, ‘Old Town Road’ has banked the numbers. During its reign at No 1, the song blocked A-list releases from Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Post Malone and Shawn Mendes from hitting the top.
It remains to be seen whether the Eilish and Bieber tag-team on ‘Bad Guy’ is charged enough to topple the new ‘Old Town Road’ remix, though. Not only does the new take add in Atlanta hotshot Young Thug — a feature that had long been rumoured — but Lil Nas X went a few steps further by tapping meme star Ramsey.
Made famous through a video of him yodelling in an aisle at Walmart, Ramsey and his twangy energy seems designed to get morning radio and TV hosts chatting about ‘Old Town Road’ for a few more crucial weeks.
Musically, the new Bieber version of Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ is nearly identical, give or take a few sonic tweaks. Vocally, though, Bieber jumps into the new version with a few evenly measured grunts and an add-on verse that turns Eilish’s lyrical op-ed on her titular dude into a back-and-forth between her and him.
“Honestly, no agenda at all. Just pure fun,” Eilish’s spokeswoman said in an email when asked about the Thursday release. She added that the remix was “timed nicely for her hometown shows in LA,” the last of which occurred Thursday at the Greek.
Given the prestige that comes with earning a No 1, it only makes sense that Eilish’s imprints, Interscope and Darkroom, make their play for the top slot now.
As for the timing of the remix of the remix of ‘Old Town Road?’ “That’s total counter-programming,” remarked an industry insider.
After all, few remember who had the second most popular song of the summer.