The Week In Pop

When Career Artists Score A Freak Pop Hit

One-hit wonders are a common phenomenon in the music business, and most of them have a fan base that insists their other songs are just as good. It’s rarer, though, to see a well established band break through with a surprise pop hit more than a decade into its career, “She Don’t Use Jelly” style. Festival circuit mainstays Portugal. The Man are enjoying just such a success with “Feel It Still,” which rises to a new #30 peak on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart this week — lodged between Khalid’s “Location” and Kygo & Selena Gomez’s “It Ain’t Me” — after experiencing the biggest airplay gain of any song in America.

“Feel It Still,” a minimalist funk track powered by propulsive bass and singer John Gourley’s falsetto, is exactly the sort of song that tends to cross over: playful, danceable, genre-defiant, retro-leaning yet crisply and modernly produced, friendly and approachable enough to soundtrack a commercial. It’s right in line with other songs from the alt-rock radio/music festival ecosystem that have climbed the Hot 100 this decade: Think of Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” (which peaked at #3) or the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” (#3) or Capital Cities’ “Safe And Sound” (#8). “Feel It Still” hasn’t matched those hits’ ubiquity yet, but it’s already climbed higher than Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied” (#42) and Empire Of The Sun’s “Walking On A Dream” (#65) and is quickly approaching the heights of Florence And The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” (#21) and Of Monsters And Men’s “Little Talks” (#20). It reminded me of viral video specialists OK Go even before it soundtracked a vitaminwater ad in which Aaron Paul dances on a treadmill.

Artists release zillions of songs like “Feel It Still” every year in the hopes of breaking through at alternative radio (where “Feel It Still” has been #1 for five weeks) or even crossing over to pop stations (where “Feel It Still” has been picking up steam). Thanks to poptimism, gentrification, and the gradual breakdown of genre barriers, alt-rock radio sounds increasingly similar to pop radio anyway, and a significant portion of artists in the former universe seem expressly gunning for the latter. Call it festival-core: that brand of marginally quirky easy listening “indie rock” that mostly germinates in the lower rungs of the major-label system.

Portugal. The Man are festival-core thoroughbreds but not necessarily aspiring hit-makers. Unlike almost every other artist mentioned here so far, their big pop breakthrough did not happen on their first album but their eighth. Although they’ve had a handful of songs scrape the lower reaches of the alternative radio charts over the years, mostly they’ve been focused on touring hard and churning out albums with startling frequency; before the four-year break leading up to this year’s Woodstock, the band released seven LPs in eight years. More so than many of their festival-core contemporaries, they seem like genuine oddballs: an annoyingly punctuated proggy psych-pop quartet from Alaska who once titled an album The Satanic Satanist. And they originate from a different generation of industry-supported underground rock, from a time when these kinds of crossovers were far rarer.

LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” — these could be the basis of an excellent Blog Rock’s Greatest Hits compilation, but none of them cracked the Hot 100. Neither did Peter Bjorn And John’s “Young Folks” or Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes’ “Home,” two tunes that once seemed to be part of the atmosphere. MGMT’s once-inescapable “Kids” only made it to #91 on the Hot 100, and neither “Electric Feel” nor “Time To Pretend” charted at all. Phoenix only got to #84 with “1901.” In that context, it’s far wilder that Feist went all the way to #8 with “1, 2, 3, 4″ and that M.I.A. soared to #4 with “Paper Planes.” Such feats are still impressive today, but adding streaming to the chart equation has made it easier for songs to climb the charts without radio support.

Radio support still makes a difference — “Feel It Still” wouldn’t have made it this far without it — but back in the George W. Bush era it was essential to cracking the Hot 100. In the internet age radio stations have historically waited to throw their support behind bands until they’ve already built a fervent fan base and become part of the major-label apparatus, which partially explains why some acts’ biggest Hot 100 hits are not the songs you’d think. For instance, the Shins have but one Hot 100 hit to their name: not Garden State ballad/McDonalds jingle “New Slang” but “Phantom Limb” at #86. Similarly, the Strokes only ever landed one song on the Hot 100, and it wasn’t “Last Nite” or anything off Is This It — it was “Juicebox” at #98. “Float On” managed to rise to #68, but Modest Mouse’s highest-charting hit is “Dashboard” at #61.

What does all this mean for Portugal. The Man? A lot in the short term, but probably not much down the line. For now they’ll enjoy some cool life experiences like playing Colbert and the financial benefits of a bigger font on next year’s festival posters. When the hype dies down they’ll likely return to some semblance of their old career, never come close to the Hot 100 again, and field requests for “Feel It Still” for the rest of their days — a fate Gourley seems fine with. “We just came here to fuck shit up,” he told Billboard. “That’s why we started to play music — get in a van, go play and have a good time.” Whether or not you like “Feel It Still,” it’s satisfying to see a band with that attitude stumble into an achievement so many other artists are cravenly pursuing at all costs.

CHART WATCH

The big action this week is on the Hot 100 singles chart, where “Despacito” has moved into a tie for the second longest tenure at #1. Billboard reports that Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and (sometimes) Justin Bieber have topped the chart for 14 straight weeks, matching the tenure of seven other hits:

“Uptown Funk!,” Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, Jan. 17, 2015
“I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas, July 11, 2009
“We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey, June 4, 2005
“Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” Elton John, Oct. 11, 1997
“Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” Los Del Rio, Aug. 3, 1996
“I’ll Make Love to You,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 27, 1994
“I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston, Nov. 28, 1992

One more week at #1 and “Despacito” will claim second place all for itself. Two more weeks and it will tie Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” for first place. Three more weeks and it will set a new record. It already became the most-watched YouTube video of all time in record time, too. We may be experiencing the biggest hit in modern pop music history! These are indeed exciting times for musical stat geeks.

DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller holds steady at #2, as does French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” at #3. Imagine Dragons, Charlie Puth, and Shawn Mendes each reach new peaks with “Believer” at #4, “Attention” at #5, and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” at #6 respectively.

After Bruno Mars’ former chart-topper “That’s What I Like” at #7 comes Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” at #8. Per Billboard she’s the first woman rapper to hit the top 10 with her debut Hot 100 single since Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and the first to hit the top 10 with no guests on a track since Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” plus the song rose faster to the top 10 than any woman’s debut single since Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” All those milestones date back to 2014, when women were running the charts. (Not so much these days.)

Closing out the top 10 are two more former #1 hits: Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” at #9 and Khaled’s “I’m The One” featuring Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Wayne at #10.

As for the album chart, it’s such a down week that Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. returns to #1 for a fourth nonconsecutive frame four months after its release. The album tops the chart with 47,000 equivalent units — the second lowest total for a #1 album since Billboard began factoring streams into the album chart in late 2014 — and only 11,000 in sales. That takes some of the shine off the #2 debut for country singer Brett Eldredge’s self-titled album, which enters with 45,000 units and 36,000 in sales. It does qualify as his highest-charting album ever, besting 2015’s #3-peaking Illinois (which, as far as I know, was not a 10th anniversary tribute to the Sufjan Stevens album of the same name).

The latest from DJ Khaled and Meek Mill are at #3 and #4 respectively. Debuting at #5 with 31,000 units (all sales) is the Now 63 comp. 21 Savage, Ed Sheeran, and Imagine Dragons are at 6-7-8. Finally, SZA’s Ctrl and Khalid’s American Teen climb back up to #9 and #10 respectively, almost entirely due to streaming.

POP FIVE

Justin Bieber & BloodPop – “Friends”
This is hard to get excited about but also hard to get mad about. I can’t get over how much it sounds like the exact average of every song on pop radio; I expected Bieber to move on to a new sound, not just burrow deeper into the middle. Nonetheless, I will probably find myself humming it in absentminded moments.

Jessie J – “Real Deal”
I like how the production here sounds like ’90s boom-bap crossed with the endless squealing synths from Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” and I love how at the bridge basically morphs into a Destiny’s Child song.

Marshmello – “Silence” (Feat. Khalid)
Keep the Khalid collabs coming! Everything this guy applies his voice to sounds like gold to me.

Vice – “Obsession” (Feat. Jon Bellion & Kyle)
Kyle is now famous enough that big-budget pop producers will recruit him to do a Chance The Rapper impression when they can’t get Chance himself.

Wale – “My Love” (Feat. Major Lazer, WizKid, & Dua Lipa)
The summer of the pop posse cut rolls on!

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Bruno Mars donated $1 million of proceeds from his Auburn Hills, MI concert to provide aid to the victims of the Flint water crisis. [Freep]
  • Deadmau5 got married but didn’t wear his mouse head at the ceremony for some reason. [Hollywood Life]
  • Halsey is on the cover of the new issue of Playboy. [Playboy]
  • Lady Gaga will give a deposition in the Kesha/Dr. Luke alleged sexual abuse legal battle. [E!]
  • Taylor Swift sent flowers to the staff at Craftsy, who had been sharing messages of encouragement in Post-Its on their office windows throughout her trial. [Twitter]
  • Katy Perry and her ex Orlando Bloom reunited at Ed Sheeran’s LA show over the weekend. [TMZ]
  • Logic made an animated appearance on Rick And Morty. [Pitchfork]
  • Don Cheadle and Matthew Modine appear in Logic’s “1-800-273-8255″ video about a gay teen finding acceptance. [YouTube]
  • Zedd and Liam Payne were seen busking in London, reportedly for part of a music video. [Twitter]
  • The official soundtrack album for This Is Us season 1, featuring Sufjan Stevens and Mandy Moore, is out next month. [EW]
  • Jordin Sparks and Thomas Rhett will be judges at the Miss America pageant. [ABC News]
  • Fergie’s new album Double Dutchess will be available for pre-order 8/25. [Twitter]
  • J. Cole is executive producing Raising Bertie, a PBS documentary that follows “three African American boys as they face a precarious coming of age in rural Bertie County, North Carolina.” [The Boombox]
  • Ed Sheeran made a surprise appearance onstage with Shawn Mendes in Brooklyn last night. [YouTube]
  • Calvin Harris will perform at Rihanna’s Diamond Ball charity gala in NYC next month. Maybe they’ll do “We Found Love”? [AP]
  • In other Rihanna news, here are some official new Rihanna socks. [Stance]
  • Maroon 5’s Adam Levine upon accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Teen Choice Awards on Sunday: “Thank you. Our sixth and final album is coming out in November … I’m joking. We are never gonna go away.” [YouTube]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME