After nine weeks hovering impatiently at number two in the US singles chart, Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ has finally toppled Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ from the summit, securing her a first number one in her home country. Billboard reported that 39.1m US streams and 20k download sales – up 10% and 11% week-on-week respectively – helped ‘Bad Guy’ over the line.
“congratulations to billie eilish!! u deserve this!!” tweeted Lil Nas X, although Music Ally especially enjoyed his follow-up GIF of Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants begging on the street accompanied by the text “me when columbia drop me from the label because billie eilish took the number 1 spot”. It’s not a stretch to suggest Lil Nas X has already shown the creativity to avoid being trapped in one-hit-wonderland.
What else can we learn from the ‘Old Town Road’ / ‘Bad Guy’ chart battle? There are some important takeaways on the emerging art and science of extending the life-cycle of a hit for as long as possible in the streaming / social era. Strategically (or sometimes just opportunistically) timed remixes – Eilish with Justin Bieber, Lil Nas X with… everyone – played their part.
So did video drops: ‘Bad Guy’ came out in late March, but last week Eilish released a new vertical video for the track, for example. And in her case, even cassettes played a role: a new ‘Bad Guy’ signed tape was released in the US last week, complete with a digital-single download. Doubtless other artists and labels will look to learn from these and other aspects of the long-burning success of ‘Bad Guy’ and ‘Old Town Road’ this year, but the exciting thing is that there’s no set template for this kind of hit-extension: it’s as much about off-the-cuff experimentation.
And resources, of course. There’s a LOT of marketing weight behind Billie Eilish, as has been well-documented, and while ‘Old Town Road’ started as a DIY hit out of nowhere, Columbia turned the afterburners on after signing Lil Nas X. So while Music Ally is always happy to celebrate the marketing moulds being broken (or at least reshaped) by individual campaigns, there’s still a debate to be had about what kind of resources and support you *really* need for a chart-hogging hit of this scale in the streaming era.
(One final thought though: streaming ‘success’ shouldn’t just mean that kind of scale. The more exciting thing is about how artists and labels with less resources can adapt some of the ideas from the mega-campaigns for their own purposes, while also experimenting in other creative ways to extend the revenue-generating life-cycle of their music. At the grass-roots level, there are already some good success stories, and we expect to see many more.)