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How Does a Song Get in the Top 40?
A rite of passage for musicians is having a song on the top 40 hits radio chart. The data analytics company Nielsen tracks what people are listening to every week in 19 different countries and compiles the information for Billboard music charts.
Mainstream Top 40
The top 40 hits are pulled by the Hot 100 list published weekly by Billboard magazine. There are a number of factors that determine whether a song makes the top 40 list. They include:
- Sales: Nielsen tracks all of the physical and digital record sales from 19 different countries including the United States and Canada. This includes venues, mass merchants, retail chains, independent stores and digital downloads.
- Streaming music: The number of plays on online radio stations like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Yahoo Music and AOL Music are counted toward the total number of streams. Playing a music video on YouTube also counts as a song play.
- Radio: Once a song becomes popular enough to be picked up by radio stations, it can gain a lot of traction and earn a spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Billboard Hot 100
The Billboard Hot 100 is published weekly by Billboard magazine. It’s a list of the most popular 100 songs in the U.S. Billboard also tracks whether a song is higher or lower on the charts each week, its peak position and its total weeks on the chart. You can watch the music video and listen to almost every song directly on the Billboard website.
In addition to the Hot 100, Billboard also tracks the Billboard 200 and the Artists 100. You can also view the top played songs on the radio, top streaming songs, top digital song sales and top hits of the year.
Hot 200 Albums Chart
The Hot 200 Albums Chart tracks the top-selling albums of the week. Often, the artist with the top-selling album is different from the artist with the top-selling single on the Billboard Hot 100. The Hot 200 Albums is released each Friday which is also the global release date for most new albums. To track sales and streaming, the Hot 200 Albums Chart schedule is delayed by a few days to encompass a full week of sales. For instance, if an album charts on January 27, it’s total number of listens will be from the January 12-January 18 tracking week.
Sales and Streaming
While album sales are dropping in recent years, the use of streaming services is rising. In recent years, audio- and video-on-demand streaming services have set record highs for streams. Music consumption is up, but music sales are down.
The biggest AM/FM radio in the world is iHeartRadio. Radio is still the most popular way to consume music. For an artist to make the Top 40, he or she needs to have high radio plays. Nielsen tracks radio stations all over the country and measures what songs are being played. This information helps Billboard track the top songs in the country.
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Digging the “Dancing Queen”: ABBA in 5 Songs
The Swedish music scene has produced some of the most celebrated singers and iconic producers of all time. However, none of this would’ve happened without the solid foundation laid by the country’s biggest band ever — ABBA.
Not many groups can match ABBA’s success. The Swedish quartet is composed of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, hence the name “ABBA” — it’s the first initial of all their first names. For decades, they’ve dominated the charts, dropping countless beloved singles. Don’t believe us? ABBA scored 25 Top 40 hits in the U.K.; 19 of those were also Top 10s, and an impressive nine went all the way to top position. And that was all achieved in just a nine-year span.
One of the best-selling music acts of all time, ABBA reigned supreme in the ‘70s, holding steady into the ‘80s as the definitive disco group of the era. And then they parted ways — well, until 2021. Just this past year, ABBA was nominated for a Grammy thanks to a single off their first album in 40 years . And although this album also marks the group’s last, there are so many hits in their existing catalog worth listening to — there are at least 123 songs, especially given the remixes or releases in other languages.
That fact alone makes it hard to whittle the Swedish pop group’s disco discography down to the five songs that best define them, but we’ll do our best to encapsulate the power of ABBA with these selections.
Even though the group’s official music career can be traced back to 1970, it wasn’t until four years later that they gained the worldwide fame and respect they deserved after dropping “ Waterloo ”. In essence, the song is a metaphor; in it, a woman surrenders to a man she’s been trying to resist. Famously, Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo, so it’s really a watershed moment for the song’s speaker.
Although it’s a simple song, “Waterloo” incorporates elements of rock and jazz — pretty typical of the group — but it also fuses something wholesome into the mix. The single meant a lot to the group, giving them the identity they hold today. After all, “Waterloo” was the first track released under ABBA’s name. An international hit, it shot straight to the top of the U.K. charts and charted in the U.S., too. Famously, it also won ABBA, and Sweden, the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest .
“Dancing Queen”, 1976
Very few songs are as universally beloved as “ Dancing Queen ,” arguably ABBA’s greatest hit of all time — at least according to leading music critics, like those over at Billboard . It features a catchy, keyboard-driven melody and well-crafted lyrics that perfectly capture the euphoria of falling in love on the dance floor.
“Dancing Queen” was the final song off ABBA’s fourth album, Arrival . It became a global success days after it dropped in August 1976, topping charts in a whopping 15 countries. It was a real embodiment of the pop-disco genre of the time. Not to mention, it was the only song of 14 ABBA singles to have made the Top 40 in the U.S. and claim the top spot. Today, “Dancing Queen” remains ABBA’s most-streamed single of all time across most major platforms, including Spotify and YouTube .
“Take a Chance on Me”, 1978
Although not as much of a success as ABBA’s previous singles, “ Take a Chance on Me ” points to the group’s knack for musicality, from a delightful opening to the heavenly and rhythmic backing vocals to the band’s signature sounds and unexpected sonic shifts. The group once again demonstrates their talent; they seem to never lose the knack for creating hits you want to sing and dance along to with others.
“Take a Chance on Me” may mark the group’s gradual shift from the youthful pop to more grown-up subject matters, but it feels so significant as one of the last ABBA songs to capture that joyful innocence of the band’s early years. And while it did top major charts internationally, the “Take a Chance on Me” era was certainly the end of an era — and the beginning of ABBA’s decline from their primetime years.
“Lay All Your Love on Me”, 1981
The late ‘70s marked the group’s journey toward a tragic breakup. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the group’s members became overwhelmed. Missed shows, substance use disorder and personal upheavals like divorce all marked this time. Nonetheless, ABBA produced the timeless hit “ Lay All Your Love on Me ” in 1981.
The song landed in the top spot on the U.S. dance chart and reached the top 10 in the U.K., becoming the biggest-selling 12-inch single. But, despite their joyful music, ABBA couldn’t be mistaken for a quartet of happy couples any longer. Agnetha and Björn announced their pending divorce in 1979, and Benny and Anni-Frid also split up at the beginning of 1981. All of this culminated in ABBA’s then-final performance as a group in 1982.
“I Still Have Faith in You”, 2021
And that brings us to today. “ I Still Have Faith in You ” is ABBA’s biggest song off their ninth studio album — and their first album in 40 years — Voyage . Part-gospel song, part-epic ballad, the song has all the grandeur of romance and the rock elements that have always helped ABBA stand out.
Described as “an ode to their friendship and to the bonds that have matured and survived despite divorce and heartbreak” by the BBC , “I Still Have Faith in You” charted on Billboard’s Global Top 200, and quickly earned the group a Gold certification in Sweden with more than 4 million copies sold. Not to mention, “I Still Have Faith in You” is the only single in ABBA’s entire career to earn them a Grammy Award nomination. But, more than that, it captures the essence of a band that defined a decade, and that still has legions of fans all over the world today.
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‘GREAT F–KIN’ IDEA!’: How Florida Georgia Line & Nelly’s ‘Cruise’ Teamup Made (Controversial) History
10 years ago, the team-up reinvigorated a hit and broke genre barriers and chart records, pointing the way to both the "bro-country" takeover and to historical imbalances still lingering in country.
By Natalie Weiner
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It started, as you might expect, with a truck.
“There were two dudes — I’m not joking — sitting on the tailgate of a truck across from my house,” Jesse Rice recalls of the first time he met Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, the singer-songwriters who would become Florida Georgia Line . It turned out they were his neighbors in a townhouse complex near Vanderbilt, and the duo had heard through the grapevine that Rice was a songwriter too. “We have a little duo, and we’re trying to get into country music,” the pair, still then students at Belmont University, told him. “We wanted to see if you’d like to write some time.”
Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’ Reaches RIAA Diamond Status
Rice agreed to write with them, and they became fast friends. Not long after, Chase Rice (no relation), another aspiring songwriter and Kelley’s childhood friend, started joining the casual writing/football-watching sessions fresh off a stint on Survivor: Nicaragua . Then, the quartet wrote one of the most successful and impactful country songs of all time.
“I knew it was special,” Jesse Rice recalls of the day they wrote “ Cruise .” “But I didn’t think it was going to change country music.”
The song-about-a-song is a straightforward-sounding, meticulously-constructed earworm that hinges on the most appealing and specific version of the now-ubiquitous masculine country checklist (lusty descriptions of women, backroads, trucks). It turned out to be something of a “generational gauntlet,” as critic Jody Rosen puts it — particularly in the form of its blockbuster Nelly-featuring remix, released 10 years ago this week. Its massive success colored much of what came after its 24 record-breaking weeks atop the Hot Country Songs chart, whether that was songs trying to imitate it or the tidal wave of critical backlash.
“It definitively announced that this marriage of hip hop and country was happening ,” Rosen says. “In commercial terms, in cultural terms, it’s got to be one of the 10 most important songs of the decade, of the past 20 years — whatever you got.”
“Cruise” and its pop experimentation paved the way for the vast majority of contemporary country music, in large part because of the way it seamlessly drew from an influence that, in previous iterations, mostly been cringeworthy: hip-hop. That innovation opened up Nashville’s sonic landscape in a way that’s still felt today – though it also tied it into a long history of one-way relationships between Black art and country music, which hasn’t necessarily gotten a lot more balanced in the years since.
“I used to freestyle over it, so I just sort of started freestyling that first verse,” Jesse Rice recalls. “We were kind of like, ‘Whoa, what’s that? That sounds really freakin’ cool.'” 45 minutes later, the initial version of “Cruise” was committed to tape — and they went back to working on “Rain.”
Initially Jesse Rice was the one performing “Cruise” when the four of them went on an early tour of college towns in the Southeast. But when Kelley came up and harmonized with him during a soundcheck in Starkville, Mississippi, it became apparent that it needed to be a Florida Georgia Line song. Kelley and Hubbard performed it together for the first time in Tuscaloosa. “It sounded amazing,” Jesse says. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s a no-brainer. You guys are gonna do that one for the rest of the tour.’”
Kelley and Hubbard took the song to then-rising producer Joey Moi for one of their very first recording sessions. Moi had “discovered” them at a county fair before signing them to a publishing deal with the company now known simply as Big Loud. “We were very, very green in the studio,” Hubbard remembers. “Everything about it was a learning experience.”
“The very first time we worked in the studio together, it was partially about breaking them of the mentality that going in to record the song doesn’t mean it’s done,” says Moi. “Let’s dig back into these lyrics and make this better.” So they tinkered, “tightening the screws” on the lyrics, as Kelley describes it, for a few hours — distilling the song’s core idea into a pop monolith.
Moi has been in it long enough that radio formats are effectively his first language: “FGL incorporated a lot more rhythmic elements and active rock,” he explains. “We got to this neat, rock-hybrid, very live-venue-friendly, high-energy type of place.”
But according to Moi and the other “Cruise” co-writers, the song just proved to be the perfect exemplar of the simmering shift already taking place around Nashville; Moi’s first big Nashville production, Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Night , had been something of an opening salvo, while Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” (2010) put hip-hop influences front and center (and later featured a Ludacris remix). “Cruise” would eventually take the top spot on the Hot Country Songs chart from Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” another take on Millennial-friendly country-pop crossover.
When Kelley and Hubbard stepped out of the studio, though, they weren’t thinking about any of that. “I mean, we couldn’t stop playing it ourselves,” Kelley recalls. “It felt so different and new, but it also felt like us. We felt like we were just onto something.”
They released the song, their very first single, to iTunes in April 2012. “I was like, ‘Damn, first single by a band that nobody knows? Nobody’s gonna hear this,'” says Chase Rice, who had thought the song might have a shot with a bigger act, like Luke Bryan. “Damn, was I wrong.”
He didn’t become that guy, signing FGL to Republic Nashville (a joint venture between Big Machine and Republic Records) in July 2012. Though there were some conversations inside the label about whether the satellite success of “Cruise” would translate over the terrestrial airwaves, and even whether they should send “Tip It Back” — a slightly more familiar-sounding song off the duo’s second EP — to radio first. Instead, they decided to move ahead with “Cruise,” and it made its way up the country charts.
As it reached its first country chart peak (and a No. 16 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 ) in December of 2012, Republic Nashville started floating the idea of sending the song to pop radio — a decision that was still somewhat radical in the self-isolating world of commercial country music. “We wanted to solidify ourselves in Nashville and country radio,” Moi told Billboard of considering a pop push in 2013. “We were very hesitant. It was just kind of a scary thought, of trying to cross over.”
Still, Republic sent the record to producer Jason Nevins, who had achieved overseas success with a number of house-driven hip-hop remixes in the late ’90s and early ’00s, with the idea of creating a club-ready option for “Cruise” — something similar to the promotional “ mixshow edit ” he’d done for FGL’s Republic Nashville labelmates The Band Perry the year prior.
That idea was simple: Nelly . 12 years after Country Grammar and “Ride Wit Me,” the melodic MC could join yet another breezy, summertime, driving-with-the-windows-down song — one penned by a few guys who had realistically been as influenced by the St. Louis rapper’s music as they had by any of their Nashville forebears. (FGL and Nelly would eventually perform the songs back to back at the American Music Awards .) It had been several years since the rapper had a bona fide smash, and his country resume — duetting with Tim McGraw on 2004’s “Over And Over” — was just a bonus.
Nevins still has the email that Republic CEO Monte Lipman wrote back. It was three words, in big red letters: “GREAT F–KIN’ IDEA!” “Monte never writes emails to me like that,” Nevins says. “So I knew I was onto something.” Nelly was on Republic Records at the time, so there were no administrative hurdles.
The producer stripped “Cruise” down to the studs, omitting all the banjo and dobro that had made it fit in on country radio and rebuilding it around a less genre-specific and very Top 40-friendly sound. “That was the one area where we were skeptical,” says Moi. “We were like, ‘It’s really country — it’s going to take a lot to really land it in that space.'”
Very little of the original — besides the song itself — survived the transformation: twangy Telecaster riffs turned into new, hyper-processed vocal lines courtesy of Hubbard and Kelley, and acoustic guitar was pushed into the background to showcase the wall of harmonies.
The result was singular. A smiling country song with veneers, it combined the rabid, over-the-top party spirit of the EDM era with an enviably carefree, breezy backroads affect. Nelly’s verse, in which he rehashes the chorus with characteristic panache, is the cherry on top — the ultimate nostalgic, full-circle moment for an artist whose professional debut centered on touting his country bona fides.
Needless to say, the remix worked. Released to iTunes on April 2, 2013, it was downloaded 186,000 times its first week, immediately returning the song to the Hot 100 at No. 8 and sending it to its sixth week atop Hot Country Songs. The song was already double platinum; it would go platinum six times over by the end of 2013, and spend 24 total weeks atop Hot Country Songs — the longest run in that chart’s history, until Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” toppled the record in 2017. (FGL would almost immediately reclaim the title in 2018 with their Bebe Rehxa collaboration “Meant To Be,” and have held it since.)
The remix peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100, with the song spending 54 weeks total on the chart; it reached the top 10 on the Adult and Mainstream Top 40 charts as well, cementing its crossover appeal. Overall, the song is platinum 14 times over — diamond and then some — as of last October. All Billboard chart metrics and RIAA certifications combine the numbers for the original version with the remix, so it’s hard to know which record ultimately proved to be the most popular. But there’s no question that it was the remix that sparked “Cruise” to ubiquity — to the impossible-to-ignore success that made the song the line between one era of country music and another.
Of course, it sparked legions of imitators, most immediately a somewhat halfhearted remix of FGL’s own Luke Bryan collaboration “This Is How We Roll” with Jason Derulo (which reached Top 40 and was quite successful, albeit nowhere near the scale of “Cruise”). Rosen wrote a piece for New York Magazine about it that had nearly as much of an impact on country music as the song itself: “ On the Rise of Bro-Country ,” which coined the term that’s been bandied about ever since, most often as an indictment of the most superficial and laziest tendencies of country music’s commercially driven side.
The term became incredibly popular, mostly for use as a cudgel against the trend that FGL had crystallized with “Cruise.” “If I’m being honest, that s–t really drives me bananas,” says Jesse Rice. “You want to call ‘Cruise’ bro-country? ‘Cruise’ is a very complex song … not all of [that kind of music] is good, and maybe most of it wasn’t good, but I think it demeans some of it that was really good. Especially when you’re hearing it from people you’re working with in Nashville.”
“Bro-country” became inescapable as an idea, though, partly due to the lack of a better term for the sea change happening in the music. “Even at the time, you could recognize that there was some kind of changing of the guard going,” Rosen says now, echoing sentiments he predicted back in his 2013 piece. “That assessment still feels right in retrospect.”
It was, indeed, a turning point, on a scale even larger than Rosen had foreseen. “Cruise” emerged at the dawn of the streaming age, when genreless consumption — already a dominant mode — was on the cusp of taking over. The unbothered blending of country, rock and hip-hop influences that became Florida Georgia Line’s specialty would reshape country’s commercial sound completely, to the chagrin of both traditionalists and outsiders — and expand its reach exponentially.
“Whether you like what happened after that or you hate it, it took country music to a whole other level,” says Chase Rice. “For better or worse, it’s just never going away.”
It also took almost everyone involved to a whole other level, including Chase, who became a solo hitmaker in his own right; Moi, who became one of the genre’s most sought-after producers; Big Loud as an entreprise, and of course FGL as an act, with its 16 Country Airplay No. 1s and the genre’s first diamond-certified song. “Culturally and creatively, it just felt like the format was ready for a little bit more of a progressive sound,” adds Moi. “We just happened to land at the exact right time.”
“In the post-‘Cruise’ era, it feels like production is really important in country in a way maybe it hadn’t been,” Rosen says now. “The beats came in, hip-hop entered the picture. That is a marker now of all these acts, whether they’re really, truly conversant in hip-hop, or they just have a certain kind of rhythm in their sound.”
In other words, country evolved for a new generation and a wider audience in the same way it always has — on the back of Black art and artists. The biggest achievement of “Cruise,” in that light, is that it actually made a Black artist inextricable from a country hit that drew from Black music; that there was some degree of payoff to its casual appropriation. That piece of its success was, notably, not imitated. Black artists have faced as many barriers to contributing to Nashville’s music industry as they ever have over the past decade: for every artist like Kane Brown, Breland, Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton who’s made inroads at country radio and on the charts, there’s been something to remind those artists of their otherness or make them feel like outsiders .
An oft-retold story among those who helped shape “Cruise” comes down to its most memorable hook, which also happens to be its opening line: “Baby you a song, you make me wanna roll my windows down, and cruuuuuuise.” Kelley, Chase Rice and Jesse Rice had originally written the line as, “Baby you’re like a song…”, and performed it that way for a while before Kelley and Hubbard elected to take it to Moi as a potential addition to their second EP.
These kinds of happy-for-executives coincidences typically get explained away with ease. “They grew up listening to hip-hop as well as country,” Scott Borchetta, founder of the Big Machine Label Group, explained to the Washington Post in 2013 of the growing number of country artists incorporating hip-hop in their music. “It’s coming out in their music because it’s in their DNA.”
It certainly makes sense that hip-hop influences felt as intuitive for FGL-generation country artists as for any others who have come of age since hip-hop became mainstream pop. Watching Nelly perform alongside the duo, though, is a stark reminder of how in that exchange of ideas, the money tends to only flow one way; that while it might feel like hip-hop is “in [FGL’s] DNA,” it’s not. The intervening years have brought more efforts by both FGL and Nelly (among a number of other well-intentioned and like-minded artists) to correct that inequity. But “Baby you a song” isn’t just like Country Grammar — it is country grammar, a grammar that is as influential in country music today as ever.
The push and pull between progressive-minded inclusion and the genre-agnostic artistry it can create, and appropriation — from barely perceptible to egregious and everything in between — lives within “Cruise” and its legacy. The song’s victory, though, was the integration of a Black hip-hop artist into a huge hit that anyone asked would call country, and the destruction, however temporarily, of the fundamental, racist genre divide that has defined American recorded music from the start.
That brought them their other win: an addictive, electric pop song whose reach and inventiveness has not yet been exactly replicated, despite seemingly all of Nashville’s best efforts. “We’re looking for the next ‘Cruise’,” Jesse Rice remembers hearing in the aftermath, as labels banged down his door. “No s–t’, you’re looking for the next ‘Cruise,'” he says. “You and everybody .”
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Cruise (Remix) [feat. Nelly] - Single
January 1, 2013 1 Song, 3 minutes ℗ 2013 Big Machine Label Group, LLC
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