Following up a hit song, especially a big chart-topping hit, can be one of the best moments in a pop act’s career. But it’s also one of the most difficult; you could be Katy Perry, scoring five No. 1s in a row, or you could be Daniel Powter, who missed the Hot 100 entirely with the follow-up to “Bad Day.” On one hand, the act has momentum; on the other hand, the act has nowhere to go but down. A second single is often where an up-and-comer falls into the one-hit wonder trap, and even established acts can wonder if they just enjoyed their last chart-topper.
So it always fascinates me to see what songs artists choose to follow hot on the heels of a big hit—whether they try to repeat that success with a stylistically similar song, or take a left turn to prove their versatility or court a different audience—and how they fare.
From 2000 to 2010, 147 different songs occupied the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100. Nearly all of those songs were followed a few months later by another single by the same artist, usually from the same album; in some cases, the No. 1 came from a soundtrack or compilation, and in others it was the last single from an album cycle. 19% of those 147 chart-toppers were immediately followed by the artist’s next single reaching the same heights. 54% of the follow-ups were top-ten hits; 78% were top 40 hits. Only 10% of all those No. 1s yielded follow-ups that didn’t even penetrate the Hot 100.
Rihanna has had plenty of opportunities to follow up No. 1 songs with either surefire smashes or curveballs. The first three singles from her last album, 2010’s Loud, reached No. 1. But after the third, “S&M,” she took a break from uptempo pop and R&B tracks and put out “California King Bed,” a guitar-driven ballad that failed to launch her successfully into the adult-contemporary format,and peaked on the Hot 100 at No. 37. At the same time, the return to her Caribbean roots “Man Down” became the rare Rihanna single that did better on urban radio than pop radio. But its R&B radio success didn’t translate to a Top 40 chart position, leaving it to peak at No. 59 on the Hot 100. Since then, she’s returned to the top 10 with another uptempo party track, “Cheers,” and she may soon have her next No. 1 with “We Found Love,” the clubby lead single from her next album that debuted this week at No. 16.
Since “S&M” topped the charts in April, five songs have reached No. 1 on the Hot 100. The strategy for capitalizing on those chart-toppers has differed from song to song. Pitbull notched his first No. 1 with the Ne-Yo crossover smash “Give Me Everything” but his follow-up single—a collaboration with Marc Anthony, who hasn’t had much Hot 100 action in the decade since “I Need To Know” and “You Sang To Me” blanketed playlists—seems to be playing to his base. “Rain Over Me” has so far only climbed to No. 30, and I imagine that it won’t go any higher, and that Pitbull will quickly follow it with something with broader appeal.
“Give Me Everything” was followed to No. 1 by a similarly dancey pop-rap smash, LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Elsewhere in the world, the douchey pair of Berry Gordy relations already followed the global smash’s success with the single “Champagne Showers,” which received a mixed response. But in the U.S., the follow-up to “Party Rock Anthem” is “Sexy And I Know It,” which this week jumped from No. 25 to No. 10. It seems like the kind of slight, goofy song that’s not destined to hit No. 1, but then, I once thought the same thing about “Party Rock Anthem.”
Katy Perry is a classic example of how No. 1s often beget more No. 1s. She’s still riding high on the five consecutive chart-topping singles from Teenage Dream, and just as a few months ago the question was whether “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” could keep the run going, the question is now whether “The One That Got Away” can bring that number to six. Betting against Katy in 2011 seems like a fool’s game, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the song will break her streak, even if the roll she’s on all but guarantees it will climb into the top 10.
“Someone Like You” has been the second No. 1 in a row from Adele’s 21 in many countries, including most recently the U.S. “Set Fire To The Rain” has been the album’s third single in most of Europe, but its success has not been as widespread as that of the two megahits that preceded it, only topping charts in Belgium and the Netherlands. “Set Fire” has already had some modest Hot 100 action, peaking at No. 72, and it will surely go higher if it gets a big push as the third American single. But I somehow doubt it will be another big stateside hit for Adele.
The recent chart-topping act that’s most ill-equipped to follow up its single’s success? Current champs Maroon 5. After the band’s third album Hands All Over stiffed last fall, with all three of its initial singles missing the top 10, frontman Adam Levine focused on a new gig as a judge and mentor on The Voice. Levine went in the studio with co-judge Christina Aguilera, as well as hitmaking pop producers Shellback and Benny Blanco, and came out with “Moves Like Jagger,” which quickly eclipsed the success of all the band’s other recent singles.
So now Maroon 5 have a huge hit that, despite the presence of the whole band in the song’s video, is a Maroon 5 song in name only; it’s essentially a Levine solo track that sounds little like the full-band tracks on Hands All Over. The album was re-released in a deluxe, “Jagger”-aided edition, and it re-entered the top 10 of the Billboard 200 a full year after its original release. But will the band draw from the original album for follow-up single, or perhaps hope for another fluke hit with a different bonus track—like perhaps their cover of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”? More likely, the record the band is already planning to release in 2012 will attempt to capitalize on the success of “Jagger” with more collaborations with hot pop producers. In the meantime, the Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Hearts,” on which Levine provides the hook, is sitting at No. 5. It’s not a stretch to think that he might return to the top of the chart with a different band entirely.