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Music

The Week in Number Ones: 'Encanto', Mimi Webb, and Harry Nilsson hit the charts

@TylerGolsen

Welcome back to The Week in Number Ones, where all the biggest movers from the US and UK charts get condensed into one article. Last week, we got into the nitty-gritty on Ed Sheeran’s endless barrage of the charts, Dr. Dre’s renaissance thanks to his Super Bowl Halftime Show, Van Halen’s only appearance at the top of the charts with ‘Jump’ in 1984.

In chart news that isn’t being covered down below, Beach House has landed at number one on the Billboard Top Album Sales chart with Once Twice Melody, largely thanks to vinyl sales. Billboard has so many hyper-specific charts that it can’t unequivocally be said that Beach House have the number one album in America, but it’s still a major win for the Baltimore-based dream pop duo.

Speaking of gothic synth-rock, Bauhaus have returned and announced their first series of live shows in 16 years. With Rage Against the Machine and Pavement also set to hit the road this year, 2022 is looking to be a good time for nostalgia alt-rock. No better way to kick back at the evils of capitalism than by paying $200 to see Rage play ‘Bulls on Parade’ in an arena, after all. Not that I’m complaining – I’ll be there too, contemplating Marxism while Tom Morello pulverizes by eardrums with his wacky guitar noises.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty slow news week, although apparently, there’s something called “WW3” that’s about to go down. It’s probably fallen through the crack thanks to the mighty return of Avril Lavigne, so it’s understandable if you’re out of the loop.

This week, Encanto is still on full blast in every minivan across the US and UK. Meanwhile, Mimi Webb rises from TikTok popularity to genuine chart domination, Billboard can’t let go of its favourite songs, and Harry Nilsson’s atypical career gets put under the microscope as we round up all the best chart news of the modern-day and of the recent past.

Current UK Number One: ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – The Cast of Disney’s Encanto

Yup, we’re still talking about Bruno. If you have two ears and a brain (or especially if you happen to have kids), you don’t need me to tell you that ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ from Disney’s Encanto is still dominating pop culture. The sustained success of the track is starting to eclipse the initial records it broke as an animated song. Now we’re talking about all-time movie themes: ‘I Will Always Love You’ from The Bodyguard or ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ isn’t at that level yet, but with a few more weeks at number one, it certainly has to start becoming part of the narrative.

This week’s big story in the top ten is British pop wunderkind Mimi Webb, whose new song ‘House on Fire’ debuted at number six. You know how it works these days: an artist has a song that gets traction on TikTok, and all of a sudden, they get vaulted to the centre of the pop universe. That’s what happened to Glass Animals’ ‘Heat Wave’, that’s what happened to Lauren Spencer-Smith’s ‘Fingers Crossed’, and that’s what happened to Webb’s ‘Before I Go’. At this point, Charli D’Amelio has more sway in the music industry than Rick Rubin. 

In October of 2021, Webb released her debut EP, Seven Shades of Heartbreak. It’s fairly generic dance-pop, but Webb is certainly riding a wave. For her next move, Webb decided to streamline her sound for maximum impact: two minutes, two verses, and a monster hook.

‘House on Fire’ is a throwback to the kind of bombastic pop music that was huge in the 2010s. I like to call this “Pre-Eilish Pop” since pop music generally turned minor key and minimalist once Billie and Finneas began to hit it big. ‘House on Fire’ has no problem being maximalist, throwing pulsating synths, gigantic drum beats, and endless layers of vocals into the mix. A good old-fashioned revenge fantasy, Webb makes arson sound like the peak of self-empowerment. 

The lasting shockwaves of Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Good 4 U’ are still being felt on the charts. The celebratory kiss-off that brought pop-punk (and Paramore) to a new generation has blazed a trail for songs like Gayle’s ‘ABCDEFU’ and Webb’s ‘House on Fire’ to find major chart success. ‘Good 4 U’ is still hanging around the charts, currently sitting at number 62 in the UK and number 27 in the US, but the imitators are starting to come out in full force.

UK Singles Top Ten (Week of March 2nd, 2022):

  1. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – Disney’s Encanto Cast
  2. ‘Peru’ – Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran
  3. ‘Surface Pressure’ – Jessica Darrow (from Disney’s Encanto)
  4. ‘Where Are You Now’ – Lost Frequencies/Calum Scott
  5. ‘Make Me Feel Good’ – Belters Only ft. Jazzy
  6. ‘House on Fire’ – Mimi Webb
  7. ‘Seventeen Going Under’ – Sam Fender
  8. ‘The Family Madrigal’ – Stephanie Beatriz (from Disney’s Encanto)
  9. ‘Down Under’ – Luude ft. Colin Hay
  10. ‘Overseas’ – D-Block Europe ft. Central Cee

Current US Number One: ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – The Cast of Disney’s Encanto

So this was something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, but does anyone know how the Billboard Hot 100 works nowadays? That might seem like a strange question to ask, but the truth is that Billboard is notoriously vague about how and why certain songs land on the chart.

Here’s what we know: traditional music sales, like single purchases, were historically the chart’s metric. But these days, when streaming is the dominant format that music is consumed, the Billboard charts have adjusted to include the new formats. But nobody seems to know exactly how these streams are tabulated or what kind of weight they’re given. Billboard initially had a separate streaming chart, but now that more people take in music on Spotify than anywhere else, the company has had to integrate those sales into their main chart.

The Hot 100 is notoriously slow in reacting to technological updates. Only singles given an official physical release in the US were originally eligible, but when that prevented songs like No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ and Goo Goo Dolls’ ‘Iris’ from landing on the chart, Billboard decided to rectify the technicality and expand their inclusion to any and all songs. But their means of tabulating sales, especially when it comes to streams, remixes, bundles, and other modern music phenomena, has caused the company’s tracking and calculations to become convoluted.

Or at least, they’ve become allegedly convoluted. Billboard is relatively hush-hush when it comes to showing how the sausage is made. The official word is that traditional metrics like the number of streams and number of YouTube views are combined with the calculations from other charts, like the Hot 100 Airplay and Streaming Songs charts, to make the final Hot 100. But with that many moving parts, it’s difficult to truly know how a song gets to number one in the modern-day.

The reason I bring it up is that the modern Hot 100 is a completely different chart than it was in, say, 1967 or 1985. Comparing number one songs from different eras is wonderful, but it’s becoming less and less reflective of the newest changes in pop culture the way that the old charts were. Having ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ land at number one every holiday season is indicative of a modern trend, but it also blurs the lines between eras in a strange way. The story behind Mariah Carey’s yuletide dominance is actually a story about how streaming has changed the music industry, but that context might get lost as trends continue to evolve.

So, if you ever look at the Hot 100 and wonder why all the songs seem to be the same week after week, it’s because Billboard has dictated it to be that way thanks to their complex compilation methods. That’s probably not great for interest in the chart, but it’s definitely good for Encanto.

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 (Week of March 5th, 2022):

  1. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – Disney’s Encanto Cast
  2. ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals
  3. ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle
  4. ‘Easy On Me’ – Adele
  5. ‘Super Gremlin’ – Kodak Black
  6. ‘Stay’ – The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber
  7. ‘Ghost’ – Justin Bieber 
  8. ‘Shivers’ – Ed Sheeran
  9. ‘Bad Habits’ – Ed Sheeran
  10. ‘Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)’ – Elton John & Dua Lipa

This Week in Number Ones: ‘Without You’ – Nilsson (#1 on the Billboard Hot 100, March 4th, 1972)

The life and times of Harry Nilsson very well could make him one of the most fascinating musicians who isn’t a household name. The man literally has a documentary titled Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?). He was too poor to get a proper education but was so skilled in the nascent art of computer science that he bluffed his way into bank jobs. He broke through with a 17-song strong Beatles mashup, and then stalked Los Angeles in the 1970s when John Lennon became his best friend. When Lennon produced his album Pussy Cats, Nilsson sang so hard that he wrecked his voice beyond repair and forever ruined his greatest asset. 

These are just the most famous stories, and there are plenty more. But they all threaten to overshadow the legacy of Nilsson and his musical career… except that, by and large, what Nilsson is remembered for is equally ridiculous – the song ‘Coconut’. You know it: “You put the lime in the coconut; you drink them both up.” Yeah, that’s Nilsson. A one-chord white man reggae novelty song is the lasting legacy of a man who is often also associated with the word “genius”.

Nilsson was diverse and restless as a musician. He loved pop standards and released an entire album of him singing to orchestrated classics like he was the new Frank Sinatra. He also loved rock and roll, managing to get Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, and Keith Moon to all play ‘Rock Around the Clock’ together at the same time (Moon would later die in Nilsson’s London apartment in 1978, the same place that Cass Elliot died four years earlier). Nilsson’s ability to jump into nearly any genre was savant-like, but it also caused him to amass a relatively uneven catalogue of material. It’s part of the reason why he’s genuinely mystifying to revisit, and perhaps even easy to dismiss.

But Nilsson wasn’t an underappreciated talent during the peak of his powers either. In 1971, the singer released the mother of all power ballads, ‘Without You’. Originally a Badfinger song, Nilsson rearranged the track to centre the breakup song around his remarkably powerful voice. With a sparse piano line and a monster string section, Nilsson crafted the perfect sweeping track that wrung every last bit of melodrama out of the nearly-suicidal lyrics.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at the fact that the song goes way too big, especially with 50 years of over-the-top power ballads that followed in its wake. But ‘Without You’ couldn’t have worked without Nilsson, who leaps octaves like its second nature to him. The final chorus is genuinely powerful, and when Nilsson hits that triumphant high note at the start of the refrain, it’s hard not to be moved. Whitney Houston used the same trick on ‘I Will Always Love You’, her own number one hit that came out 20 years later, but Nilsson remains the king of the sweeping, schmaltzy, soul-stirring ballad thanks to ‘Without You’.

As far as legacies go, Nilsson’s is varied and difficult to contain in a neat package. He was undeniably a fantastic singer and brilliant songwriter, but his penchant for joke songs and self-sabotage makes it hard to take him seriously. His reputation and antics outside of music are usually what gets cited when Nilsson’s name first comes up, and when the conversation eventually does turn to his music, songs like ‘Without You’ and ‘Coconut’ threaten to cast him off as a hack.

But Nilsson also has scores of material that continue to resonate to this day. His decision to step away from music in the 1980s, largely to advocate for gun control after Lennon was murdered, caused a legendary career to experience something akin to a disappearing act. When Nilsson died in 1994, he was broke and had only occasionally released music in the 15 years prior. But with time, his status as a true auteur began to rise. Today, Nilsson rarely gets mentioned in the same light as visionaries like John Lennon or Brian Wilson, but his impeccable craftsmanship as a musician is undeniable. Once you get past the stories, Harry Nilsson has a remarkable career just waiting to be discovered.

Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten, March 4th, 1972

  1. ‘Without You’ – Nilsson
  2. ‘Hurting Each Other’ – Carpenters
  3. ‘Precious and Few’ – Climax
  4. ‘Down by the Lazy River’ – The Osmonds
  5. ‘Everything I Own’ – Bread
  6. ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ – Robert John
  7. ‘Heart of Gold’ – Neil Young
  8. ‘Let’s Stay Together’ – Al Green
  9. ‘Sweet Seasons’ – Carole King
  10. ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ – T. Rex