If you’ve been looking to catch up on the hottest new songs released in 2022, you wouldn’t find them towards the top of the Billboard Hot 100 lately. While the Hot 100 measures the biggest songs in the country every week, recently the chart has been absolutely dominated by holdovers from 2021 — some of which didn’t begin their chart runs in 2022, some of which have only hit their peaks in 2022, and some of which have just continued to hang around the listing many months (a couple even close to a year) after reaching their chart apex.
In fact, if you look at last week’s chart, dated April 9, more than three months into the calendar year, you’ll find more songs in the both the top 10 (Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves,” No. 1) and top 20 (Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” No. 15) that were released in 2020 than in 2022 — with the latter year only represented by Yahritza y Su Esencia’s brand new “Soy El Unico,” a debut entry at No. 20. (The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears,” at No. 17, also began its chart journey a full two years earlier, in April 2020, though the Ariana Grande remix it’s currently credited for did not impact the chart until May 2021.)
“We’ve been seeing this trend develop over quite a few years now,” says John Fleckenstein, chief operating officer at RCA, who believes the contemporary predominance of streaming is simply more accurately reflecting the way listeners have likely always consumed music. “I would imagine, if you looked at someone’s consumption, it looks a little bit like a bell curve, where they start to discover the song, and they start to get excited about it, and they listen to it A LOT for a period of time. But I think when you do that across millions of people, you see this very long tail, and you see songs last a very long time. And I think that’s what you’re seeing on the charts.”
Still, streaming has been the major driving force in the music industry for over a half-decade now, and the lack of brand new major hits in 2022 stands in stark contrast to even just a year earlier. Look back at the Hot 100 dated April 10, 2021, and not only are each of the chart’s top five — Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” Justin Bieber’s “Peaches,” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open,” Cardi B’s “Up” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” — all releases from that year, they were all long-lasting (and ultimately chart-topping) hits, three of them even debuting at No. 1. By comparison, only two 2022 songs had even debuted in the Hot 100’s top 10 as of the April 9 Hot 100 — Nicki Minaj & Lil Baby’s “Do We Have a Problem?” and Gunna and Future’s “Pushin P,” featuring Young Thug, neither of which have topped the chart. (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the Hot 100-topping smash from the ubiquitous Encanto soundtrack, did not debut on the chart until 2022, but it was released in late 2021 and went viral after the film came to Disney+ late last December.)
Though streaming may be supreme in the marketplace right now, the top of the Hot 100 this year has arguably looked more reflective of the radio landscape, where the biggest songs are staying stronger for longer, as dictated by audience research — a trend that largely kicked off during the comfort-seeking early days of the pandemic, but which is even more the case now. “Songs just aren’t dying — they’re lasting forever,” says Erik Bradley, assistant program director/music director at Chicago’s CHR station WBBM-FM (B96). “I mean, ‘Save Your Tears’ will not stop researching. You just think, ‘It’s gotta be gone, it’s gotta be gone…’ And every week, it still sits up there in the top two or three positions. [‘Woman’ by] Doja Cat, same thing… They’re still among [our audience’s] very, very favorite songs that we can possibly play.”
While radio support is lasting longer than ever, it’s also currently taking a while to kick in for songs that have already proven through other metrics to be culturally impactful — which Epic Records head of A&R Ezekiel Lewis believes is contributing to the current dearth of 2022 hits from 2022. “As time goes on, we’re increasingly in more of a kind of ‘show-and-prove’ era of record releases,” he says, “whereby the gatekeepers are increasingly looking to the digital space to see the cultural relevance of a track. So you put a record out, you become sticky in the digital space… and then things that really help affect the Billboard chart, like radio audience — they kinda lag behind.” It’s not until you get “synchronicity between the digital and cultural aspects of a record,” Lewis says, that its chart potential is fully realized.
That explanation is certainly borne out by looking at some of the hits currently occupying space in the Hot 100’s top 10 — like GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” Imagine Dragons and J.I.D.’s “Enemy,” and Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” — which started to take off on TikTok (which does not currently contribute its totals to Billboard‘s charts) and crossed over to streaming services in late 2021, but only climbed to their current chart peaks after radio support started to kick in this calendar year. But it’s also telling that, for as much impact as viral platforms like TikTok have to create immediate interest in a song, it hasn’t resulted in the same volume of instant smashes (like “Soy El Unico,” a rare top 20 debut from a relatively unknown artist) that it might have even a couple years earlier.
“TikTok is [still] throwing up [hits], but the question is, ‘Is it going to the level that it went to before?’” muses another A&R source. “I mean, Arizona Zervas, [Lil] Nas X – there was this run, from 2019 to mid-12020, where when something went on that platform, it went. And I think, to a large extent, you can still attribute most new breakthroughs to TikTok. I just don’t know if they’re as ubiquitous, or so dominant on the platform that they translate in the same way that they were before.”
Part of the issue might be that the impact of TikTok is more spread out now — not just in terms of minting new hits, but resurrecting old ones, and also discovering catalog in-betweeners that were never really hits in the first place, and are now embraced by listeners as if they were brand new. While a TikTok video from user doggface208 famously propelled Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Dreams” back to the Hot 100’s top 15 in 2020, in the years since, such revitalized catalog entries (Arctic Monkeys’ “505,” Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” Pharrell Williams’ “Just a Cloud Away”) are increasingly un-tethered to any one clip or cultural moment. Instead, their rise in the streaming space comes as gradually and nearly as unstoppably as modern hits by Dua Lipa and The Weeknd, and then lasts for nearly as long — occupying space that might have previously belonged to more traditional new releases.
“It’s taking longer and longer for people and songs to get to critical mass, so I think these resurgent records… we’re going to see more and more of that stuff,” says the A&R source. “Where songs are out, it’s a great song, it got a marketing push, it maybe even was worked to radio, didn’t quite work… It didn’t find the cultural context, or the awareness, or the right trend for people to engage with it and discover it. And they’re gonna pop back up.”
The industry’s search for such quick-fire hits has also come, sources interviewed for this article say, at the cost of long-term artist development. “There’s one end of the business right now that’s very focused on that algorithmic hit play, like finding songs that are moving because audiences are being served up that particular sound on a repeat basis, and trying to chase that,” says Fleckenstein, whose RCA artists claim several of the biggest success stories of the past year (Doja Cat’s unstoppable Planet Her blockbuster, Latto’s current Hot 100 top 10 hit “Big Energy,” SZA’s enduring R&B hit “I Hate U,” Lucky Daye’s currently rising “Over”). “From an RCA perspective – we are, and we have been, and we will always be, a principal artist development machine. And our successes, when you look at our artists, whether it’s H.E.R., or Doja, or Khalid or SZA, you’re talking about projects that were in development for years.”
And part of the lack of brand-new 2022 hits in 2022 is simply the relative lack of those previously developed A-listers releasing new music. That previously mentioned 2021 top five included releases by a handful of proven hitmakers in Cardi B, Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars (of Silk Sonic) — the type of superstars who we just haven’t seen much new music from in 2022, with only a handful of exceptions over the year’s first three months. Even in some of those rare cases, radio superstars like The Weeknd (who dropped his new Dawn FM album in January) and Dua Lipa (whose Megan Thee Stallion collab “Sweetest Pie” debuted in March) have faced the additional challenge of competing with themselves — with both artists still having multiple hits from 2020 and 2021 still hanging around the top 40.
A new run of instant smashes by proven A-listers may be on its way, though — as potentially heralded by the arrival of the first true runaway hit to be released in 2022, Harry Styles’ “As It Was.” The much-anticipated lead single from the global superstar’s upcoming third album Harry’s House, “As It Was” was an instant mega-success on streaming services and a rapturously received addition to radio playlists upon its March 31 release. Not far behind may be ascendant rapper Jack Harlow, who topped the Hot 100 for the first time last in 2021 alongside Lil Nas X on “Industry Baby,” and even passed Styles’ debut numbers on Spotify over the weekend with the release of his TikTok-hyped “First Class” single.
The influx of big releases, combined with some calendar catch-up, could mean the paucity of brand new 2022 hits may not last for much longer. “I think in two or three months, we’re going to be having a different conversation [about 2022 hits],” Lewis predicts. “Because first of all, you’re going to have more big names dropping. But secondarily, some of these songs that have dropped top of this year will have caught up to themselves, in terms of all the different metrics that need to be firing on 100 percent for you to really see [their impact] on the chart.”
And perhaps, as the weather warms, some of the persistent hits from 2021 and 2020 will also finally start to melt away. “I feel like [those older hits] are starting to kinda slow a little bit,” Bradley says. “I’m hoping that that is what happens. Because y’know, as a music fan, and a person who loves new artists and new projects and all of that, I wanna see some fresh new life coming into play, too — but at the same time, I also wanna make sure that my brands are playing hit songs, y’know? So I’m in a little bit of a pickle in the whole thing. But I feel like there’s a lot of great material on the horizon. So I’m very optimistic.”