2016 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
Trump v. Hillary politicizes Pop like never before as streaming reverses the music biz’s 15-year free-fall from filesharing and Dancehall/Trophouse sounds rule.
Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Each week on Chartcrush we do a deep dive into a different year in Pop music history, and count down the top ten according to our recap of the weekly charts published in the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re counting down 2016, a year in which politics took center stage, even in pop culture: the epic faceoff between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton after Barack Obama’s two terms.
More on that in a minute, but first, 2016 also marked a major shift in the music biz: on-demand streams eclipsing CDs and even paid downloads as the industry’s leading format, on its way to becoming over half of all music biz revenue in 2019. Fans for the first time ever, could access almost any song ever released by any artist on any label: the ultimate jukebox. But like with actual jukeboxes, the user doesn’t own anything, not even ones and zeros on their hard drive. It’s a rental! Fans didn’t care; most of them just wanted to listen.
And with streaming, the industry finally began to recover from the disaster of filesharing and illegal downloading in the ’00s and early ’10s. Now this had a big effect on the charts. Except for the ever-shrinking sliver of physical music sales in the streaming era, the charts: almost entirely based on plays and listens, so the average top 10 song in 2016 was staying on the charts nearly 60% longer than in 1986, as listeners continued pressing “play” long after first hearing the song.
But as music fans got their stream on, elsewhere on the internet, the 2016 election got interesting in March, when Wikileaks, the whistleblower platform started in 2006 by Australian Editor-Publisher Julian Assange, created a searchable archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails from her illegal private server when she was Secretary of State, and that and other email dumps dominated news coverage, until Donald Trump’s lewd Hollywood Access video from 2005 leaked to the Washington Post a month before the election. Politics hadn’t been this juicy since Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress in 1998.
Well after a generation of Democrats understanding that politics are downstream of culture and making common cause with showbiz from Rock the Vote in ’92, to Obama becoming the “Hip-Hop president” in ’08 while Republicans sat there aloof and confused in the bleachers, no wonder that as all it all unfolded, Pop stars in 2016 were hashtag “WithHer.” Beyonce, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Cher and many others didn’t just signal their support; they actually showed up and campaigned with Hillary, while Trump couldn’t even play a record at an event without getting an angry cease-and-desist letter.
But in ’16, the GOP candidate himself was a celebrity. Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice had helped keep NBC afloat in the mid-’00s, and remained a primetime draw all the way to 2015. So the pop culture-allergic bleacher-sitting Republican Establishment was dragged kicking and screaming into the fray. As one of Vanity Fair election post-mortem pointed out, only one celebrity mattered to Trump voters, and that was Donald Trump.
#10 Twenty One Pilots – Stressed Out
Well, no wonder so many in 2016 were… the title of our #10 song as we kick off the countdown, by an act who kept their politics to themselves. But in the hyper-partisan late ’10s, even silence was suspect. Here’s the duo Twenty One Pilots, “Stressed Out.”
“Wish we could turn back time to the good old days when our mama sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” Definitely an anthem for a generation, Millennials, known for taking its sweet time growing up. Twenty One Pilots songwriter-front man Tyler Joseph, born 1988, dead center of the Millennial generation. And 2016, the beginning of the transitional decade between Millennials’ pop culture dominance, and the up-and-coming Gen-Z “Zoomers.”
Twenty One Pilots started out as a trio in 2009 at Ohio State University. In 2011 two of the members left, but on his way out, the drummer recruited his replacement, and Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun continued as a duo and built quite a following around Columbus, Ohio. Two years later in ’13, their third album Vessel got them to #20 on the Album chart and made them darlings of Alternative radio, but 2015’s Blurryface was their mainstream breakthrough, the #1 Rock album of the year, and “Stressed Out,” not its first, second or even third, but fourth single!
#9 Twenty One Pilots – Heathens
But their biggest hit in ’16 wasn’t on Blurryface at all. It peaked at #2 for four weeks, September into October, stayed in the top ten all the way to the end of the year, and was Twenty One Pilots’ only top ten in the U.K. A soundtrack cut from the third DC Comics Extended Universe blockbuster Suicide Squad. It’s a Twenty One Pilots twofer here on our 2016 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. At #9, “Heathens.”
“Heathens” from Suicide Squad at #9, the bigger of the two Twenty One Pilots hits in our Chartcrush Countdown of 2016’s top ten hits. Billboard called them a “Pop duo that treats genres like a toddler treats Legos.” By the way, the second DC Extended Universe blockbuster also came out in 2016: Batman vs. Superman, which gave us the Sad Affleck meme, in which Ben Affleck, who played “Batman,” sits stoically as “Superman” Henry Cavill answers a question in a press junket. As the frame slowly zooms in on Affleck, the chatter fades and Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” plays.
#8 Justin Bieber – Sorry
Next up, the first of two hits by the other act with two songs in our 2016 countdown. But here, both records: released just a few weeks apart and in the top ten simultaneously for 18 weeks. This one got to #1 first, and when the other one topped the chart in February, it made the Singer only the twelfth act in Hot100 history to replace him- her- or itself at #1 with a different record.
Just as Millennials had propelled their Teen heartthrobs to the top of the charts in the late ’90s, Gen-Z made its first pop culture splash in the late ’00s and early ’10s, and as those Teen icons matured along with their Zoomer audience, most became huge mainstream stars. Our act at #8: the poster boy of Zoomer Teen Pop, on the charts almost continuously since he was just 15 in 2009, and in 2012 he became the first artist ever to score five #1 albums by the age of 18. It was a little touch-and-go for him on the reputation front over the next few years: vandalism, DUI, reckless driving, frequent dust-ups with paparazzi, abandoning his pet monkey in a German airport, and an old video of him telling a racist joke. Rolling Stone put him on its cover in early 2014 with the headline “Bad Boy.”
Well, he leaned in, embracing Hip-Hop fashions and the pseudonym “Bizzle,” but he was absent from the top ten from March of 2013 until the advance lead single from his 2015 album Purpose, “What Do You Mean?” debuted at #1. He ditched “Bizzle,” adopted a retro-’90s Grunge look, and Teen Vogue heralded his comeback with the headline “He’s come a long way from YouTube and purple hoodies.” At #8, the second single from Purpose, it’s Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”
Hard to believe, but all the dozens of songs Justin Bieber charted in the early ’10s, he didn’t hit #1 ’til “What Do You Need?” from Purpose. “Sorry,” the song we just heard at #8, his second chart topper just a few months later. And the third, which, again, replaced “Sorry” at #1, still to come here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show of 2016’s biggest hits.
The Tropical House “moombahton” sound on “Sorry,” courtesy of red-hot EDM Producer Skrillex, who co-wrote and produced.
Despite “Sorry” being a plea for forgiveness to his former girlfriend, Pop star Selena Gomez, Biebs posted pics with his new girlfriend in the Summer, and the ensuing flame war with fans (and Gomez herself) ended with Justin deleting his Instagram account.
#7 Sia featuring Sean Paul – Cheap Thrills
Carpool Karaoke was a recurring segment on CBS’s The Late Late Show that started in 2015 when James Corden took over from Craig Ferguson as host, and continued all the way ’til Corden left in 2023: Corden picking up Pop stars in his car so he could drive in the carpool lane, and then they’d sing the artists’ songs to pass the time.
Justin Bieber did it twice in 2015, but moving on to our #7 song, this Singer did Carpool Karaoke in her signature half-and-half black and blonde flat bangs wig that covered most of her face. They didn’t do this song, though, maybe because Corden couldn’t pull off featured rapper Sean Paul’s Jamaican-accent verses. They sang her breakthrough 2014 hit instead, “Chandelier.” But this became her first #1 in August of ’16. It’s Sia, featuring Sean Paul, “Cheap Thrills.”
Australian Singer-Songwriter Sia, featuring Jamaican Rapper Sean Paul with “Cheap Thrills,” #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 2016’s top Pop hits. In 2015 just as the Presidential campaign was ramping up, Donald Trump hosted SNL the week Sia was the musical guest, and in a promo he dons a Trumpian version of her signature half-and-half wig and says “I love this hair.” The love didn’t go both ways, though, apparently. Sia politely declined to snap a picture with Trump and daughter Ivanka backstage, worrying that it might offend her Latino and LGBTQ fans.
#6 Justin Bieber – Love Yourself
At #6, the second song in our countdown from Billboard’s Top Male Artist of 2016 and #2 Artist overall, released as a promo single just three weeks after “Sorry” dropped, and on February 13th, it replaced “Sorry” at #1. It’s a diss track to an unnamed narcissist, and all the more devastating thanks to its low-key delivery and arrangement: just a guitar and a smattering of horns. And backing vocals courtesy of Ed Sheeran, who’d just scored his own first top tens in ’14 and ’15 and co-wrote the song. Here’s Justin Bieber again: his biggest hit of 2016, “Love Yourself.”
One sign that Justin Bieber had made the transition from Bubblegum to Mainstream Pop: all the singles from his 2015 Purpose album also lit up the Adult Contemporary chart!
Now, on Billboard’s year-end Hot100 ranking for 2016 they had “Love Yourself” and “Sorry” at numbers 1 and 2, respectively. So how are they just 6 and 8 on ours? Well, five of 2016’s top ten hits still had a ways to go at the end of Billboard’s 2016 “chart year,” the last week of November ’16. And two others besides Bieber’s were already on the chart when the “chart year” began, first week of December ’15. Here at Chartcrush, we don’t do “chart years.” Instead, our ranking method factors every song’s full chart run and then ranks it in whichever calendar year it racked up the most points.
#5 Chainsmokers featuring Daya – Don’t Let Me Down
At #5 is the year’s #1 Dance hit. They’re a New York EDM DJ and Production duo, the title of whose first Hot100 hit in 2014 helped introduce a new word to the language after it went viral on Soundcloud, Vine and Instagram. They’d noticed women in clubs saying “Let’s take a selfie.” But 2016 was their big breakthrough, in the top ten from May to October, peaking at #3 for two weeks in July, it’s The Chainsmokers featuring Indian-American singer Daya, “Don’t Let Me Down.”
From the main stage at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in March of ’16, Chainsmoker Andrew Taggart condensed what he called his “Kanye speech” to just one short admonition for the crowd: “Do not support Donald Trump!” Politics and music, intersecting like never before.
Chainsmokers’ finest moment was still to come. Their next big hit “Closer” featuring Halsey entered the Hot100 at the end of August 2016 and was in the top ten of Billboard’s year-end Hot100 two years in a row: their #10 song in 2016 and #7 in 2017. Again, at Chartcrush, we don’t split chart runs, so factoring its full run in the calendar year it earned the most points, “Closer” shakes out as the #3 song of 2017.
#4 Justin Timberlake – Can’t Stop the Feeling!
Next at #4, the first #1 hit in nearly a decade for the biggest star to come out of the late ’90s Boy Band craze. He’s an ‘NSYNC alum but as a solo act he scored two #1’s in ’06 and both were among the year’s top ten hits. He built an impressive movie acting resume ’08 to ’12, then turning back to music in ’13, “Suit & Tie” featuring Jay-Z, and “Mirrors” got him back into the top ten. But now, midway through his 30s in 2016, he was back on top at #1. Here’s the other Justin in our countdown: Justin Timberlake at #4: the lead cut from the soundtrack of the DreamWorks feature Trolls, in which he voiced the main character, Branch: “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
#4, the ’70s Disco-reminiscent “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Justin Timberlake on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 2016’s biggest hits, nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, and Timberlake opened the awards with it. “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” one of the two hits in our top ten that debuted at #1.
#3 Adele – Hello
And at #3 is the other. But unlike “Can’t Stop,” which dropped to #3 its second week and never reclaimed the top spot, this one stayed on top for another nine weeks after its debut. The song was the lead single from one of the most hotly anticipated follow-up albums in Pop history. Her previous album from 2011 with its three #1s was eventually named the #1 album of the ’10s decade. Oh, and unlike Sia, she did sing her big 2016 hit on Carpool Karaoke. At #3 it’s Adele’s “Hello.”
“Hello,” Adele at #3 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 2016, from her long-awaited third album 25.
It took a while for artists to come to terms with on-demand streaming. The revenue upside, much greater with physical sales and even paid downloads. Taylor Swift famously pulled her entire catalog off Spotify for nearly three years over its tiny per-stream artist compensation rate, and Adele didn’t allow 25 on any streaming platforms for seven months.
#2 Rihanna featuring Drake – Work
Well, we’re down to #2 on our 2016 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, from another long-anticipated album, the singer’s eighth, expected “any day now” since the Summer of 2014, when she started teasing it on social media. When it finally came out for real in January 2016, Newsweek snarked that “this, apparently, is how big Pop albums are rolled out these days: an endlessly delayed, social media-driven ‘surprise’ release.”
Well, it actually was a surprise. Tidal, the streaming platform owned in part by the Singer, had an exclusive, and accidentally released the entire album instead of just its lead single. Whoops! Well, the song was Rihanna’s 11th #1 since 2006; 14th if you count features: the lead single from her long-delayed album Anti, A-N-T-I, “Work.”
Now back at #8 we heard Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” produced by Skrillex, the biggest Pop hit in 2016’s hot new buzzworthy sound, Tropical House. Rihanna’s “Work,” which we just heard at #2 on our 2016 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown, hit the chart the same week “Sorry” dropped out of the #1 spot, and when Rolling Stone Tweeted out a link calling it a “Tropical House-flavored track,” the genre police pounced: a hail of counter-Tweets reminding the world that RiRi was from Barbados, and “Work” wasn’t just some EDM flavor-of-the-month; it was a glorious return to her rich Dancehall roots.
Dancehall, basically Reggae as it adapted to Disco in late ’70s Jamaica, was in the midst of a resurgence in the mid-’00s when Jay-Z and L.A. Reid signed then-17-year-old Rihanna to Def Jam. But she’d all but abandoned the sound to pioneer the turn of the decade’s EDM-anchored Pop on her third album, 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad. So “Work” was a real treat for Dancehall fans, who hadn’t seen a #1 hit since Sean Paul’s “Temperature” in ’06. We heard Paul earlier, guesting on Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.”
#1 Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla – One Dance
But the male vocalist we just heard on “Work” is our act with the #1 hit in our 2016 countdown, and it’s also Dancehall. His #2 hit “Hotline Bling” from the Fall of 2015 was supposed to be the lead single of his fourth album Views, but when the album came out in April ’16, “Hotline” was tacked on as a bonus track and the real lead single was #1 throughout June and July, it’s Canadian Rapper-Singer Drake’s very first #1 hit, featuring Nigerian Singer WizKid and British Singer Kyla, “One Dance.”
Before all was said and done, Drake’s album Views had racked up 13 weeks at #1 on the Album chart, the most of any Hip-Hop album since the early ’90s, and its lead single “One Dance,” our #1 song of 2016 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
None of the other songs on Views cracked the top ten, and critics didn’t much like it, but one exception hailed it as “compelling evidence that [Drake] is the defining Pop artist of the moment.”
Well, as such, in the heat of the Presidential race, he was under a lot of pressure to take sides and jump aboard the Trump-bashing train. Well, he didn’t take sides, even after the election as the entire music world but for Ted Nugent, Charlie Daniels and Rappers Kanye West and Azalea Banks were loudly, angrily and publicly mourning Trump’s victory. The week after the election, Drake’s Twitter feed was quiet except a plug for Drake Night at the Air Canada Centre: his hometown NBA team the Toronto Raptors hosting the Golden State Warriors.
Well there you have ’em: our Chartcrush Top Ten Pop songs of 2016.
Now earlier I mentioned that Billboard had Justin Bieber’s two big 2016 smashes at numbers 1 and 2 on their year-end Hot100 ranking, since parts of several 2016 songs’ chart runs fell outside their “chart year” eligibility period, and counting their full chart runs reveals them to have been bigger hits. Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” for one, our #6 song, on the chart ’til the end of February ’17. Billboard only counted up to November 26, so it’s #11. Same story with our #9 song, Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens.” It stayed on the chart 15 weeks after Billboard’s cutoff, so only #21. But adding those two songs bumps two from Billboard’s ranking out of the top ten.
What are those songs? Well as I mentioned, they had The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” at #10 and by our reckoning that one is a 2017 hit.
#11 Desiigner – Panda
The other one, though, just misses our top ten at #11. It was 2016’s big Trap hit, the year after Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” and the year before Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” Let’s give a listen, shall we? To Desiigner’s “Panda.”
Brooklyn Rapper Desiigner. “Panda,” because a white BMW X6 looks like a panda. Only his second song, uploaded to the audio sharing platform Soundcloud in December ’15. The track caught Rapper Kanye West’s ear, and Kanye had already interpolated it into a cut for his upcoming Life of Pablo album, when he signed Desiigner to his Good Music label. Then “Panda” itself started scaling the charts and was #1 for two weeks in May before Desiigner had ever even appeared on TV. Well he made his TV debut at the 2016 BET Awards doing “Panda” at the end of June, and his follow-up “Tiimmy Turner” was a minor hit, but dwindling chart fortunes and legal woes rendered him a one-hit wonder.
Well that’s our 2016 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Hey, be sure and visit our website, chartcrush.com, for written transcripts and streaming links for this and other Chartcrush countdown shows, plus chart run line graphs and other top-notch extras. And check us out on TikTok @Chartcrush. Every week, we count down a different year on this show, from the beginning ofthe charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune in again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.