2019 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
Edgy, genre-bending Pop marks Gen-Z’s arrival via TikTok and streaming hits 50% of music biz revenue as BigCulture™ #resistance to Trump/MAGA enters beast mode.
Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in Pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our recap of the weekly Pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re setting our sights on 2019.
In 2019, Generation Z, Zoomers, born 1996 to 2011, were the same age as Millennials in 2003 and Gen-Xers in 1987: 7 to 23, the first generation to grow up with always-on Internet, plus smart phones and social media: true digital natives. Streaming was how they got their music, and it was the music industry’s salvation, the top revenue source since 2016 after over a decade of losses from illegal downloading, but 2019 was the year streaming passed 50% of industry revenue. The biz hadn’t had such a dominant format since 2009, the last year CDs were over half of revenue. Spotify, Apple and Amazon: the biggest platforms for music streaming in ’19, but YouTube, bigger than any of those by number of song plays. In 2018, TikTok merged with lip-sync video sharing platform musica.ly, and was a hit right out of the gate: 25 million monthly U.S. users on its way to over 100 million, and fueling big breakthroughs on the charts. By the end of 2019, Billboard was having to define “meme culture” for its readers.
So Gen-Z sensibilities, streaming and TikTok, drivers of what Billboard trumpeted as a “massive comeback for Pop.” But as we’ll hear this hour, 2019’s Pop explosion: not quite as backward compatible with older generations of music fans as previous Pop surges. “The year’s biggest mainstream breakout artist,” Billboard noted in its year-in-review, “is all but unclassifiable,” attributing that to Gen-Z’s indifference to genres.
We’ll hear that artist in our countdown, but also a factor in all the newness and edginess on the charts (some would’ve said “weirdness”): America’s overwhelmingly leftist cultural institutions in Hollywood and New York and pockets in between, simply writing off the tastes and sensibilities of whole swaths of their audiences during the Donald Trump presidency. No, not many cultural gatekeepers anymore in the Trump years wringing their hands about whether a song, or artist, or TV show or movie, or message or cause was gonna “play in Peoria” (Peoria, Illinois: the archetypical down-the-middle Midwestern test market since Vaudeville days). “Peoria put Trump in the White House; to hell with Peoria!”
Rankling folks in flyover country: now something of a sport in pop culture circles, with mandatory participation: part of the broader #resistance to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, whether in print, social media, movies, TV, or in award show acceptance speeches as host Ricky Gervais lampooned in his biting “don’t make a political speech, you know nothing about the real world” monologue at the Golden Globes.
For the record, Peoria actually went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but Covington, Kentucky? Now that was Trump country, and that’s where a group of teen boys on a school trip to DC were from, waiting for their bus home in front of the Lincoln Memorial wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats and staring down a Native American man beating a ceremonial drum. A two-minute viral phone vid of that provoked an instantaneous hail of outrage and denunciation of the students in late January 2019, despite missing important context. Days later the website Vox called the vid a “Rorschach test” that revealed people’s world views. If so, it revealed not just a bias, but open contempt for Trump and his voters across media, showbiz and blue-check Twitter.
Was that a sustainable business strategy? Time would tell, but it made for an interesting year on the charts as Rorschach test headlines kept poppin’: Empire star Jussie Smollett’s MAGA hate crime hoax in Chicago just a week after the Covington kids video; a trio of new Progressive, or radical, young Congresswomen, “The Squad” on the cover of Rolling Stone; Trump-Russia Collusion sleuth Robert Mueller dropping his report clearing the President in March; and then (speaking of awards ceremonies) an ultra-political American Music Awards featuring a newly “woke” Taylor Swift just as the new Democrat majority in the House was preparing the first of its two party-line impeachments of the President. And over 7,700 tweets from Trump himself during the year. What a whirlwind! And the ten songs we’re gonna hear in our Chartcrush 2019 countdown this hour were the soundtrack to all that.
#10 Jonas Brothers – Sucker
Kicking things off at #10, a trio of brothers whose reunion after six years as successful solo acts was one of the most anticipated entertainment events of the decade, and they did their best to stay out of politics. But remember, participation mandatory; no bleacher sitting! What, are they Republicans?! The oldest brother had been a contestant on Trump’s NBC reality competition Celebrity Apprentice in its 14th season right before the campaign, and one writer went so far as to blame him for Trump’s presidency! The ratings for Celebrity Apprentice would’ve been better if he hadn’t been eliminated and Trump wouldn’t have run! Well, I don’t know about that, but the Brothers’ reunion single did debut at #1. As it turned out, its only week on top, in mid-March, but it stayed in the top ten long enough to make it the #10 song of the year. It’s the Jonas Brothers, Nick, Joe and celebrity apprentice Kevin: “Sucker.”
Jonas Brothers, “Sucker,” #10 here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 2019 (also Billboard’s #10 song of the year). Their album Happiness Begins followed in June along with their documentary Chasing Jonas and a world tour in August, but none of their subsequent singles were major hits. While “Sucker” was still in the top ten, gay YouTube comic Randy Rainbow added an “S” to the title for his parody version to lampoon Trump supporters as “Suckers” (plural).
#9 Ariana Grande – 7 Rings
According to Nielsen Music, which measures such things, Rap replaced Rock as the top music genre in 2017, and the subgenre that pushed it over the top in the streaming era was Trap. After a decade of commercial Pop-adjacent Hip-Hop hits (and a Hip-Hop slump on the charts early in the ’10s), Trap, named for ghetto drug houses in Atlanta, was a return of edgy, menacing Hip-Hop: a cold, dark, bleakly reverberated ambience with ominous-sounding synthesizers and heavy sub-bass and layered 808 kick drums. Clipped, mumbled rapping, another feature that’s often mentioned, especially by detractors.
Enter a former Nickelodeon kids TV star turned overachieving Pop Diva, winner of 12 Teen Choice awards, named by Billboard the top female artist debuting on the charts in the ’10s decade, with a four octave vocal range plus the whistle register. Now what use could an artist like that possibly have for a musical style that emerged from the sleaziest, druggiest nether-regions of the underworld?
Well Katy Perry had already plowed that field with her 2014 hit “Dark Horse” featuring Juicy J., but in the era of “Make America Great Again,” this White, mainstream singer made her #resist statement by embracing it with both arms on her 2018 album, Sweetener, then, just six months later, doubling down on her 2019 set, Thank U, Next, whose first two singles debuted at #1. This was the second, #1 the week she became the first act since The Beatles in 1964 to have the top three hits on a weekly Hot100. At #9 on our countdown, Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings.”
Interpolating, to great ironic effect, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, “7 Rings,” the #9 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten countdown of the biggest hits of 2019 (#7 on Billboard’s year-end ranking). The most successful single yet of Ariana Grande’s string of 12 top tens that started with her 2013 duet “The Way” with Rapper Mac Miller, her boyfriend until just before his fatal OD in 2018. Before “7 Rings” was released, her label cut a deal to split royalties. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s publisher asked for 90%, and Grande’s team said “OK.” There wasn’t even a counter-offer. Ariana was just fine, though: the lead single and title track of Grande’s Thank U, Next album, also a #1 hit in late 2018.
#8 Lizzo – Truth Hurts
At #8, the first of several 2019 chart newcomers in our countdown. This song, though, originally released in 2017, and it took a viral TikTok meme to juice it onto the charts. The meme based on a line in the song about taking a DNA text and finding out your 100%– fill in the blank. And thousands of TikTok-ers put their phones in selfie mode, broke out the Q-Tips, swabbed their cheeks and announced their results to the world: 100% British, 100% ogre, 100% “that mom,” “dog,” “cat,” “the father,” you name it!
By the end of the year, she’d tied Iggy Azalea’s record for most weeks at #1 by a female Rapper and was Hip-Hop’s new “it” girl heading into the 2020s, it’s Lizzo, “Truth Hurts.”
#8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 2019, Lizzo, “Truth Hurts.” It misses Billboard’s official year-end top ten at #13 because the tail end of its chart run was in Billboard’s 2020 chart year. They also have it as the #55 song of 2020. At Chartcrush we have the luxury of factoring every song’s full chart run in our rankings, so it makes our top ten. Now the line that launched “Truth Hurts” on TikTok about the DNA test: turns out Lizzo lifted that from a tweet she saw in 2017, by a woman in the U.K., who’s since received a co-writing credit, and no doubt a nice big fat check!
If you’re listening on radio, you didn’t hear what Lizzo’s DNA test shows she’s 100% of because the line is censored in the radio edit, but I don’t want to leave you hanging here. She’s 100% that– b-word that rhymes with “witch.” Or “rich,” as Lizzo went with in her own version of that TikTok meme, in which she flashes a crisp new $100 bill.
#7 Travis Scott (featuring Drake) – SICKO MODE
At #7 we have a three-part Hip-Hop suite. Yes, you heard that right! And it spent 32 weeks in the top ten, August ’18 to the end of March ’19. That was a new record for a Hip-Hop track, and most of those weeks came after the artist caught a ton of flak for accepting a gig that other big-name acts like Rihanna, Cardi B and P!nk had turned down: the Super Bowl 53 halftime show.
Why was everyone turning down the Super Bowl? Because ’18 into ’19 was peak hysteria over the controversial anthem-kneeling movement started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when he refused to stand for the “Star Spangled Banner” before games, saying he couldn’t be proud of a country that oppressed Black people. So instead when the anthem played he took a knee, which in football kills a play.
Well one Sunday in 2017 after President Trump personally weighed in and urged the NFL to sanction the protesters, over 200 players took a knee while others, including Patriots superstar Tom Brady, locked arms and stood at attention with hands on heart.
Anyway, despite all the brouhaha, our Rapper at #7 played halftime at Super Bowl 53 and came out just fine. His autobiographical documentary, Look Mom I Can Fly, was one of the most-watched things on Netflix when it came out in August, and his next hit in the Fall, “Highest in the Room,” debuted at #1.
This song, though, his biggest hit: #5 on the charts the week he performed it (with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine on guitar) at halftime in February, and its our #7 song of the year: Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE.”
Houston-born rapper (and Kylie Jenner boyfriend and baby daddy) Travis Scott, “SICKO MODE.” An uncredited Drake in the first part, uncredited because he didn’t turn in his verses for the song until 2AM the morning the album was released!
Colin Kaepernick’s anthem-kneeling movement sputtered in August as the 2019 football season was getting underway, when the NFL struck a big money deal with billionaire Rapper Jay-Z to manage and produce future NFL events like the halftime show.
#6 Marshmello and Bastille – Happier
At #6 a British Indie Pop band that had a quirky Alternative crossover hit, “Pompeii,” peak at #5 on the Hot100 in 2013, but failed to chart a follow-up and seemed destined for one-hit-wonder status, until this 2018 joint single with an American DJ and EDM producer who got first billing on the track. It never got to #1, but it stayed in the top ten a good long time, from October ’18 all the way to April ’19, long enough to make it the #6 song of the year, both in Billboard and here on our 2019 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. It’s Marshmello and Bastille, “Happier.”
“Happier,” Marshmello and Bastille at #6. Bastille, again a British group fronted by Dan Smith, whose birthday is July 14: Bastille Day, a major holiday in France commemorating the storming of a royal prison during the French Revolution.
Now this cat Marshmello they teamed up with was the top charting EDM (Electronic Dance Music) DJ-producer of the late 2010s, which was past the commercial peak for EDM earlier in the decade, but he was the latest in a line of DJ-producers (including Deadmau5 and Daft Punk) who cultivated what EDM historian Michaelangelo Matos called in a 2016 Vice article, “a fetishized, radically anonymous image.” Which Marshmello achieved by wearing a bucket over his head: white like a marshmallow, with black x’s for eyes and a wide ironic smile.
In 2020, another Marshmello collab was a big hit, “Come & Go” from Gen-Z Emo Rapper Juice WRLD’s posthumous album after his fatal OD in December of ’19 shook the world. Juice WRLD charted 39 songs on the Hot100 and two others as a featured artist from his death to the Spring of 2022.
#5 Billie Eilish – bad guy
OK are you ready for this? Remember at the top of the show I quoted Billboard saying the year’s top New Artist was unclassifiable? Well her biggest hit of the year is at #5 on our 2019 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. She’s the first artist born in the 21st century to hit #1, and her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, was the #1 album of the year. Born in December 2001, it’s the 17-year-old homeschooled phenom from L.A., Billie Eilish, “bad guy.”
Billie Eilish, #5 on our 2019 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Critic Simon Reynolds called “Bad Guy,” “a crawlspace of a track that feels like it’s made of the same whispery fabric as Eilish’s voice: clicks, whirrs, fingersnaps, and ear-tickling sounds that prompt ASMR tingles.” ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response: sound combinations that provoke involuntary physical reactions, like tingling in the spine or extremities, or across the scalp, also famously employed in 2019 in a Super Bowl ad for Michelob Ultra starring Zoe Kravitz that aired pre-“Bad Guy” when Eilish was still, as Billboard put it, a “hotly hyped alt-radio weirdo.”
Now it’s one thing for a song like that to be an academic exercise or art-house curiosity (or for that matter a beer ad); but “Bad Guy” was the #5 Pop song of the year, and Eilish swept all four major awards at the Grammys: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. On top of that, her brother Finneas O’Connell (who’s also her co-writer and producer) took home the Grammy for Best Engineered Album for When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Eilish, just a year older than the teen Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, who was everywhere in 2019. And Billie claimed her #resistance participation trophy taking up Thunberg’s cause, wearing an oversized shirt with “No Music on a Dead Planet” in red jewels to that aforementioned ultra-political American Music Awards show in 2019: the slogan of the newly-founded activist group Music Declares Emergency. Who says all homeschooled kids turn out Republican?
#4 Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved
At #4 we have another “year-straddler,” like Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” which we heard at #8. Year-straddlers are songs whose chart runs go from one year into the next, so their true popularity isn’t reflected when you only count chart action within a defined “chart year,” like Billboard does. Again, being a retrospective ranking, we get to correct that record by counting every song’s full chart run toward whichever calendar year it earned the most points.
This song had the longest chart run of any 2019 hit, 54 weeks, May ’19 to May ’20, peaking at #1 in November, right at the cutoff for Billboard’s 2019 chart year, so they have it at #27 for 2019 and #10 for 2020. Applying our rules though, it’s a 2019 song and #4 on the year: Scottish Singer-Songwriter Lewis Capaldi’s breakout sleeper hit, “Someone You Loved.”
When he was 18, Lewis Capaldi sang a song into his iPhone and uploaded it to the audio sharing platform Soundcloud. Next thing he knows, a well-connected talent scout is on a plane from New York to watch him do an open mic night at his local pub in Scotland. Then, his first single in 2017 made him the fastest unsigned act up ’til then to get 25 million listens of a song on Spotify.
“Someone You Loved” first appeared on his second EP in 2018, and then was included on his debut full-length album in early 2019. It started out at #85 on the Hot100 in May and didn’t hit #1 until November: one of the longest climbs to #1 in Hot100 history. Two years to make the charts; six months to hit #1, and then another six months on the chart, most of that in the top ten: “Someone You Loved,” #4 as we count down the biggest hits of 2019 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
#3 Halsey – Without Me
At #3 is another song like “Someone You Love” that didn’t get big thanks to a TikTok meme, or hypnotizing listeners with ASMR tingles or tapping into the latest Hip-Hop trend (not that there’s anything wrong with any those things!). Billboard‘s Jason Lipshutz wrote the week it hit #1 that with this song there’s no cheat code; “it’s just a really polished, successful Pop single.”
In 2016 she’d been the featured singer on what Billboard named its #4 song of the 2010s decade: “Closer” by the American EDM-Pop duo Chainsmokers, but this was her first solo #1, for two nonconsecutive weeks in January, and in the top ten for 29 weeks. It’s Halsey, “Without Me.”
Halsey, one of the many flawed female Pop rebels who followed Indie sensation Lorde onto the charts after “Royals” shot to #1 for nine weeks in 2013, “Without Me,” the #3 song of 2019 as we continue our countdown of 2019’s biggest hits here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
Halsey made the top ten again later in the year featuring on a song by Korean Boy Band BTS. And in 2020, her collab with the aforementioned Juice WRLD on “Life’s a Mess,” another of his posthumous hits. And then in ’22 her label, Capitol, didn’t think her latest song possessed sufficient “virality” for release, so they held it back and Halsey wasn’t happy.
As Pitchfork’s Cat Zhang put it at the time, all labels were talking about was “TikTok this and TikTok that, demanding ever-more lip-syncs, dances, and casual posts for an insatiable internet.” Halsey went public with her gripes with Capitol, the song failed to crack the top40, and artist and label went their separate ways the following year.
#2 Post Malone featuring Swae Lee – Sunflower
At #2 is another unclassifiable artist. Some would say a shape-shifting artist who picked the style to fit the song instead of trying to blend everything together: Hip-Hop, Pop-Rap, Pop, R&B, Trap, Rap Rock, Cloud Rap, even Country and Grunge: you name it, all in his toolbox.
He found himself in a little bit of hot water in 2017, right when Emo Rappers XXXTenacion and the aforementioned Juice WRLD were breaking out, when he questioned Hip-Hop’s emotional range. “If you’re looking for lyrics,” he said, “if you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to Hip-Hop.” Ouch!
But the dust-up over that blew over and in 2018 he notched two songs in Billboard’s year-end top ten. And then he did it again in ’19: the only artist ever to score two top tens two years in a row on Billboard’s year-end Hot100 charts. In our Chartcrush rankings he still has the two in ’18, but his second biggest hit of 2019 gets nudged to #11 by the addition of our two “year-straddlers” that weren’t in Billboard’s top ten: Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” and Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved.”
Still an amazing run, though. “Rockstar” and “Psycho” were his two smashes in ’18, and then this, the #2 song of 2019. It’s White Rapper-Singer Post Malone, featuring Black Rapper-Singer Swae Lee from the Hip-Hop duo Rae Sremmurd, whose cut “Black Beatles” was a #1 hit in 2017, from the blockbuster animated film Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse, and the first #1 hit in a few years from a soundtrack, “Sunflower.”
Post Malone with Swae Lee, “Sunflower,” the #2 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown: the top artist of the year when you add up the points for all 16 of his songs that charted in 2019. Again, the only act ever with two Billboard year-end top tens two years in a row, but his second biggest hit of 2019, “Wow.,” just misses our Chartcrush top ten at #11.
In case you’re wondering, here at Chartcrush we’ve ranked every year all the way back to 1940 using the exact same formula, and by our reckoning, three artists have scored two or more yearly top tens in consecutive years: The Beatles, ’64 and ’65, Elvis Presley in ’56 and ’57 and Glenn Miller in the Swing Era, ’41 and ’42.
#1 Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus – Old Town Road (remix)
OK, well we’re down to #1. As Rolling Stone put it in its “50 Best Songs of 2019” recap at the end of the year, “A Trap-Country song featuring a prominent Nine Inch Nails sample and a Rap verse from Billy Ray Cyrus probably wasn’t on your 2019 bingo card when the year started, but it’s hard to imagine what 2019 would’ve felt like without it.”
No song embodies the genre-bending (and genre-blending) spirit of Gen-Z and 2019 like the #1 song of the year. So much so that Billboard removed it from the Country chart after it had already reached the top 20 on that chart, explaining to CBS News that it “doesn’t embrace enough elements of today’s Country music to chart in its current version.” Well that’s pretty subjective! Shouldn’t Country radio and Country fans be the judge of what qualifies as Country music?
Well, in the midst of the uproar over that against the backdrop of racial and cultural politics in 2019, Billy Ray Cyrus swooped in to do a remix. Billy Ray, singer of the Country smash “Achy Breaky Heart” way back in 1992, but well-known to Millennials as Miley Cyrus’s dad, both in real life and on Miley’s hit Disney Channel teen sitcom, Hannah Montana before she became a full-fledged Pop star back in the ’00s.
Well, even the remix didn’t get Billboard to reinstate it on the Country chart, but it did spend the next 19 weeks at #1 on the Hot100, shattering the previous record of 16 weeks. Here’s Rapper-Singer Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. The #1 song of 2019 (by a country mile): “Old Town Road.”
“Hat down, cross-town, livin’ like a rockstar; spent a lot of money on my brand new guitar.” Those lines at the beginning of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” sparked a viral dance craze on TikTok: a series of demonstrative hand gestures that anyone could do.
Lil Nas X was a 19-year old college dropout when he walked into an Atlanta recording studio for their “$20 Tuesday” special and wedded the Nine Inch Nails beat he’d purchased online for 30 bucks to his hokey, cliché’d loner cowboy saga, and then memed the heck out of it on social media. Next came one of the most unlikely collaborations in Pop music history with Billy Ray Cyrus’s remix and a record-shattering 19 weeks at #1. “Old Town Road.”
So there ya have ’em: our Chartcrush Top Ten for 2019, but as I mentioned, a couple songs that made Billboard’s year-end top ten got nudged out of ours by our two year-straddlers whose chart runs got split between 2019 and 2020. Let’s take a look at those.
Bonus: Khalid featuring Disclosure – Talk
First up, Billboard’s #8 song of 2019 peaked at #3 and was #16 on our Chartcrush ranking. It’s by a low-key R&B singer who started putting his stuff on Soundcloud in 2016 just out of high school, and his song “Location” racked up millions of plays. He featured on Rapper Logic’s suicide-prevention hit, “1-800” in ’17, and in ’19 this lead single from his sophomore album was ridin’ high. It’s Khalid, “Talk.”
Billboard named Khalid its top R&B artist of 2019 on the strength of that hit, “Talk,” and five other chart entries off his sophomore album Free Spirit, which was the #1 R&B album of the year despite mixed reviews from critics. After “Talk,” though, heading into the ’20s, his chart fortunes faded.
Bonus: Post Malone – Wow.
And finally, the song I mentioned when we heard Post Malone’s “Sunflower” at #2 that made him the first artist in Hot100 history to land two hits in Billboard’s year-end top ten two years in a row. It was #5 on Billboard’s ranking, #11 on ours. Appropriately titled given his achievement, “Wow.”
Post Malone’s “Wow.” Louis Bell, Posty’s producer on that and his song we heard at #2, “Sunflower,” plus Halsey’s “Without Me” and The Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” (our #3 and #10 songs of the year, respectively): 2019’s standout producer. Billboard called his impact “historic.”
Posty also scored two entries in the year-end top10 albums two years in a row: His debut Stoney and beerbongs & bentleys in 2018, and beerbongs & bentleys again in 2019 along with his third album, Hollywood’s Bleeding.
Well that’s all the time we have so that’s gonna have to be a wrap. I want to thank you for listening to our 2019 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Check out our website, chartcrush.com, for a written transcript and link to stream this and other Chartcrush episodes on Spotify, plus chart run line graphs and other slay extras. Every week, we count down a different year from the beginning of Billboard’s charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune in again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.