"I think people have been longing for simpler times and a nostalgic escape," says one radio programmer.
The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” again beams at maximum wattage on Billboard‘s Pop Songs radio airplay chart, making a return to No. 1.
The song revisits the top spot on the July 4-dated chart (which tallies plays on a panel of over 160 mainstream top 40 stations) after eight weeks at No. 2. It trails only Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply,” which spent 10 weeks out of the summit in 1998, likewise all at No. 2, before returning to the rank (as noted by keen chart-watcher Ger D’Alvano).
“Blinding Lights,” released on XO/Republic Records, previously topped Pop Songs for three weeks, on charts dated April 18 and 25 and May 2. Its total span of reigning, thus, covers 12 weeks, the third-longest in the list’s archives, tied with “Truly Madly Deeply.” Post Malone’s “Circles” (like “Blinding Lights,” released on Republic) set the mark by ruling over a stretch of 15 weeks (10 at No. 1) in November-February.
Also reflecting the extended luminosity of “Blinding Lights”: Between its third (May 2) and fourth (July 4) weeks at No. 1 on Pop Songs, three songs took turns at the top: Camila Cabello’s “My Oh My,” featuring DaBaby; Doja Cat’s “Say So”; and Justin Bieber’s “Intentions,” featuring Quavo.
What’s behind the uncommon staying power of “Blinding Lights”?
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “I think people have been longing for simpler times and a nostalgic escape,” says Will Calder, director of branding and programming for Cox Media Group Pop Songs reporters WPOI Tampa and WPYO Orlando. “‘Blinding Lights’ is 2020’s answer to [a-ha’s 1985 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1] ‘Take on Me.’ It stands out because it’s different, but also familiar. And, most importantly, it just makes you feel good.”
The song’s ’80s vibe is a favorite of The Weeknd’s, as he told Billboard after it logged its first of four weeks atop the Hot 100 (dated April 4), “I’ve always had an admiration for the era before I was born. You can hear as far back as my first mixtape [2011’s House of Balloons] that the ’80s — Siouxsie & the Banshees, Cocteau Twins — play such a huge role in my sound. Sometimes it helps me create a new sound and sometimes it’s just obvious. I’m just glad the world’s into it now.”
Along with the song’s sound, Republic executive vp of promotion Gary Spangler notes, “Every quantifiable metric is through the roof, not just domestically but globally.”
Also potentially helping “Blinding Lights,” and other established hits, according to industry sources, is that budgets for radio stations’ audience research have been challenged amid the coronavirus. Faced with less measurable data, programmers may be opting to stick with what’s been working instead of taking chances on newer, more unproven titles. Plus, less established acts can’t tour or make in-person station visits at the moment, further reducing their avenues toward greater familiarity.
Brian Kelly, vp of operations at Entercom Milwaukee, which includes Pop Songs panelist WXSS, and the company’s national top 40 format captain, shares that “Blinding Lights” actually took time to get traction, as it didn’t top Pop Songs until its 17th week on the chart. (The Weeknd was also competing with himself for play, as concurrent single “Heartless” from his latest album, After Hours, rose to No. 5 in March.)
“At first, it didn’t seem to research, and some other major indicators just weren’t there,” Kelly recalls. “But the format definitely needed tempo, and this was the most upbeat song we’d heard in quite a while. And, I think a lot of programmers fell in love with its ’80s-style of production. I mean, c’mon, you could play this during any scene of Beverly Hills Cop and it would fit perfectly!”
Kelly calls The Weeknd “one of the biggest core artists of the format. This is one song that we were pulling for and thank goodness it finally came through and is staying for a while.”