Crunching The Numbers: Britney Spears’s Pop Longevity And Adele’s Unlikely Chart-Topper

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Top 40 has always been a notoriously fickle radio format, but ever since the teen-pop explosion of the late nineties, the average age of its artists has seemed to skew ever younger. Career longevity has come to mean ultimately appealing to listeners outside the Top 40 market. The exception that proves this rule is Britney Spears, whose “I Wanna Go” tops Billboard‘s Pop Songs chart this week, thus setting a record of 12 years, seven months and four days between first and last #1 appearances on the Top 40 airplay chart. (Her first appearance was “…Baby One More Time” the week of Feb. 20, 1999.)

The Pop Songs chart only launched the week of October 3, 1992, though. Would another artist hold the longevity record were the chart to have existed earlier? Not Madonna: her first #1 single was “Like a Virgin” in late 1983, and her last Pop Songs #1 was “Take A Bow” on March 25, 1995. (Like we said: Top 40 is fickle!) The Beatles‘ run of “She Loves You” to “The Long and Winding Road” only lasted seven years. Even Michael Jackson couldn’t beat Britney’s record, unless we’re sorely mistaken about the top 40 airplay “Ben” got.

The only artist who could challenge Britney is the one who previously held the record: Mariah Carey. 11 years, nine months, and 21 days elapsed between her first and most recent Pop Songs #1s (“Hero” and “Shake It Off,” respectively). However, presuming that her breakout smash “Vision of Love” would have topped the Pop Songs chart, her record would have been in the range of 15 years and two or three months. Britney would need a hit in May 2014 to top that notional peak—but that hardly seems outside the realm of possibility. Britney Spears may still be under thirty, but her Video Vanguard Award at this year’s VMAs was hardly a premature recognition.

The VMAs helped Adele set a chart record, too—her Hot 100-topping “Someone Like You” made the biggest-ever jump to #1 (up from #27) that wasn’t assisted by the market release of a single. Granted, any song available for digital download is a potential single, but any sales boost for the song was due not to sudden availability but to her vocal performance at the awards ceremony, accompanied only by a piano. That in itself is a Hot 100 first: Gary Trust at Billboard checked the archives and found that no piano-and-vocal-only song had topped the charts in the over 53-year history of the Hot 100.