Despite selling out tours worldwide, reaching #1 with each of his last three (soon to be four) album releases and registering as possibly the most recognizable pop star on the planet, one height of superstardom has continued to elude Justin Bieber—scoring a #1 hit single. In his 22 charting efforts on the Hot 100, the highest peak Bieber has reached to date was with Believe lead single “Boyfriend,” which debuted at #2 earlier this year. Yet despite being not nearly the household name that Bieber is, and despite only having one promoted US single to her credit, Carly Rae Jepsen now has infinity times the number of #1 hits that her mentor Justin does, having hit #1 last week with her breakthrough hit “Call Me Maybe.”
Amanda Dobbins of Vulture just wrote an interesting article wondering if Justin Bieber and his people don’t regret having unleashed “Call Me Maybe” on the general public this summer, since the hubbub about The Bieb’s Believe (out this Tuesday and still expected to have the best-selling debut week of any album this year) has been overshadowed somewhat by the enormity of “Maybe,” and the outpouring of love (often in the version of YouTube covers/tributes) that it has inspired. “Believe was supposed to be Justin’s breakthrough album, or at least the album that let grown-ups know he was capable of a breakthrough, at some point down the road,” the article concludes. “How will they know if they are too busy bopping to “Call Me Maybe”?”
Indeed, despite the initial success of “Boyfriend,” and all the hype surrounding the song’s video and its more “adult” lyrical selections and all that, the song seems very much yesterday’s news right now. The song continues to sag on the charts (just #14 on iTunes at time of writing) and Carly Rae’s momentum still seems to only by gathering, as she resides at #1 on the charts, just a couple radio spins away from having the most broadcasted, downloaded and streamed song in the country. Bieber’s follow-up releases to “Boyfriend” have all notched high chart debuts thanks to iTunes sales, but all have plummeted directly after, without any getting full promotional backing. Perhaps this would also be the case were Carly Rae not hogging the country, and possibly Bieber follow-ups will fare better once given full support, but it’s hard not to feel that Carly Rae has stolen the Bieb’s thunder a bit.
How did this happen? It’s remarkable enough that Bieber hasn’t had a half-dozen #1 hits already, but it’s borderline incredible that he wasn’t able to manage one off this album’s ridiculous hype and over-promotion, while his signee that nobody had even heard of half a year ago cruised her way to the top. Chris Molanphy of the Village Voice wrote a fine article explaining how radio has been slow to embrace not only Bieber, but teen pop in general, especially when male-sung—dating back to the era of the Backstreet Boys, whose “I Want It That Way” only made it to #5 on the Hot 100, despite arguably being the most popular pop song of 1999. Consequently, Bieber has been hamstrung on the Hot 100 by his lack of radio success, with even a song as seemingly inescapable as “Baby” only making it to #24 on the airplay charts.
Molanphy also explains that Def Jam has been struggling to get Top 40 radio to embrace “Boyfriend,” and though they may finally be getting somewhere, pushing the song to a new Bieb-high of #11 on the Radio Songs chart, it’ll probably be too late to get the song back to the Hot 100 apex, with the song’s digital sales and on-demand streams having long since tapered off. It’s hard to imagine which of Believe‘s other songs will be so radio-undeniable to continue to reverse this trend, either—the Ludacris-featuring rave-up “All Around the World” probably sounds the most like the rest of radio at the moment, but it still has a very young and naive-sounding chorus (“All around the world / People want to be loved”) that continues to flag Bieber’s age, and Ludacris is hardly the Top 40 fixture that he once was, either.
Not mentioned in the Voice article is another factor that hurt Bieber’s chances of scoring a #1 with “Boyfriend”—fluke timing. The song had the misfortune of debuting on the charts in the midst of Fun.’s six-week run on top of the charts with “We Are Young,” just as the streams, airplay and downloads were all starting to click at the same time for that song. Had “Boyfriend” been released earlier in the year, it could have very easily scored a #1 debut on the back of its 520,000 first-week copies sold alone—as Katy Perry did with “Part of Me,” which sold 100k less than “Boyfriend” but still managed to debut on top the Hot 100.
“Bofyriend” also had the misfortune of debuting after the On Demand Songs chart was instituted in Hot 100 calculations, a third factor that Bieber also has not fared as well as some with—”Boyfriend” has yet to rise above #5 on that one, and was not even available on most streaming services the week of its release, thus killing its chances of toppling “We Are Young” in a week where that song was streamed 1.18 million times. If “Boyfriend” had been released in February instead of late March, when download sales were slower and streams didn’t matter, it almost certainly would have topped the charts, and this entire article would be a moot point.
But there’s another factor at play here, one much simpler than all this complicated chart stuff: “Call Me Maybe” is a much better song than anything Justin Bieber’s ever put out, including “Boyfriend.” Most of Bieber’s stuff has been purposefully watered down, lowest-common-denominator-catering fare meant to showcase his talents and appeal without overshadowing the artist with the song, and while nobody is confusing “Call Me Maybe” for Laurie Anderson, there’s nothing in Bieber’s back catalogue as lyrically striking as the “Hey I just met you / and this is crazy” chorus in “Maybe,” as musically unforgettable as the song’s violin hook, or as emotionally resonant as the “Before you came into my life / I missed you soooo bad” bridge. Among Bieb’s hits, only “Baby” comes close to the “Call Me Maybe” pop rush, and as sugary-sweet as that song is, it’s still far too simple to hope to compare.
Now, in the long term of the two artists’ respective careers, this initial victory might actually come back to hurt Our Girl Carly Rae—while Bieber’s material was never allowed to take the shine off its singer, the enormity of “Call Me Maybe” totally dwarfs Jepsen as a performer, and if she was able to even come close to matching the 22 Hot 100 hits Bieber has amassed to this point (a number sure to grow exponentially by the time all is said and done), I’d personally be a little surprised. But for now, she has achieved in record time what her far more famous and successful boss still can not, and that is a pretty solid line on her career resume, no matter where she goes from here.