How 'Shape Of You' and 'Despacito' became 2017's biggest hits — according to a chart expert

28 December 2017
A year ago, could anyone have predicted that 2017's biggest hits would include a raunchy Ed Sheeran bop originally penned with Rihanna in mind and a raunchy reggaeton-pop sensation sung almost entirely in Spanish? Probably not. But "Shape of You" and "Despacito" indeed took the year by force, becoming the year's only two tracks to spend double-digit weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

Now, as the year rounds its final stretch of days, it's worth examining — how?

Let's get granular for a moment. According to Gary Trust, Billboard's co-director of charts, a song's performance on the Hot 100 is impacted by three key metrics: streaming, radio airplay, and sales. "Songs that lead the Hot 100 for double-digit weeks generally dominate across the board, and these two hits certainly did," Trust told MTV News via email.

MTV Desk Report: Despacito

In addition to hitting those essential beats, "Despacito" and "Shape of You" also saw prolonged reigns that proved not just impressive but, in fact, historic.

In April, "Despacito" got a second wind thanks to a remix featuring Justin Bieber; four months later, this new version tied the record for most weeks at the top ever, which it shares with "One Sweet Day" from Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. Its Hot 100 victory also made "Despacito" the first primarily Spanish-language hit to reach No. 1 since Los Del Rio's "Macarena" in 1996.

"Shape of You," meanwhile, racked up its own chart-specific accolade for most weeks spent in the top 10 — 33 in total, ahead of "Closer" by recent record-setters The Chainsmokers and Halsey and LeAnn Rimes's "How Do I Live."

To make such history, it helped that the songs themselves were exciting — sensual, rhythmic, endlessly hummable — as were their featured performers.

"Anticipation for Sheeran's return, as the song was the first single from his album ÷, also helped its high profile," Trust said. "'Despacito' benefited from its start with Latin audiences and, once Bieber joined on its remix, pop fans found the song, and that wide band of consumers helped lift the song to inescapable status, and a record-tying reign atop the Hot 100."

Also interesting to note are the songs that entered the chart and endedthese songs' historic runs, Trust said. "In the cases of 'Shape of You' and 'Despacito,' not surprisingly, lead singles from new albums dethroned them atop the Hot 100: Kendrick Lamar's 'HUMBLE.' and Taylor Swift's 'Look What You Made Me Do,' respectively."

Ed Sheeran On "Shape Of You"

A look at the Hot 100's milestones reveals that "Shape of You" and "Despacito," while more decorated and accomplished than some of their peers, are merely the latest in a line of recent jams that have skyrocketed up the chart and stuck around for double-digit weeks.

We've already mentioned 2016's "Closer," but Drake's "One Dance" also cracked 10 weeks on top that year. Remember "Uptown Funk"? In 2015, the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson team-up spent 14 weeks on top and 31 weeks in the top 10. "See You Again," Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's Furious 7 crier, enjoyed a 12-week reign. And Pharrell's inescapable "Happy" ruled for 10 weeks in 2014.

That's a lot of raw data to digest, but the point is that out of all the songs that have spent the most weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart since its inception in the mid-20th century, nine have been released in the past five years — and two of them are "Shape of You" and "Despacito." What might that mean for the future of the chart?

"A Sheeran song going to No. 1 doesn't seem too surprising looking back, but who could've predicted the crossover success of, or Bieber's involvement with, a Latin song?" Trust said. "Or, the chart-topping start of a newcomer like Cardi B?"

Given her success this year, Cardi B's next single might just be 2018's longest chart-topper. Or maybe upcoming marquee album releases from Camila CabelloThe 1975, or even the hypothetical return of someone like Kanye West could produce another record-breaking top song of the year.

"That unpredictability keeps music, and chart-watching, continuously fun," Trust said.

Or maybe 2018's winningest bop will be something that drops seemingly from the heavens without warning or precedent.

- Patrick Hosken

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