Chart Watch: Nicki Minaj Tops Michael Jackson (What?!!)

Well, I bet you didn’t see this coming: Nicki Minaj this week pulls ahead of Michael Jackson on Billboard's official tally of artists with the most Hot 100 hits. Minaj logs her 51st Hot 100 hit as her new “Anaconda” debuts at #19. Jackson has amassed 50 chart hits, from 1971's “Got To Be There” to two hits this year: “Slave To The Rhythm” and “Love Never Felt So Good,” a from-the-grave collabo with Justin Timberlake.

Not to put too fine a point on it, how on earth can this possibly be? Minaj is a hot artist, no question about it, but she didn’t appear on the Hot 100 until February 2010 (when she was featured on Lil Wayne's “Knockout”). She didn't make the Hot 100 as a lead artist until June 2010 (when she charted with “Your Love”).

Jackson, it goes without saying, is one of the most successful artists in music history.

Has Billboard's adding machine shorted out? No. This is all about changing customs and practices in the music business. Nowadays, featured credits allow artists to rack up huge numbers of hits in a hurry. In Jackson's day, artists had to earn every hit on their own.

"Anaconda" is just Minaj’s 20th Hot 100 hit as a lead (or co-lead) artist. The rest of her hits have been featured credits. By contrast, Jackson was in the lead (or co-lead) spot on all 50 of his Hot 100 hits. Jackson could have padded his tally a little bit if he had elected to take a featured credit on Rockwell's “Somebody's Watching Me” (#2 in 1984) or Diana Ross's “Eaten Alive” (#77 in 1985), but he didn't.

The situation with featured credits has gotten so out-of-hand that Joel Whitburn, the author of a definitive series of chart research books, stopped listing them in the 14th edition of his flagship book, Top Pop Singles. Now, if you look up a given artist, you’ll find only the hits on which that artist was in the lead position—along with a quick run-down of the names of artists on which the artist had featured credits (so you can look them up on your own, if you wish).

In its June 14 issue, Billboard made a move of its own along these lines. It stopped using the same typeface on the Hot 100 for the names of lead and featured artists. Now, the lead artist’s name is in big, bold type and the featured artist’s name is in light, itty-bitty type.

In both cases, these moves make perfect sense.

"Anaconda," which is this week’s top new entry on the Hot 100, borrows heavily from Sir-Mix-A-Lot's “Baby Got Back,” which logged five weeks at #1 in July 1992 (when Minaj was nine). “Anaconda” is from Minaj's upcoming third studio album, The Pink Print.

Minaj has a second song on this week’s Hot 100: “Bang Bang,” a co-equal collabo with Jessie J and Ariana Grande, which drops from #6 to #9 in its second week. Will Minaj have two songs in the top 10 before long? Stay tuned.

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