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Taylor Swift, Drake and now Jack Harlow. That’s the complete list of artists who’ve scored new No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in each of the past three calendar years — with the latter artist completing the trifecta with his new chart-topper “Lovin on Me.”
“Lovin” climbs from 2-1 on the Hot 100 this week (dated Dec. 2), following his Lil Nas X collab “Industry Baby” (2021) and his solo smash “First Class” (2022) to the chart’s apex. Like “First Class,” the song was extensively teased on TikTok before its release, building up anticipation for its debut.
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How has Harlow continued scoring these smashes? And will he one day also have the consistent major album success of a Drake or Swift? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Jack Harlow’s “Lovin on Me” climbs 2-1 on the Hot 100 this week, giving him a new No. 1 hit in a third straight year — the only artist besides Drake and Taylor Swift on as long a streak. On a scale from 1-10, how surprised are you to see Harlow’s name along with those two others for that benchmark?
Eric Renner Brown: I’d quantify my mild surprise as a 3. Not so much because Harlow strung together three consecutive years with a Hot 100 topper – even in 2021, it was fairly clear he had the juice as far as pop-rap goes – but because only him, Drake, and Taylor have achieved this distinction. To come at this question another way, my surprise is primarily in terms of the artists who scored Hot 100 No. 1s in 2021, and then missed the chart’s top slot in at least one of the two following years. At the end of 2021, Lil Nas X and BTS were both omnipresent and it felt like a strong possibility that Cardi B would have a new album (with ostensibly huge singles) the following year. Instead, 2021 was the last year any of them topped the chart.
Kyle Denis: Maybe about a 6? When you think about it, it’s not really that surprising. Jack Harlow is a charismatic young talent with really broad appeal, and it’s not like he makes music that staunchly rejects mainstream conventions. Nonetheless, after the soft commercial reception of Jackman earlier this year and his relative absence from the headlines, another No. 1 hit does come as a bit of a surprise. Then again, when you have a hold on TikTok in the way that Jack Harlow does, there’s always a hit in your back pocket.
Josh Glicksman: A high 7. Sure, Harlow has become one of the bigger names in music over the past few years, but I doubt that your casual top 40 listener would know him as an answer to that trivia question. Still, he’s done an excellent job of picking collaborations, samples and, perhaps most importantly, the right singles since 2021. It’s hard to overemphasize the last point: Three of his last five singles as a lead artist have gone to No. 1. Harlow and his team clearly have a spot-on understanding of what is going to latch onto the mainstream ear in a moment’s notice.
Jason Lipshutz: A 9 — and that’s not due to anything against Jack Harlow, but just because of how his singles discography has oscillated between quickly evaporating tracks and No. 1 smashes. Unlike artists like Taylor Swift and Drake, who routinely send singles to the top of the Hot 100 regardless of the commercial rollout or affiliated project, Harlow has the ability to put out singles and projects with little Hot 100 heat (this year’s Jackman album didn’t produce a single top 40 entry, for instance), but then follow them up with songs that build TikTok anticipation and immediately explode on streaming services. It’s a singular skill, which makes a feat like “Lovin on Me” so unexpected.
Andrew Unterberger: A 7. Clearly Harlow’s crossover instincts are strong — we even named him one of the 10 greatest pop stars of 2022 — but it does feel like he has to prove himself each time out in a way that most cemented A-listers are mostly beyond needing to do. Striking gold like this three years in a row is quite tough to do for an artist on Harlow’s (still very high) commercial level.
2. Like “First Class” before it, “Lovin on Me” built excellent pre-release buzz on TikTok, essentially minting it as a hit before its debut. What about the song — or about Harlow’s singles in general — do you think makes it so viral-ready?
Eric Renner Brown: It has to help that the sheer density of his rhymes means that Harlow can simply squeeze more into a bite-sized clip, right? Harlow songs have this funny quality: Wherever you drop in, you’ll get to a punchline (or perhaps more accurately, an intended punchline) within a few seconds. (On “Lovin On Me,” don’t miss “I keep it short with a b–ch, Lord Farquaad” tucked away in the second verse – easily rap’s best Shrek moment of 2023.) More generally, I think Harlow’s classic production sensibilities give his songs a sense of familiarity. There’s nothing particularly grating or challenging about his music, which greases the virality wheels.
Kyle Denis: Definitely the sample. That melody coupled with a beat that feels familiar to enough to recall Drake’s “The Motto,” but distinct enough to feel like its own entity, makes for a track with several key components to latch onto. More importantly, like “First Class,” “Lovin on Me,” finds Jack rapping to the ladies – and there isn’t much of that happening in rap music right now (at least from the men in the mainstream). Of the 50 songs on Billboard’s 2023 Year-End Hot Rap Songs ranking, just a handful can be described as songs that fit that bill.
Josh Glicksman: The man knows how to pick an earworm of a sample! Like “First Class” before it, it only takes a listen or two before “Lovin on Me” will be fully stuck in your head, humming Cadillac Dale’s pitched-up, sped-up pre-chorus again and again. He’s been doing it for years: Don’t forget about 2019’s “Thru the Night” — released just a few months before breakthrough hit “Whats Poppin” — which similarly used a lift from Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call” to wrap its way around listeners’ hearts.
Jason Lipshutz: “First Class” and “Lovin on Me” follow a similar blueprint: rhythmic sample prominent in the production, Harlow flex-singing on the hook, then packing his verses with sexual innuendos. Harlow did not become a star with that formula — breakthrough single “What’s Poppin” sounds nothing like either No. 1 hit — but the one-liners are ripe for TikTok trends, and the sample-heavy choruses translate well to radio. “First Class” was a viral juggernaut before it became a traditional hit, and I expected “Lovin on Me” will function similarly.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, it’s the samples. While “Lovin on Me” is built around a significantly less-familiar sample (Cadillac Dale’s “Whatever”) than the Fergie-reviving “First Class,” it’s another immediately grabbing hook that Harlow does an excellent job interacting with and wrapping himself around. It arrives already feeling like a song we’ve known for a decade or longer, and that’s of incredible value when it comes to pop music at pretty much any point in history.
3. “First Class” not only had an excellent debut, it hung around long enough — spending half a year in the top 40 — to end up one of the biggest Hot 100 hits of 2022. Do you think “Lovin” will display similar endurance?
Eric Renner Brown: “First Class” was released a year-and-a-half before “Lovin On You,” which means it was also released a year-and-a-half closer to Harlow’s white-hot 2020 and 2021. In 2022, Harlow was still enjoying that afterglow, and I think “First Class” was a prime example. The two singles are comparable in quality – “Lovin On Me” has a little more edge to it, but “First Class” bests it in terms of originality – so Harlow’s current cultural cachet will likely be the differentiating factor here when it comes to commercial performance.
Kyle Denis: I think it has the potential. If it can survive the Christmas onslaught and grow its presence on radio in the new year, “Lovin on Me” could very well be one of those Q4 releases that truly explode in Q1.
Josh Glicksman: Candidly, “Lovin on Me” sounds more to me like a song that gets released in late spring and has the energy to last on the radio all summer long. My worry for Young J-A-C-K here is that, try as he might, Christmas music is already beginning its inevitable annual takeover of the charts. Regaining the track’s momentum following several weeks where people may push it aside is no easy feat. Pulling off another half year in the top 40 would be no Christmas miracle for him, but maybe more of an unexpected present under the tree.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s hard to say: we’re entering a pretty wonky chart moment, with a slew of holiday music about to dominate the Hot 100 and some longer-running hits like Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and Doja Cat’s “Paint the Town Red” already entrenched as counter-programming at radio. If “Lovin on Me” is going to hang around as a hit, it needs to transcend the next six weeks of Christmas fare and come out within the top 20 or so on the other side. I think the song has legs, but we’ll truly know if it does in January.
Andrew Unterberger: I think so. As demonstrated by a song like Sam Smith’s & Kim Petras’ “Unholy” — which had a massive, TikTok-accelerated debut in late 2022, and still hung around long enough to finish No. 11 on our 2023 Year-End Hot 100 — just because a song becomes a pop hit due to internet virality, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily likely to fade as quickly as it sparked. The streaming numbers are still robust, and radio is coming on fast, with multiple formats likely thrilled to receive a pre-minted hit like this so late in the calendar year. We’ll be hearing from “Lovin on You” well into 2024.
4. While Harlow has become a near-household name on the strength of his hit singles and feature appearances, his albums have not yet garnered the same consistency of success. Do you see it as only a matter of time before that follows, or is he more of an old-school singles artist who doesn’t necessarily need smash albums to thrive?
Eric Renner Brown: First, I’d push back on the notion that Harlow’s albums haven’t been consistently successful: Not No. 1s, but all three have charted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, which is nothing to sneeze at. But with that said, Harlow is a little-goes-a-long-way artist for me – and, I would assume, for many other listeners as well. The showboat cadence, the “is this the dumbest or most clever thing I’ve ever heard?” jokes… they get exhausting after a while.
His first two albums weren’t long relative to mainstream rap’s data dumps – each is roughly the length of a single vinyl LP – but this is why I thought this year’s even-shorter Jackman, at 24 minutes, was savvy. Get in, show the listeners how skilled a technician you are, and get out before you wear out your welcome. Then again, it’s also unclear what Harlow’s goals are for his albums. Come Home The Kids Miss You had four A-list features, but otherwise had a slimmer guest list than many of Harlow’s peers’ albums; Jackman had no features at all. If Harlow wanted these albums to have charted higher, there are straightforward ways he could have achieved that – and could achieve that in the future.
Kyle Denis: When it comes to albums, Jack Harlow is in a weird place. His official debut studio LP (2020’s Thats What They All Say) arrived at the right time to capitalize on the success of “Whats Poppin” and “Tyler Herro,” but he hadn’t yet really fleshed out who he was as a pop star and brand beyond those hits. He was able to do all that by the time his sophomore record (2022’s Come Home the Kids Miss You) rolled around, but tepid critical reception made it remarkably easy for “First Class” to overshadow the rest of the set. Then we have 2023’s Jackman, which was a conscious step away from the crossover aspirations of his first two records, obviously netting even less outstanding commercial returns.
Clearly, Jack doesn’t need a smash album to have a fruitful career, but I think he has at least one of those in him. I still think, had it not been for the pandemic, his debut could have been that record for him.
Josh Glicksman: As Billboard recently covered, the album is alive and well, though I have Harlow as an old-school singles artist — or at least, that’s where he’s going to have the most mainstream success. He has proven time and again that he knows how to captivate an audience with a one-off, and if you can string a handful of those together across a few albums, you’ll have a long and healthy career. That shouldn’t stop him from continuing to try, though. For everyone clamoring for another “Lovin on Me,” I’ll be waiting in line for the next installment of Jackman.
Jason Lipshutz: I think more consistency is in his future, because he’s more of a known entity — complete with major live shows, feature film roles and TV ad appearances — than a hit-single merchant without any artistic identity. It will be interesting to see if Harlow decides to take a few more swings of the Jackman bat and establish a stronger foothold in mainstream hip-hop, or if he becomes more focused on crossover hits as a way of extending his commercial run; in either lane, I’d bet on him establishing a dependable artistic tone and catering to its fan base.
Andrew Unterberger: Feels like a singles artist to me. Jackman was an admirable attempt to appeal to a more of a J. Cole-like audience, but while the album was more impressive than I would have expected, it simply didn’t attract the listenership to suggest that it’s what most people want to hear from Harlow. Meanwhile, Come Home had a stronger commercial debut but a worse reception from fans and critics, who didn’t seem to feel that the “First Class” version of Harlow could really sustain interest (or even likability) for an entire album. It’ll be a challenge for him to find a way to really split the difference between the two versions of himself — but having three Hot 100 No. 1s in three years should buy him a decent amount of time to try to figure it out, anyway.
5. Fill in the blank: Jack Harlow will end up being this generation’s _____.
Eric Renner Brown: John Mayer, maybe? Young heartthrob with undeniable and flashy skills scores some early hits then struggles to define himself artistically in the face of (often inaccurate or overblown) popular stereotypes… maybe this all ends with Harlow pinch-hitting as a key member in a hip-hop legacy act.
Kyle Denis: Jack Harlow will end up being this generation’s late-career Ludacris – he’ll always have a hit waiting in the wings, his albums won’t make much of an impact, and he’ll retain his crossover appeal by remaining a relevant figure across entertainment for as long as he desires.
Josh Glicksman: Thanksgiving is over, but let’s stay in theme: Jack Harlow will end up being this generation’s pumpkin pie. Do with that what you will.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s go with Fat Joe, a respected rapper with some huge pop hits, plenty of animated guest spots and loyal support within the hip-hop community. Harlow is not all the way up quite yet, but he’s getting there.
Andrew Unterberger: Wiz Khalifa. But also sorta its Pitbull.
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