Steve Lacy, the breakout solo star who originally gained fame as a member of alt-soul band The Internet, has been a favorite of critics and streaming audiences for some time now. Now, he officially has his first crossover hit.
“Bad Habit,” lead single from his July-released sophomore solo set Gemini Rights, advances three spots to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, in just its fourth frame on the chart. It’s his first hit of any size on the Hot 100, and already one of the biggest streaming breakout stories of 2022 — a year that hasn’t seen a tremendous number of newer artists scoring major hits.
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Why was this the song to finally make Steve Lacy a top 40 consideration? And will he stick around in the mainstream from here? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. “Bad Habit” is a pretty slow-burning track, but there’s been nothing slow-burning about its Hot 100 ascent — bounding from No. 100 to No. 50 to No. 14 to No. 11 on the chart over the past four weeks. What factor do you mostly attribute its commercial velocity to?
Cydney Lee: Steve’s just different. From the time we were first introduced to him via The Internet, he’s always been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. Hearing his contributions to the band and as a collaborator for other artists has made his journey as a solo artist all the more intriguing as we continue to see what he can create on his own. “Bad Habit,” specifically, is very catchy and relatable, so that alone makes it very accessible to people outside of his already niche fanbase. This time around, he’s got some traction on TikTok as well; the song has been used in over 201,000 videos so far. Overall, I think his long-awaited return since Apollo XXI has helped this song soar, and the song itself is just great.
Jason Lipshutz: One could point to a variety of factors — TikTok mobility, streaming platform placement, alternative and even pop radio starting to kick in — as the prevailing reason why “Bad Habit” is exploding, but the answer is more simple: it’s a really striking song. “Bad Habit” sounds modern but with classic soul tenets, in a way that makes the refrain “I wish you knew, I wish you knew you wanted me” come across as from another pop era, but also the perfect soundtrack for a 7-second viral clip. Meanwhile, Lacy’s voice on the song has a stop-you-in-your-tracks pleading quality that’s more emotionally bare than almost all of top 40 right now. “Bad Habit” sounds singular, but totally accessible and begging for more than one spin; it’s already big, and going to get bigger.
Joe Lynch: Full disclosure: I don’t know. I think the strummy, sweet, sing-along chorus is a sneaky one: it gets into your neural pathways and keeps doing the rounds until you can’t remember a time before you were listening to it. Of course, just because an earworm *exists* doesn’t mean it will hit the Hot 100, much less climb this fast, so I also think it has to do with Steve Lacy’s star quality and the enigmatic give-and-take relationship he seems to have with social media. Have I said enough things for you to not realize I didn’t really answer the question yet?
Neena Rouhani: For me it’s simple, TikTok. I’m pretty active on the platform and I hear EVERY variation of that song basically every few videos: 2x sped up, 3x sped up, slowed down, chopped and screwed. It’s all over the app. There are obviously other contributors to its growth but I think TikTok is the most impactful one.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s just the right song at the right time. His “Dark Red” had sneakily grown into one of the biggest (and most consistent) streaming hits of the early decade — without ever quite getting big enough to crack the Hot 100, but enough to make him a familiar name and sound to a lot of new listeners who probably weren’t all that familiar with The Internet or their song-stealing guitarist. Lacy was primed for a big new single to vault him over-ground, and “Bad Habit” is absolutely that single. It reminds me of THE ANXIETY’s “Meet Me at Our Spot” from last year: Technically TikTok might’ve been the fuse-lighter, but the previous work the artist had put in and the unignorable quality of the song were the real reasons for the explosion.
2. Lacy has been percolating for a while commercially as a cult star, both in his solo work and as a member of alt-soul band The Internet. Do you think “Bad Habit” makes sense as the song to finally put him over the top as a crossover artist?
Cydney Lee: I do. It’s catchy, upbeat and is a fusion of many different elements (pop, alt, R&B etc). And the switch up at the end? Fire. Sonically and lyrically, it’s something I expected him to create. He didn’t have much of a calculated rollout for Gemini Rights as a whole, but he knew what he was doing releasing this one as single.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes, and not just because of its immediacy — “Bad Habit” starts with the most effortless hook of Lacy’s here, and then unfurls a strong runner-up a few moments later — but because the song bottles his appeal into the space of nearly four minutes. “Bad Habit” contains the spaced-out, psych-adjacent hip-hop and soul ideas that Lacy has been pulling at for a while, but does so in a wholly digestible manner, pointing to the rewarding rabbit hole of his catalog without pushing the listener down into it.
Joe Lynch: For sure. A lot of his previous songs, while occupying the same sonic landscape, felt more like sketches or mood pieces. A hurried diary entry with no conclusion because your mom walked into your room and told you to take out the garbage, for chrissakes, and stop burning incense to cover up the weed, you’re not fooling anyone. “Bad Habit” has the same DIY spirit, but an attention to detail and craftsmanship that sets it apart from much of his catalog.
Neena Rouhani: Totally. I think this single did exactly what it needed to do to help him achieve that milestone. This song is enough to get him into a lot of uncharted spaces, and with his world tour coming up, it’s enough to get a ton of bodies into seats that may not have been there without “Bad Habit.” It’s also genre-fluid, meaning it is getting airplay on a number of stations across genres, further expanding his reach and fanbase.
Andrew Unterberger: Yep. Which is not to say that “Bad Habit” is Lacy’s obvious attempt to shoot into the stratosphere of Harry Styles and Beyoncé, but just that it feels like a crystallization of so much of what he does well — the entrancing grooves, the liquid guitar work, the delectably bittersweet hooks — that if ever a song was gonna take the singer-guitarist to the majors, it feels right that this should be the one.
3. The amorphous sound of a song like “Bad Habit” could (at least in theory) prime Lacy for airplay on pop, R&B and/or alternative radio. Which of the radio formats, if any, do you see him ultimately faring best at?
Cydney Lee: Pop and alternative radio. There’s some R&B in there but not enough for it to make a splash on R&B radio, in my opinion. And that might be a good thing, considering the discourse that genre has been the brunt of recently.
Jason Lipshutz: Alternative radio for sure — “Bad Habit” could work there as a soulful switch-up in rotations in the same way that something like Peach Tree Rascals’ “Mariposa” took off a few years ago. I’m definitely rooting for it at pop — imagine the baffling yet thrilling experience of hearing Kate Bush and Steve Lacy back-to-back on top 40 radio in 2022! — but think alternative is its best bet to really take off at radio for an extended run.
Joe Lynch: Given that it sounds like a distant cousin to iann dior and 24kGoldn’s “mood,” I feel like “Bad Habit” fits more solidly into pop airplay’s current climate. I could see alt radio getting around to it eventually if it sticks around long enough, but programmers might not take the risk. I’d be surprised if it makes much headway on R&B radio.
Neena Rouhani: Definitely pop. It doesn’t exactly follow pop structure, outside of the catchy chorus and post, but that hook and guitar loop are enough to get stuck in your head. I’m not sure how it’ll do on R&B — I think it can fit into certain tracklists, but it’s definitely not an R&B song.
Andrew Unterberger: It appears that pop radio is first on the scene this time around — the song debuts at No. 32 on Billboard‘s Pop Airplay listing, without yet appearing on the R&B or alternative radio charts — which speaks to top 40’s increased willingness to jump on viral hits, a long-overdue transition. But I’d imagine Lacy has more of a long-term future at alternative, which has been more hospitable to vibier singles in recent years, and which doesn’t need a single to have already gone viral each time out to prove itself worthy of playlisting.
4. “Bad Habit” appears on Lacy’s recently released Gemini Rights LP, which debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart. Do you see the rest of the album continuing to establish him as a mainstream presence, or do you think it’ll mostly just be “Habit” for this cycle?
Cydney Lee: Honestly, I do not think Gemini Rights will have much of a mainstream presence. I know this is not the case, but the album sounds like it was made for a certain type of listener. In other words, if Gemini Rights is someone’s introduction to Steve Lacy, I don’t think they would be able to soak this in and really feel it like someone who already knows his story/sound. Not being mainstream isn’t a bad thing either, and for someone like Steve, I don’t think that’s his priority anyway.
Jason Lipshutz: To split the difference, I think that Gemini Rights will absolutely establish Steve Lacy as a star, level him up as a live artist and even net him some awards recognition… but I can’t imagine any other track on the album transcending a TikTok flare-up and taking off like “Bad Habit” as a true crossover hit. And that’s fine — Lacy now has a signature single, and a gateway for mainstream listeners to explore the many luxurious delights of his new full-length.
Joe Lynch: With the right TikTok “moment” (organic or not) or synch, I could see some of the other tracks making a mainstream inroad: Lacy’s falsetto-augmented delivery on the “Sunshine” lyric “saying ‘my ex’ like my name ain’t StEEEEve” is a delight, and Fousheé’s voice is particularly rich on that one. Would I bet on it? No. Then again, with Raja winning the runner-up crown on the all-winners season of Drag Race All Stars, perhaps we are in a heretofore unseen Gemini Rights era.
Neena Rouhani: I don’t see any of the other tracks doing what “Bad Habit” did. It’s a great project, but that’s the one with the most pop allure. “Mercury” did really well on the streaming front, and I love the Brazilian musical elements — but again, I don’t see it getting airplay. If I had to pick one potential future hit, I’d say “Sunshine” with Foushée. I personally love “Buttons”; that cut needs to be licensed for a summery indie movie scene.
Andrew Unterberger: It’ll be enough to establish him as an awards season and end-of-year-list contender, for sure — and I could also see it inspiring a second hit in the similarly winning Foushée collab “Sunshine.” Is it gonna turn into this year’s After Hours or Sour, though? Probably not too likely.
5. Lacy‘s “Bad Habit” or Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits”: Which of the two recent Hot 100 fixtures do you think is the superior reflection or illustration of the impact of succumbing to harmful vices?
Cydney Lee: I listened to Ed’s for the first time to answer this question, but I’m going with Steve because I can relate more to what he’s singing about, personally. Both are good reflections of vices, but I think Ed’s is more straightforward, while Lacy is more subtle, and the latter is what I prefer.
Jason Lipshutz: Lacy’s “Bad Habit,” since “Biting my tongue, it’s a baaaad habit!” Is one of the more memorable line deliveries of the year. And come on — we all know that “Shivers” will be the enduring jam from Sheeran’s = album.
Joe Lynch: I firmly reject Ed Sheeran’s claim that “late nights endin’ alone” and “conversations with a stranger I barely know” are bad habit adjacent; you might be glad you went to bed early the next day, but three years down the road, it’s the late nights you’ll have the better memories of. So I’m going with Lacy here: the unexpected sting of biting your own tongue is not just uncomfortable, but embarrassing – akin to cutting yourself while shaving as an adult, it’s one of those moments where you think, “Really? I haven’t figured out how to avoid this at my age?”
Neena Rouhani: I will say, I don’t think I’ve ever put on Ed’s “Bad Habits” on my own accord, but the truly superior “Bad Habit” theme song is neither: For me, Destiny Child’s 2004 deep cut “Bad Habit” absolutely takes the cake.
Andrew Unterberger: “Late nights ending alone/ Conversations with a stranger I barely know” — bad habits, or just being an adult human experiencing slight difficulty in social situations? Biting your tongue and pining for someone while being too emotionally paralyzed to actually make a move, though — legitimately unadvisable. Easy call.