HomeWorld NewsWhat Do We Take From Doja Cat’s ‘Paint the Town Red’ Becoming Rap’s First Hot 100 No. 1 of 2023? – Billboard
What Do We Take From Doja Cat’s ‘Paint the Town Red’ Becoming Rap’s First Hot 100 No. 1 of 2023? – Billboard
September 13, 2023
We’d gone over a year — 54 weeks total — without a rap No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But for the first time since Nicki Minaj’s “Super Freaky Girl” reigned in Aug. 2022, a song tops both Billboard‘s Hot Rap Songs and Hot 100 charts simultaneously: Doja Cat‘s “Paint the Town Red.”
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“Red” hits No. 1 in its fifth week on the Hot 100, after having debuted at No. 15 about a month earlier. It’s the second No. 1 on the chart for Doja, following “Say So” with Nicki Minaj in 2020, and also breaks a streak of four consecutive country songs atop the listing — most recently Zach Bryan’s Kacey Musgraves-featuring “I Remember Everything,” which slips to No. 2 this week.
Why did “Red” explode to No. 1? And will it open the floodgates for rap singles atop the Hot 100 from here? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. After a good-but-not-great No. 15 debut on the Hot 100, “Paint the Town Red” has bounded to the Hot 100’s top spot in just five total weeks. What do you think is the biggest reason behind its quick post-release growth?
Rania Aniftos: Dare I say the controversy surrounding it? They say all press is good press, and the question of whether or not Doja has actually been possessed by the devil has certainly helped the song’s growth by getting people to stream and see what all the drama is about.
Kyle Denis: The biggest reason is probably the fact that it’s a genuinely catchy song. The hook is sticky, but it’s the Dionne Warwick “Walk on By” sample that really makes it an earworm. It also helps that Doja has kept her name and brand at the forefront of people’s minds ever since she first started teasing “Attention” a few months ago. By folding some fans’ valid concerns of her allegedly problematic boyfriend into a larger commentary on parasocial relationships, Doja has been able to reap the benefits of the age-old “all press is good press” truism.
Elias Leight: These days, five weeks might not even be considered “quick” growth — in recent years there has been so much emphasis in the music industry on seeing explosive movement from singles right away. This has led some executives to worry that great songs with the chance to become real hits are being abandoned too quickly if they don’t show that type of eruption in their first week or even first day of release. That backdrop makes the trajectory of “Paint the Town Red” all the more interesting: It has grown regularly week-over-week at streaming, radio and TikTok, eventually working its way to No. 1. In most cases, that’s probably a more sustainable path than arriving at the top.
Jason Lipshutz: Based on my own interaction with the song — going from “Huh, interesting track with a cool sample” to “Wow, one of the best singles of the year” in the span of a few weeks — I’d guess that “Paint the Town Red” revealed its subtle strengths as both a radio smash and streaming playlist staple to enough listeners since its release. Those two back-to-back refrains pack quite the one-two punch, Doja Cat jams multiple memorable lines into her verses, and the Dionne Warwick loop will be stuck on repeat in your head for an hour after a single listen. “Paint the Town Red” may not have been an immediate smash, but it’s a smash nonetheless.
Andrew Unterberger: “Red” is indeed a grower, and Doja has always been masterful at promoting singles in both the traditional ways (music videos, radio promotion, memorable performances) and the more modern ways (stoking virality, inserting herself into the pop conversation). You don’t see a lot of singles with trajectories like this in the 2020s, but it’s not a fluke that so many of the ones that do come from Doja Cat.
2. Though Doja Cat has been as unavoidable on radio and streaming as nearly any pop artist of the 2020s, this is only her second No. 1 hit, following “Say So” in 2020 with Nicki Minaj. Do you think the second No. 1 (and first unaccompanied one) is meaningful for her career, or is it just another one of many accomplishments she’s notched in recent years?
Rania Aniftos: Coming off a wildly successful year following Planet Her’s release, I would consider a Hot 100 chart topper for a new album era incredibly meaningful. It indicates that she’s established herself in popular music as an artist that has broken away from relying on social media virality for a hit — ultimately leading to a long-lasting career.
Kyle Denis: I think that this is definitely a meaningful moment for Doja’s career. For one, “Paint the Town Red” is far enough removed from the disco-tinged frothiness of “Say So” that the song proves that she can top the Hot 100 without relying on that specific sound. Moreover, this second chart-topper comes during a period of intense controversy and notoriety for Doja. While a healthy chunk of all that is self-inflected, achieving a Hot 100 No. 1 during a time when many people are turning against you is certainly nothing to scoff at. The success of “Paint the Town Red” is proof of the durability of Doja’s brand.
Elias Leight: A second No. 1 is helpful as a way of separating an artist from the competition. Especially when viral trends drive so much listening activity, a wide range of artists can top the Hot 100 once. But it’s hard to catch that sort of wave twice. Returning to the peak of the Hot 100 for a second time helps demonstrate an act’s staying power.
Jason Lipshutz: The fact that Doja Cat’s Planet Her didn’t include a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 represented more of a chart bug than a feature, considering the fact that five singles from her 2021 album reached the top 20 (and a post-Planet Her single, the Elvis track “Vegas,” did so as well). “Paint the Town Red” reaching the top of the chart continues the momentum of her last era, but Doja Cat was clearly a multi-platform superstar regardless of where the single ended up peaking, making the new No. 1 the latest in a string of wins rather than a professional game-changer.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s a big deal in that her Scarlet era already has a top-line item on its resumé that (somehow) her Planet Her era never accomplished — and when you’re a pop star of Doja Cat’s size and stature and still climbing to new heights, that’s fairly major. But mostly it just means that even with some of the PR hits she’s taken this year, she’s not due for a commercial fall-off anytime soon.
3. “Paint the Town Red” is the first song classified by Billboard as a rap song to top the Hot 100 in over a year. Does it being the song to break that streak say anything to you about rap’s current place in the mainstream?
Rania Aniftos: Maybe my finger is way off the pulse, but I’m so shocked at this information. Rap is such a mainstay in the music world to me, that it’s so strange that Ice Spice, Lil Durk or Lil Wayne haven’t climbed up the chart with their releases this year. If anything, “Paint the Town Red” will hopefully remind fans that rap isn’t going away, even if it took a break from the No. 1 spot.
Kyle Denis: I think this tells us that we’re moving back to a place where aggressively pop-rap songs are the hip-hop tracks to top the Hot 100. While that’s always been the case to some extent, with two pop-rap songs being hip-hop’s most recent Hot 100 chart-toppers, it feels like we’re moving further away from a time when less obviously crossover-aimed rap songs from likes of Migos or Travis Scott could top the chart and spend lengthy stays in its upper regions. Moreover, the Hot 100 success of “Paint” tells us that hip-hop is doing just fine, its reach and influence will always be present — just in a different way than it has been for the past 7-10 years.
Elias Leight: Doja Cat had a lot of success in the past with straightforward pop hits like “Say So,” “Kiss Me More,” and “Woman.” That previous history means that top 40 radio is leading the charge on her airplay, with “Paint the Town Red” charting higher on this week’s Pop Airplay chart (No. 14) than R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay (No. 19). Most rappers aren’t able to rely on that much pop radio support.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes and no: 2023 has been an up-and-down one for popular rap music, with some commercially underwhelming A-list projects and false starts by rising stars balanced out by a multi-week Billboard 200 chart-topper like Travis Scott’s Utopia and an exciting new mainstream voices like Ice Spice. I’m very happy to see a rap song finally top the Hot 100 in 2023, although it’s worth pointing out that several others — from Lil Durk and J. Cole’s “All My Life” to Gunna’s “Fukumean” to Travis Scott and Drake’s “Meltdown” — reached the top 5 in recent months, often blocked from the No. 1 spot by a smattering of dominant country singles. So while country has enjoyed an astonishing year at the top of the Hot 100, it’s not like rap music has been absent from the chart’s upper reaches.
Andrew Unterberger: It maybe says something about how major crossover appeal is more necessary than it used to be for a rap song to break through on this level. Back at hip-hop’s streaming peak in the late ’10s, rap songs could pile up stream counts so massive, often immediately, that it almost wouldn’t matter if they worked on top 40 or ended up spreading to widely varied corners of the internet. Now, with hip-hop’s streaming dominance a little less overwhelming, it’s not so easy to get there without some help from those other formats and audiences.
4. Meanwhile, the prior rap artist to score a Hot 100 No. 1 — Doja’s old “Say So” co-star Nicki Minaj — bows at No. 22 this week on the Hot 100 with the much more pop-focused “Last Time I Saw You.” Do you see that song having a “Paint”-like trajectory of chart growth, or will it likely fade from its debut?
Rania Aniftos: While I think “Last Time I Saw You” will likely fade, Nicki’s definitely got more up her sleeve. I wouldn’t be surprise if a number of songs off her upcoming album turn into instant classics.
Kyle Denis: I think there are definitely a few parts of “Last Time I Saw You” that have the potential to go viral and boost the song’s overall consumption. As it stands, however, unless there’s a concerted push to truly market this as Minaj’s current radio single, I think it’ll fade from here. Maybe it gets a bit of a second wind when Pink Friday 2 arrives.
Elias Leight: Predicting growth is pretty impossible at a time when a viral trend can start more or less randomly. That said, Minaj’s recent chart successes have tended to start strong and then fade, rather than grow over time. She effectively teased “Super Freaky Girl” before it was out; the single debuted at No. 1 but then fell to No. 7 in its second week. Her version of “Princess Diana” with Ice Spice opened at No. 4 and then fell to No. 29. “Barbie World,” another Ice Spice collaboration, opened at No. 7 and then dropped to No. 35. The buzz around the Barbie film helped it rebound as high as No. 8, where it stayed for two weeks, but it never matched its first-week peak.
Jason Lipshutz: “Last Time I Saw You” is a smart change-up for Nicki Minaj, a melodic pop-rap track that’s downright hummable and genuinely heartfelt. Minaj found a lot of recent success on the Hot 100 prior to her latest single, but “Last Time I Saw You” is more emotionally affecting than her more club-friendly fare; I’d bet that listeners return to it in the coming weeks, and while I’m not sure it will reach the top spot like “Paint the Town Red,” I could certainly see the track growing into the top 10.
Andrew Unterberger: To be honest, I don’t have a good read on this song yet — I like it, but it’s so low-key and unassuming by Minaj’s standards that I’m not totally sure where it fits for her in a pop single sense. I could very easily see it creeping its way into streaming and radio playlists and becoming a slow-burning hit in the fall, but I could also see it fading rapidly and becoming one of those in-between Nicki Minaj singles that kinda gets left behind within her discography.
5. Now that the streak is over, do you see rap making up for lost time with a flurry of No. 1s to follow over the remaining months of 2023 — or has popular music shifted too much in the past couple years for a return to that state of supremacy to be likely?
Rania Aniftos: I can’t help but feel like we’re about to enter a new era for rap music. It feels like all the power players are in the kitchen cooking, and I’m so excited to see how new releases from Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and hopefully Drake will affect the charts.
Kyle Denis: I think 2023, in general, has been a year of transition for mainstream music. There were a lot of great achievements across major charts from a variety of genres this year. I don’t think we’ll suddenly see a surge of hip-hop Hot 100 No. 1s, but those songs will still make it to the top 10 with relative ease. The sound of popular music is definitely shifting, but I’m not convinced it’s landed on a destination yet.
Elias Leight: There’s a Drake album coming soon; it would be surprising if that doesn’t yield a No. 1 hit for at least a week. But due to Doja Cat’s history in pop, her success probably doesn’t signify a larger shift for hip-hop.
Jason Lipshutz: I mean, we have a Drake album about to arrive, a Nicki Minaj album slated for the fall, a Cardi B album (hopefully, maybe) on the horizon, and… oh yeah, a flurry of Doja Cat songs joining “Paint the Town Red” on Scarlett. I’d be pretty surprised if we don’t get at least two more rap chart-toppers before the end of 2023.
Andrew Unterberger: I don’t really see it happening. Certainly there are some rap heavy hitters still yet to deliver on long-promised projects this year, and a No. 1 or two may follow from there. But in this sort of transitional period for mainstream hip-hop, with audiences more fragmented than ever, it seems like four-quadrant support for any one rapper or rap hit is harder to come by than it has been in a long while. At the very least, I don’t think the rap-monopolized landscape of 2018 is coming back anytime soon.