Nine weeks ago, the song debuted on Billboard’s Nielsen BDS-based Mainstream Top 40 chart at No. 20 with 3,961 first-week plays, marking the best first-week sum for a song by a male artist in the chart’s almost 20-year history. Just three weeks later, “Boyfriend” became Bieber’s first format top 10 (after eight prior chart entries).
Over the next four weeks, however, “Boyfriend” registered decreases in plays, falling out of the top 10 and from 6,881 plays (May 5) to 5,699 (June 2). Similar drops showed on Billboard’s all-format audience-based Hot 100 Airplay chart, where the song slipped from a No. 13 peak (57 million listener impressions) to No. 19 (45 million) from the beginning to the end of May. On the Rhythmic chart, the track likewise tumbled from No. 7 on the May 12 chart (2,941 plays) to No. 10 on the June 2 tally (2,541).
Early to rise, early to fall.
As it sets up Bieber’s third studio album, Believe, due June 19, Island Def Jam still believed, however, that this “Boyfriend” was a keeper. Label president/COO Steve Bartels says that the song’s fast start was powered by programmers’ excitement over a big-name release. After playing it in heavy rotation initially, once early listener research revealed unfamiliarity, some stations eased off airplay, resulting in the song’s chart retreats.
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How did the tide turn back in Bieber’s favor?
“Radio needs to allow star artists the time to connect. Justin Bieber is one of those,” Bartels says. “I went back with my staff and our friends at radio and promoted belief. All the signs were there: video views, huge single sales, monster streaming and requests.” To date, the official video for “Boyfriend,” which didn’t premiere until early May, has garnered 60 million YouTube views. The song has sold 2.1 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and registered 5.5 million on-demand streams, according to BDS.
The label’s resolve is paying off. For the second week in a row, “Boyfriend” boasts a bullet, ranking at No. 9 on Mainstream Top 40, up by 533 plays, a 9% gain. On Rhythmic, the song lifts 9-8 (up by 218 spins, an 8% increase). On the latest (June 9) Hot 100 Airplay chart, it rose from 48 to 53 million audience impressions (up 9%). Two weeks earlier, the song had collapsed from 51 to 45 million.
“With focus and determination by all involved, things turned toward the signs that we initially saw,” Bartels says.
Notably, the song has turned around its radio fortunes without the aid of such modern traditional aids as a TV commercial synch or a cover by the cast of Fox’s “Glee,” the latter of which assisted the rebound of one of the more recent examples of a song that found new life at top 40 after an initial downturn, Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You! (Forget You)”; after peaking at No. 18 in a nine-week chart run in 2010, the song returned in 2011, eventually topping Mainstream Top 40 the week of April 16, the “Glee” tribute having spurred sales and helped convince PDs of its hit potential.
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