Five Burning Questions: Glass Animals Break the Hot 100’s All-Time Longevity Record With ‘Heat Waves’
For the second time in two years, one of the Billboard Hot 100‘s biggest records has fallen.
In August of 2021, the all-time mark for longest run on the Hot 100 was set by The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” passing the previous mark of 87 (held by Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”) and ultimately holding on for 90 weeks total. This week, on the Hot 100 dated Oct. 22, the benchmark is once again passed — this time by U.K. alt-pop outfit Glass Animals, with their first-ever Hot 100 entry, the global smash “Heat Waves.”
Why has this record been so vulnerable in recent years? And where do Glass Animals go from here? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Even as a song that’s already made its fair share of Billboard Hot 100 history, how big a deal is it — on a scale from frigid to scorching — for a band like Glass Animals, with no history on the chart, to set the all-time longevity record with its first-ever Hot 100 hit?
Katie Atkinson: It’s blazing. Unlike The Weeknd, who was a known entity with an established track record of pop hits when he previously broke the record, Glass Animals lived firmly in the alternative radio space when “Heat Waves” was released. We’ve seen alt hits cross over to the mainstream many times before (Foster the People’s top five Hot 100 hit “Pumped Up Kicks” comes to mind), but never to this astronomical level. I’m going to need central air to combat this smoldering level of long-term heat
Eric Renner Brown: Room temperature. For Glass Animals and the group’s fans – and onlookers who are just tired of the chart dominance of pop’s A-list – it’s an exciting feat. And the notion that, in 2022, a capital-B Band gradually built a sturdy career that could eventually match the accomplishment of a major pop artist like The Weeknd, at least in this specific arena, is impressive. Still, I hesitate to give Glass Animals *all* the credit here. The factors that govern how a hit becomes a hit – and how it stays one – have changed, and I think that rather than being an isolated case, we’ll probably see more runs like the one that “Heat Waves” has had going forward.
Josh Glicksman: Balmy! Of course — and more on this soon — Billboard has discussed the scarcity of new hits in 2022 throughout the year, and thanks to platforms like TikTok, there has been a significant jump in recent years of acts with no Hot 100 history climbing the ranks with their debut entry. Still, history is history, and Glass Animals deserves its flowers for curating the kind of hit to resonate this strongly with the masses for this long. Put some big points on the board for the everyman hero.
Jason Lipshutz: I’d call it “toasty,” because, while “Heat Waves” setting the longevity record on the Hot 100 is a big deal, the fact that a band like Glass Animals, with limited chart history, were the ones to do it doesn’t strike me as too extraordinary. Some of the biggest hits in the history of the Hot 100 came from out of nowhere — the longest-leading No. 1 hit of all time, for instance, is courtesy of Lil Nas X, with his debut Hot 100 hit. Lightning can strike anywhere, as we’ve learned time and again, so the fact that Glass Animals are unlikely Hot 100 rulers doesn’t make “Heat Waves” any less undeniable.
Andrew Unterberger: Warm. It means the group has a streaming perennial that basically should be enough of a moneymaker to make them (or at least lead singer/songwriter Dave Bayley) more or less financially independent for the rest of their careers, which is certainly no small thing, and it means they’ll be festival fixtures for basically as long as they desire to be. I do wonder about what the band would say about their most recent live audiences, though, and whether they actually notice a considerable difference in their 2022 crowds from their pre-“Heat Waves” turnouts, since TikTok breakouts like this tend to do a lot more for the songs than the artists who record them. At this scale, though, it might not matter — even if 1 out of every 1000 people who streamed “Heat Waves” became a Glass Animals fan, that’s still a whole lot of new Glass Animals fans.
2. “Blinding Lights” and “Heat Waves” have now both consecutively broken the Hot 100’s longevity record within the space of less than two years. What do the two songs have in common to you that allowed them to notch these kinds of record runs?
Katie Atkinson: It can’t be a coincidence that the bulk of both of their runs took place during a global pandemic. I imagine there were a lot of anomalous listening trends over the past two years that accounted for these incredibly long stays (on radio, especially) — like the fact that morning commutes were all but erased — so there’s a real chance that people just now driving to work again could be either discovering these songs or at least not entirely sick of them. Plus, both songs work well across multiple genres and formats, including adult pop radio and adult alternative, which both keep songs around longer than their younger counterparts. It was really a perfect storm of circumstances for both hits to thrive.
Eric Renner Brown: The success of “Blinding Lights” always made sense to me: massive pop star filters peak Michael Jackson through a vaguely ’10s filter, with an assist from Top 40 sage Max Martin and a hook that buries itself into every crevice of a listener’s brain. If “Blinding Lights” couldn’t set the Hot 100’s longevity record, what could? “Heat Waves,” apparently – but the fact that it had such widespread and enduring appeal sort of baffles me. For a certain subset of Millennials, I can see the song evoking nostalgia, for the mid-’10s boom of vibed-out, groove-savvy, Coachella-tent-ready rock. But it doesn’t harken back to massive ’80s pop – or tap into *that* vein of nostalgia – like “Blinding Lights” does. Ultimately, the biggest commonality is the commonality of most smash hits: a hook that burrows into your brain and refuses to leave.
Josh Glicksman: The first and most important thing that comes to my mind is the radio airplay: both “Blinding Lights” and “Heat Waves” have spent more than 50 weeks on Billboard’s Pop Airplay chart and each have tallied more than 60 weeks on the all-format Radio Songs chart (with a whopping 83 for “Blinding Lights”). It goes without saying that both singles are massive earworms, but without them being firmly rooted in the radio rotation for more than a year each, I don’t think we’d see these kinds of extended runs.
Jason Lipshutz: Nothing, really? Both tracks are sure-thing, accessible smashes that didn’t seem to wear on listeners after months and months of play, but they come from two wildly different artists with dissimilar aesthetics and sounds. Perhaps the biggest similarity is in their multi-platform dominance: they both thrived by triangulating streaming success, radio play and the more ephemeral TikTok trend quadrant (in the case of “Heat Waves,” that’s how the song started taking off) for months on end, and that’s how both were able to set the Hot 100 longevity record.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s a cross-genre affability and an ability to vibe on a lot of different wavelengths, for sure. But ultimately, the biggest similarities here are found much more in the contexts surrounding the songs and their releases than in the songs themselves.
3. The Weeknd and Glass Animals are far from the only artists nearing or breaking longevity-based records on the Hot 100 this decade — for instance, Harry Styles’ “As It Was” also extends its record for most weeks in the Hot 100’s top three this week. What do you think is the primary reason for these songs notching such unprecedented chart runs, and do you see it as either a good or bad thing for the industry?
Katie Atkinson: It’s definitely related to our colleague Elias Leight’s reporting on there being too many songs but enough hits. It’s nice for Harry Styles to cement his pop-superstar status with the “As It Was” run, but the reason it’s thriving like this likely has more to do with the logjam of songs at the top that aren’t making way for other hits than it does with the Harry’s House lead single’s legacy. I think it’s ultimately a bad thing for the industry when the wealth isn’t shared a little more.
Eric Renner Brown: I’m going to go with Occam’s razor here: The songs are good! As chart criteria has evolved alongside streaming, we’ve seen both singles and albums frequently make big splashes, then fizzle after a couple weeks when popular interest moves on. The success of “Blinding Lights,” “Heat Waves,” and “As It Was” all indicate to me that the songs truly resonated with fans, in ways that went beyond mere curiosity in fresh singles. That’s particularly noteworthy with The Weeknd and Harry Styles, where that type of curiosity in what pop’s biggest names are up to can yield huge numbers upon release that quickly dissipate.
Josh Glicksman: A lot of it seemingly comes down to the sheer volume of music readily accessible to the public on a weekly basis. It’s so easy for singles, albums and even artists to simply get lost in the shuffle. As Billboard recently reported, pop music is struggling to create new stars at the moment, and it feels even less so like it’s creating sustainable ones. All of that points towards banking on a few established juggernauts — plus the seldom breakthrough — to provide reliable hits that can be slotted into the rotation for lengthy stays. I’ll never turn the dial when those songs come on, but it’s probably not the best thing for the industry long-term.
Jason Lipshutz: Hit singles are remaining hits for longer periods of time these days, largely based on listener behavior: fans keep streaming songs like “Blinding Lights,” “Heat Waves” and “As It Was” for months after their release, and radio programmers have picked up on that prolonged interest and kept these tracks in heavy rotation. In other words, listeners want to keep hearing these songs, and they’re lasting longer on the chart based on these preferences. And while that may result in more chart stagnation, ultimately, I believe the Hot 100 is more reflective of listener habits than ever before, which is definitely a good thing.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s definitely a combination of radio and streaming both keeping hit songs alive for a lot longer than ever before, and reduced label influence resulting in each single’s cycle lasting as long as fans and listeners say it does — not what’s convenient for an artist’s full-album rollout. A long-lasting hit isn’t a bad thing in itself, but when it becomes more the rule than the exception for the Hot 100’s highest tiers, it does result in a certain level of unfortunate pop stagnation.
4. Assuming the broken record is the last major chart accomplishment notched by “Heat Waves” — maybe not a safe assumption — and the song’s run is finally nearing its end, would you have any advice for Glass Animals as to how to best follow up (or not) the success of a song this massive and unkillable?
Katie Atkinson: There’s really three directions this could go. 1) They could be so spooked by the “Heat Waves” success that they’re never heard from again; 2) They could go back to their alternative radio safe space by doing what they were doing best before, but now with a little more cachet; or 3) They could start working with pop songwriters and producers to try stay in the big leagues. I personally would vote Option No. 2 for them, because they can parlay this outlier hit into a really fulfilling career firmly in their wheelhouse and have a more robust fanbase along for the ride, without being accused of the dreaded “selling out.” Win-win.
Eric Renner Brown: Stay true to the fans. Glass Animals was huge, in a way, before “Heat Waves,” and those are the listeners who will continue to drive their career going forward. Never say never, I guess, but it’s unlikely they’ll replicate the crossover success of this song. Better to stick with the robust base of fans they built beforehand than to chase continued pop relevancy that may prove elusive.
Josh Glicksman: Zag! There’s no real statistical basis that I’m pulling from here, but it always feels to me that artists looking to replicate success with songs that are made “in the same vein as such-and-such previous huge hit” fall flat. That doesn’t mean Glass Animals needs to reinvent the wheel or pivot genres entirely, but all I’m asking for is that it strays away from looking to recapture lightning in a bottle with a “Heat Waves Pt. II.”
Jason Lipshutz: Keep it rhythmic, guys! Dave Hayley and the rest of Glass Animals have been writing slick pop-rock songs for a while, but “Heat Waves” contained the type of groove that elevated their songwriting, made sense on any type of playlist, and yielded by far their biggest hit to date. The “Heat Waves” psych-R&B bounce cannot be replicated, but the harder their beats hit, the more chart success they’ll find over time.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d put all the effort into the live show, which is likely the easiest/most reliable way to ensure that fans who check out your band after hearing a song they like for the first time stick around for whatever you do next. (And seems like they’re already fairly far ahead of me there.)
5. Considering that “Heat Waves” was already on the Hot 100 the week that “Blinding Lights” first broke the longevity record, take a look at the chart this week — if you had to pick one song currently on there that might ultimately supplant “Heat Waves,” which would it be?
Katie Atkinson: This feels like a copout answer, but I’m going to say “As It Was.” Even though this top three chokehold has to come to an end soon, it feels like, just like “Heat Waves,” this one isn’t leaving radio or streaming anytime soon and should have some serious legs. It only needs 62 more weeks on the chart…
Eric Renner Brown: Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.” It’s already a quarter of the way there, is still holding strong at No. 11, and I feel like it has a long tail as an affirmational anthem and mainstream party staple. Lizzo’s omnipresence in the cultural discourse will also help to bolster the song’s staying power.
Josh Glicksman: It’s not a bold pick by any stretch, but I’ll take “As It Was.” Already nearly 30 weeks in, it feels like it’s just getting started.
Jason Lipshutz: My head says Morgan Wallen’s “Wasted On You,” on the chart for 48 weeks now and still moving upward within the top 20, depending on the week; my heart says Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit,” which, sure, has a long way to go after “only” being on the chart 15 weeks, but the current biggest song in the country isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Andrew Unterberger: Hmm, cross-genre appeal, vibes fit in multiple contexts, took a minute to climb the chart (even starting at No. 100) and is now unavoidable on streaming and (soon enough if not already) on radio? Seems to me like our current No. 1 checks most of those boxes, no?