Five Burning Questions: Harry Styles Debuts Atop Hot 100 With Huge Streaming Numbers For ‘As It Was’
Five Burning Questions: Harry Styles Debuts Atop Hot 100 With Huge Streaming Numbers For ‘As It Was’
For at least one week, concerns about a lack of new hits on the Billboard Hot 100 can be put somewhat on pause, as we finally have our first No. 1 debut of the year: Harry Styles, with his much-anticipated “As It Was.”
The upbeat indie-pop-sounding song lands with a resounding 43.8 million streams in its first week — the highest single-week streaming tally of 2022, and best number for any new song since Adele’s “Easy on Me” in Oct. 2021. The debut also marks’ Styles first career bow atop the Hot 100, and second time at No. 1 on the chart, following his “Watermelon Sugar” in 2020.
How does Styles consistently breed this level of excitement among listeners? And where does he now rank among the world’s biggest pop stars? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. After a long period of relative inactivity on the Hot 100, we have our first No. 1 debut of the year. Do you consider “As It Was” to be the first major smash of 2022 to actually come from 2022?
Rania Aniftos: Yes, given that I literally cannot remember another hit that came out in 2022 off the top of my head. I’m surprised more artists hadn’t taken advantage of the consistently stagnant Hot 100 top 10 that we’ve had over the past month or two. It felt like an easy opportunity for a No. 1 debut, which Harry ended up proving.
Starr Bowenbank: Absolutely. Though there have been some singles on the Hot 100 that appeared to make a large splash at first – “Light Switch” by Charlie Puth and “Bam Bam” by Camila Cabello featuring Ed Sheeran are two that come to mind – none have stopped pop music in its tracks this year the way that “As It Was” has. Styles debuted with over 16 million streams of the track within its first 24 hours, breaking a Guinness World Record for the most song streams within the time frame (for a male artist) – and by comparison, the last person to achieve that same feat was Adele with “Easy On Me.” If that isn’t considered to be the first major smash of the year, then I don’t know what is.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes. It took exactly three months, before “As It Was” was released on Apr. 1, but we finally have a brand-new smash that wasn’t a hold-over from 2021 (or even 2020). Harry Styles’ enormous fan base was always likely to ensure a major chart debut for “As It Was” — the lead singles from his previous two albums also scored top 10 debuts, after all — but the No. 1 bow, combined with the mainstream-ready sound of “As It Was,” suggests that this will be his biggest lead single to date, and a true 2022 hit.
Joe Lynch: Wait, is this question just a set-up to shout-out this this article? I’ll bite As has been recently pointed out elsewhere on Billboard, we’ve gotten more than three months into 2022 without seeing a single smash hit that was released in 2022. And this is certainly it.
Andrew Unterberger: Respect first to Gunna, Future and Young Thug and their “Pushin P” — a true cultural smash that rightfully debuted in the Hot 100’s top 10, but just didn’t quite grow enough from there (particularly on radio) to threaten the top spot. But “As It Was” is obviously on a different level as an immediate four-quadrant success, slaying streaming services upon arrival and being greeted with an instant embrace from radio. “Pushin’ P” opened the door for 2022 hits, but “As It Was” fully blew it off its hinges.
2. As resounding as the song’s bow is this week, strong debuts don’t always result in long-lasting hits — do you see “As It Was” hanging around the way so many of the biggest chart hits of the last 18 months have tended to, or do you think it will recede relatively quickly after its impressive initial showing?
Rania Aniftos: I think so, because of the timing of the song’s release. Harry is about to headline Coachella in a few days, for two weekends straight, and also introduced a buzzy new album era with “As It Was.” Harry Styles will be all over the news over the next few weeks, giving “As It Was” the perfect opportunity to be a long-lasting hit.
Starr Bowenbank: I think “As It Was” will be sticking around for quite some time. Styles hasn’t exactly achieved radio darling status as of yet, but the stickiness of past Hot 100 hits “Watermelon Sugar” (No. 1 peak, 39 weeks) and “Adore You” (No. 6 peak, 50 weeks) — even the slightly less successful “Golden” (No. 57 peak, 20 weeks) — all show that he’s capable of cementing a coveted spot on stations throughout the country. Also, considering that there has yet to be a single hard-hitting pop banger to come out of 2022 yet, “As It Was” could assume that position quite nicely – and maybe achieve Song of the Summer status if the year’s other releases continue to lag.
Jason Lipshutz: This one’s going to be around for a while. “As It Was” sounds like a hit — big chorus, fun breakdown, shimmering synth-pop vibe that feels ripe for the springtime — and also, “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar” unlocked top 40 radio for Styles in the U.S. two years ago, so this should get a big boost from radio in the coming weeks. The song’s texture and built-in support have ensured a long run in the upper reaches of the Hot 100.
Joe Lynch: I’m sure after the debut week streaming explosion “As It Was” will see a bit of a drop, as it’s forced to compete with the current crop of top 5 hits that can’t seem to be knocked off the Hot 100’s upper echelon. But when radio picks up on “As It Was” – which I imagine it will, this song is insanely amiable, immediate and vaguely reminiscent of the ’80s pop vibes that 2020s radio gravitates toward – I think we’ll see Harry sticking around for quite some time.
Andrew Unterberger: As we’ve seen countless examples of recently, if a song hangs around for a little while as a hit, chances are it’s gonna end up hanging around for a looooong while. “As It Was” should be no exception, as its streaming performance remains strong a week and a half in, and radio has already wrapped its arms around it and seems unlikely to let go anytime soon. Will it be one of the first Harry Styles songs we think of looking back at his career 10 years down the line? That I’m a little less sure of — but it should get one hell of a legacy test run over the next six months, regardless.
3. The appetite for new Harry Styles music was so rabid leading up to “As It Was” that it almost felt predestined that the song would be a smash no matter what it sounded like. What do you think Styles has done particularly well that has resulted in any new single of his becoming an event release?
Rania Aniftos: Styles creates an event with every release. Each song has its own moment and individual personality, something that his demographic of young fans artistically appreciates and which allows them to get excited about each release, because they feel like they’re part of the journey. In a music scene where singles feel a bit disposable and a dime a dozen, it’s refreshing to see an artist put so much time and effort into every release. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s cute.
Starr Bowenbank: It’s still quite early in Styles’ career, but I think he has mastered the lost art of the celebrity in its most classic sense, where fans don’t know what he’s up to outside of touring, film projects and album-related endeavors. He hardly posts on social media and fans barely see him on public outings except for the rare event, which will make an already eager fan borderline ravenous for whatever crumbs they can get on a new release. That being said, “As It Was” and Harry’s Home were teased perfectly – the mysterious Twitter account with lyric snippets and the beguiling youarehome website confirmed little, but just enough to keep fans on the hook until the song and album’s title was released. Naturally, everyone ate it up.
Jason Lipshutz: Styles is always going to have his diehard fans, but 2019 sophomore LP Fine Line was such a feel-good, well-executed smash that casual fans couldn’t help but wonder what he would do next as well. Consider the buzz around Harry’s House lead single “As It Was” before, during and after its release akin to the frenzy around Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” coming off her Fame Monster whirlwind, or Adele’s “Hello” following her blockbuster 21 — huge albums beget heightened interest in their follow-ups, and that’s the zone Styles is operating in currently.
Joe Lynch: For someone who’s been in the public eye as long as he has, Styles is smart about maintaining a level of allure and mystique. Now, theoretically any musician can court that, but it only works as a promotional took when you have a public that’s desperate to know more about you in the first place, which Styles – as the One Direction veteran who ultimately claimed the solo star crown – most certainly is. Does he stay in the discourse thanks to his music? Absolutely. But what keeps the buzz around him going is that people always seem to want to see and know more about Styles, and while he shares bits, he remains an enigma.
Andrew Unterberger: I think Styles excels at the thing all true superstars know how to do: Give you just enough of themselves to feel approachable, but not so much that you start to take their presence for granted. He never stays far from the culture’s forefront — but when he’s not on an album cycle, you won’t see him phoning in guest verses on random remixes, or paling around with James Corden on late night, or being charmlessly self-promotional on social media. So when he’s back, it really feels like HE’S BACK. Critical thing for A-listers.
4. Everyone has their own opinions about the musical reference points for “As It Was” — what artist or band does it particularly strike you as most obviously sounding like, if anyone?
Rania Aniftos: “As It Was” is definitely giving me a 2022 take on 2013 dreamy pop. It’s BØRNS meets Two Door Cinema Club, and is nostalgic for a bygone (albeit recent) time that we can all remember, one that wasn’t as flooded with political and social turmoil.
Starr Bowenbank: The ‘80s influences are strong on “As It Was” – as it should be considering the decade’s strong presence in the 2020s so far. It gives me “Take On Me” by A-Ha vibes — with the same refreshing, high-energy pop feel that the ‘80s pop staple does, yet without sounding exactly like its predecessor.
Jason Lipshutz: The first time I heard “As It Was,” my mind went to Phoenix, a band that specializes in gorgeous, expansive synth-rock that often tucks some lyrical yearning or dissatisfaction into the sonic beauty. Styles’ tone and delivery is nothing like that of Phoenix’s Thomas Mars, though — rather, he sounds like Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. on the track, with some lower-register longing and falsetto crooning sprinkled in expertly. So in my mind, “As It Was” functions not only as Styles’ new single, but as a great lost indie-rock collaboration from 2012!
Joe Lynch: Music Twitter spent so much time arguing about which 2-3 year period in indie music “As It Was” is indebted to that I feel no need to continue that discussion. I will simply say it has the energy of a-ha’s “Take on Me” dressed up in the clothing of an early 2010s Apple commercial.
Andrew Unterberger: In the words of a Ting Tings gem from 2008: THE DRUMS. THE DRUMS. THE DRUMS. THE DRUMS. Jonny Pierce & Co.’s lithe brand of rubbery, new wave-energized indie-pop — which was most culturally relevant around the turn of the ’10s, though the outfit continues to release stellar albums to this day — has been surprisingly impactful on this decade’s mainstream, informing Twenty One Pilots’ bouncy alt radio fixture “Shy Away” last year, and now perhaps bearing on the first transmission from the upcoming Harry’s House. But really, take your pick of any number of artists on the 2009-2011 buzz band bingo card and they’re probably nearly as applicable.
5. Simple question: Do you consider Harry Styles to be the biggest male pop star in the world right now?
Rania Aniftos: Yes, but I’m Billboard’s resident Harry Styles mega-superfan, so I don’t think I can answer this question objectively.
Starr Bowenbank: Though competition for male pop stars right now is relatively low at the moment, it would feel a little dishonest to call him the biggest in the game right now when The Weeknd and Justin Bieber are standing right there. Styles need a bit more time as a soloist and has a few more career milestones to hit before getting that title — but he’s definitely on his way, and shows tons of promise.
Jason Lipshutz: Nah, not yet. Drake and The Weeknd have pretty unimpeachable resumés as solo artists in that regard, and as Grammy night demonstrated, you should never count Bruno Mars out of this conversation either. Consider Styles the Luka Doncic of this particular MVP race — he doesn’t have the longevity yet to get to No. 1, but he’s wildly skilled, with a higher ceiling of maybe anyone out there. If not “right now,” then soon, I’d bet.
Joe Lynch: Hey, that’s not a simple question! I think it really depends on how rigid your definition of pop star is. If we’re a bit genre agnostic – and most listeners are – it’s far too early to make that declaration. For those who define pop in pretty strict terms, the next few months – can he have a follow-up hit that at least goes top 10? Will the album have a big debut but drop off fast? – will tell. I think he could definitely earn that title during this album cycle, however.
Andrew Unterberger: Still Drake — but the gap is closing, and if they were both to release a new single a month from today, I’m honestly not sure who I’d bet on to finish ahead on the ensuing Hot 100. And he is the biggest male rock star in the world right now, no question.
Five Burning Questions: Harry Styles Debuts Atop Hot 100 With Huge Streaming Numbers For ‘As It Was’ For at least one week, concerns about a lack of new hits on the Billboard Hot 100 can be put somewhat on pause, as we finally have our first No. 1 debut of the year: Harry Styles, with his…
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