Five Burning Questions: Jack Harlow’s ‘First Class’ Debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100
Five Burning Questions: Jack Harlow’s ‘First Class’ Debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100
While he already scored a No. 2 hit as a lead artist in 2020 with “Whats Poppin” — helped by a popular remix also featuring Lil Wayne, DaBaby and Tory Lanez — and a No. 1 in 2021 alongside Lil Nas X on the latter’s Montero single “Industry Baby,” it still may come as a surprise to many to see Jack Harlow debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 with the year’s best streaming total, for his new single “First Class.”
The single, which samples Fergie’s 2007 Hot 100-topper “Glamorous” and was teased extensively on TikTok pre-release, debuts with 54.6 million streams in its release week — the biggest single-week total since Drake’s Future- and Young Thug-featuring “Way 2 Sexy” in Sept. 2021, and a larger number than those posted by much-anticipated new releases from global superstars like Adele (“Easy on Me”) and Harry Styles (“As It Was”).
Why is the song taking off this fast this quickly? And how big a level-up is this for Harlow? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. “First Class” isn’t technically Jack Harlow’s first No. 1 hit, but it is his first as an unaccompanied lead artist. Does this debut cement his superstar status to you?
Katie Atkinson: It definitely bumps him up to a new tier, for sure, but I’m going to withhold that “superstar” tag for now until he’s more of a household name. I think the sample and the song’s TikTok virality did a lot of the heavy lifting here, just as Lil Nas X did much of the heavy lifting on “Industry Baby.” I definitely think this is a huge accomplishment, but maybe not a career-cementing one just yet.
Carl Lamarre: Missionary Jack is right on the cusp. His trajectory is impressive: Not only did he carve up the opposition with “Whats Poppin,” which soared to No. 2 on the Hot 100 courtesy of the remix treatment with Lil Wayne, Tory Lanez, and DaBaby, but his scene-stealing verse on Lil Nas X’s chart-topper “Industry Baby” had him nearing pole position. Couple those wins with “Nail Tech,” debuting top 20, and “First Class,” becoming his first solo lead No. 1, and he’s close. Just secure a No. 1 album, Jackie.
Jason Lipshutz: Yep. This is the type of No. 1 Hot 100 debut that shakes the industry awake and demands respect for a rising young artist, similar to Olivia Rodrigo with “Drivers License” last year and BTS with “Dynamite” the year before that. Jack Harlow has been a known quantity for hip-hop fans over the past few years, thanks to hits like “Whats Poppin’” and his guest verse on “Industry Baby,” but “First Class” is his solo-track, no-asterisks breakthrough chart-topper, and places him squarely on the A-list.
Neena Rouhani: “First Class” debuting at No. 1 definitely boosts Jack’s status — we know he’s not a one-hit wonder or “just a good feature”), but I think what will cement his “superstar status” is a studio album that rivals the success of this single. Superstar implies longevity, and not everyone who scored a solo Hot 100 No. 1 record went on to become a superstar.
Andrew Unterberger: Numbers like this, coming off a Grammy performance just a couple weeks earlier, and seemingly being a top discussion topic daily on social media in between — it’s pretty hard to deny him the “superstar” tag at this point. But the stats he puts up with new album Come Home the Kids Miss You next month will certainly be telling about just how high in the stratosphere he’s already risen.
2. Harlow’s previous single “Nail Tech” debuted at No. 18 on the Hot 100 — an impressive showing, but one still well short of what “First Class” accomplished. Is the latter’s superior performance more to you about the song or how it was promoted?
Katie Atkinson: Both. I think the familiarity of the sample as well as the way he cleverly reinterpreted it led to its early success on TikTok – which was obviously invaluable promotion. And as Fergie herself knows all too well, people love a pop-song spelling lesson.
Carl Lamarre: “Nail Tech” had flashes of lyrical brilliance, but the anticipation for the latter trumped its predecessor. Teasing the record from the studio and intentionally playing Fergie’s “Glamourous” sample in the clip had everyone talking and curious as to what Jack had up his sleeve. It was then simply a matter of delivering, which he did.
Jason Lipshutz: The promotion certainly helped “First Class” hit No. 1, thanks to a TikTok blitz and some strategic marketing of the Fergie “Glamorous” sample, but “First Class” is also more immediate and memorable than “Nail Tech,” and perfectly plays into the type of tossed-up charm and simile-heavy wordplay that Harlow has turned into his brand. Right song, right artist, right time — everything comes together for Harlow on “First Class,” and even if the marketing had been more muted, Harlow’s latest single would have been bigger than his previous one.
Neena Rouhani: To be honest, I didn’t listen to “Nail Tech” beyond a first listen, until “First Class” came out. The songs would loop back to back when I’d play “First Class,” and that’s really the only reason I’m familiar with the former single. That’s not to say it’s a bad song — the more I involuntarily sat with it, the more I liked it — but “First Class” is definitely a more memorable record. But, what I think mattered more is the promotion, specifically a combination of two things: Jack’s TikTok presence (he’s been posting an expert combo of thirst trap videos and teasing the Fergie-sampled track, and we cannot deny the power of that) and the fact that “First Class” is for the girls, in a way reminiscent of early Drake.
Andrew Unterberger: Honestly, “Nail Tech” has more of what I like about Harlow — his casual self-gassing and winking sense of musical and lyrical playfulness — than the comparatively serious-sounding “First Class.” But the latter is certainly dressed for crossover success, and the buzz he created for it on TikTok resulted in it detonating on impact. I don’t think it would’ve done immediate numbers like this without that smartly built pre-release anticipation, but it might’ve become massive soon enough just the same.
3. “First Class” obviously uses a very prominent sample of Fergie’s “Glamorous,” a Hot 100-topper in its own right — is the sample logical and earned to you, or does it feel more like a pop shortcut?
Katie Atkinson: Both. I like that Harlow used the letter-by-letter spelling of “Glamourous” – and added his own twist to the G-L-A-M – as well as used the title “First Class” line. But even though Jack definitely made it his own, the song is still trading on that familiarity to become an instant earworm, so it’s inarguably a shortcut. There’s a reason this one popped so quickly.
Carl Lamarre: I think calling it a pop shortcut downplays Jack’s abilities as an artist. If the beat belonged to anyone else, I can’t say the record would be delivered the same nor be a Hot 100 chart-topper its debut week. Jack’s swaggering demeanor and delivery are quickly becoming a favorite in not only the hip-hop space but also in pop.
Jason Lipshutz: Why not both? Of course the use of “Glamorous” is a pop shortcut, a way for Harlow to recycle an older smash for his own purposes, but the way he slows down the hook and emphasizes the “first class” line makes for a savvy bit of re-positioning. Leaning too hard on a prominent sample can put an artist in re-tread territory, but Harlow does enough to honor the original No. 1 hit while re-contextualizing it to score his own.
Neena Rouhani: Both! Absolutely a pop shortcut, because he barely had to come up with a hook. But, it works extremely well – the kick-heavy production, additional pianos, Jack’s suave flow and songwriting, all of it.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s a shortcut, though I appreciate that he at least tries to be in dialogue with the hook throughout the chorus, if not always that smoothly. Still, it gave us a reason to all simultaneously acknowledge what an ’00s pop classic “Glamorous” is, and you can’t really hate on that.
4. Between “First Class” and Harry Styles’ “As It Was,” we’ve now had No. 1 debuts in back-to-back weeks, after just two top 10 debuts total (and no No. 1 debuts) in the year’s first three-plus months. After a historically slow start, do you feel like the 2022 pop year is now officially underway?
Katie Atkinson: I hope so! But it’s just as possible that Harry could bounce right back to No. 1 next week and have a few more weeks up top, or for Jack to have the top spot on lock for a few weeks longer too. But with new music from Kendrick Lamar and even more new Harry Styles music looming, here’s hoping we get a revolving door at No. 1 for the next few months after a stagnant Hot 100 top 10.
Carl Lamarre: I’d love to see if other pop stars that have just dropped new singles — like Lizzo and her latest single “About Damn Time” — debut high, and if there’s stamina behind some of these records. Can these pop songs become upper-echelon hits and endure multiple weeks inside the top 10, is the bigger question at hand. I’m very skeptical of that, after we just came off a year headlined by Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Ed Sheeran, and Adele.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes, and just in time for the summer! Say what you will about “As It Was” and “First Class,” but thank goodness we have some new entries at the top of the Hot 100 after a highly stagnant few months. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed talking about “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and Glass Animals’ slow-and-steady climb to the penthouse, but the top of the chart has some new juice, and I’m grateful for a couple of fresh smashes.
Neena Rouhani: I don’t know if I am ready to declare that, but with the summer around the corner, I’m hopeful.
Andrew Unterberger: It does feel that the seasons are changing on the Hot 100 finally — though hopefully that eventually means that, in addition to the exciting new arrivals, we finally see some of the older hits that have arguably begun to outstay their welcome start to shuffle off as well. But one thing at a time.
5. Fergie, will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas had the charts in a chokehold in the mid-to-late ’00s and early ’10s. What other song from the BEPs extended family (either them as a group or any of their solo members) would you love to see resurrected, and who might you like to see resurrect it?
Katie Atkinson: I love that BEP nostalgia is in full swing (see: SNL this past weekend or the Latin charts for the past two years). I’m going to vote for “Shut Up” and its soap-opera ready lyrics. Even though it’s like the fourth-most-popular song from 2003’s Elephunk and didn’t even crack the Hot 100, it’s tailor-made for a TikTok trend and maybe it will finally get the Hot 100 love it deserves, almost 20 years later.
Carl Lamarre: Ironically, I thought of BEP’s 2003 “Where Is The Love,” which served as a response track to the 9/11 attacks. Then, in 2016 after multiple terrorist attacks and the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, BEP returned with a new version sans Fergie, graced with an appearance from the original co-writer Justin Timberlake, Mary J Blige, Usher, A$AP Rocky, and more. Unfortunately, the world remains in shambles, especially with what’s going on in Ukraine. Hitting refresh on the track and grabbing some of Pop’s biggest hitters in Justin, Ariana, Olivia, and Billie to help could be impactful.
Jason Lipshutz: The production on Fergie’s “Clumsy” — blinking synths, drum thwacks, “I can’t help it!” call-and-response chants — is just sitting there for a new artist to scoop up and re-animate. “Clumsy” rules, just like all five of Fergie’s top 5 hits from The Dutchess, and has the DNA of a new-school hit whenever another artist realizes it.
Neena Rouhani: Funny you ask this! Last night I was listening back to my favorite BEP hits thanks to “First Class,” and my answer is unequivocally, “My Humps.” I could see someone like Saweetie do it, and there are endless sample-worthy bits.
Andrew Unterberger: Always thought we deserved a version of “Meet Me Halfway” with only the Fergie parts, which would’ve sounded something like a great lost ’80s Madonna hit. Maybe Doja Cat could give it to us instead.
Five Burning Questions: Jack Harlow’s ‘First Class’ Debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 While he already scored a No. 2 hit as a lead artist in 2020 with “Whats Poppin” — helped by a popular remix also featuring Lil Wayne, DaBaby and Tory Lanez — and a No. 1 in 2021 alongside Lil…
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