Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” is officially the No. 1 song in the country, beating out Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. This makes her the first solo female rapper to top the chart since Lauryn Hill in 1998 and only the fifth female rapper to ever have a No. 1 hit.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” had been sitting at the top of the charts for 16 weeks when the lead single for Swift’s Reputation (her first new album since October 2014) hit the web on August 24th, debuting at No. 1. Dethroned after three weeks, the song is a minor failure for Swift, who sat at the top of the charts for four weeks with “Shake it Off,” and seven with “Blank Space” during her last album rollout.
The battle for the spot was one of the most well-attended Twitter sporting events of the last month. Anyone with an investment in a true come-up story was tweeting to stream “Bodak Yellow,” while Swift fans insisted on “LWYMMD streaming parties” to keep her single on top. Die-hard Nicki Minaj fans joined them, eager to deprive Cardi of an achievement the “true” queen of rap hadn’t secured yet. They tweeted “#StreamLWYMMD,” too, making an unlikely alliance where there was once a lot of uh, sorry, bad blood.
But hashtag battles between fans dedicated to one artist or another are nothing new, and we have no way to prove what impact they might have (likely not much). What’s behind Cardi B’s unlikely win? Algorithm or alchemy? Probably a little bit of both, and I won’t be the first or last to suggest that people are just plain tired of Taylor Swift, a style of pop princess who feels almost anachronistic just three years after her nearly unprecedented crossover from CMT and Joni Mitchell bangs. But just three months after her showy return to the platform, Swift’s Spotify page boasts nearly 37 million monthly listeners, making her the second most popular artist (behind only Ed Sheeran) and a monthly habit for more than a quarter of Spotify’s active users.
Cardi B is the 97th most popular artist on the platform, with just over 13 million unique monthly listeners. Regardless, Cardi beats Taylor on Spotify’s charts, too. She’s at No. 4 there, with about 1.1 million streams per day for “Bodak Yellow.” Swift’s down at No. 12, with about 740,000 streams per day for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Cardi B has far more loyal, repeat streamers, where a significant number of Taylor’s appear to have been sucked in briefly by her gravitational pull in the popular culture. They weren’t bumping this song over and over, they were streaming it once, maybe twice, to acquaint themselves with the news of the day.
Last Thursday, Swift discounted her single from $1.29 to $0.69 in the iTunes store, seen by many onlookers as a petty, transparent attempt to cling to her spot and hold off a newcomer for whom it would mean so much more. Meanwhile, Cardi was only coming off as charming, tweeting at a Swift fan, “I love me some Taylor Swift my freaking self,” and posting a clip of herself singing along to “Look What You Made Me Do” to her Instagram Story. But whether or not the iTunes markdown was a silent, strategic move to hold onto the No. 1 spot, it would have been a futile one for Swift. Her single was already way ahead in digital sales and it was streams she needed. (Radio play seems like a negligible factor, as that chart looks nothing at all like the Hot 100.)
That, Spin’s Jordan Sargent argued, is where Friday’s “Look What You Made Me Do” behind-the-scenes music video came in:
“One way for Swift to hold Cardi B off would be to increase the number of streams for ‘Look What You Made Me Do.’ One way of doing that would be to drive eyeballs to a new video that starts playing the full version of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ immediately after the conclusion of the actual advertised content so long as the viewer doesn’t close the tab in a split-second with reflexes that could murder Jason Bourne.”
For someone so obsessed with curating her image and discussing her “reputation,” Swift sure has a habit of doing things that look bad.
When “Bodak Yellow” hit the top of the rap charts, less than three months after its release, Billboard called it “the quickest ascent to number 1 by a lead artist’s debut chart entry since Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ shot to the summit in its second frame in 2012.” Swift’s single was released the same day, and Cardi B addressed the timing in an interview on The Breakfast Club, joking, “I almost had it, but then that damn Taylor Swift came out of nowhere like a Hurricane Irma or something.” A new Swift single might come in like a hurricane, but as Cardi would tell you herself, she’s been making money moves all summer. It was only a matter of time.
a social media star vs. the most traditional success story in music
Cardi B is a Cinderella story for the age of social media. Or as Lindsay Zoladz argued on The Ringer last week, “That wouldn’t be quite right. The Cinderella myth relies on some sort of ruse, a shamed secrecy about the truth of a woman’s past, and the outside agency of both a fairy godmother and a prince. Cardi B trimmed all that extra stuff from the story. She restructured the fairy tale into a one-woman show.” She started out as a stripper. She managed to accumulate 9 million followers over years of experimentation on Instagram and Vine. She translated that following into a spot on Love & Hip-Hop: New York, then realized she could rap.
“Vine and Instagram and Twitter taught her concision and what resonates with an audience,” Zoladz pointed out. “What is a viral phrase if not a spoken-word hook? Why wait for someone else to sample an idea as funny as ‘a hoe never gets cold’? Why not just turn it into a song yourself?” In the last year, Cardi has put out two mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and now she has her first No. 1 song (a whim of a freestyle that didn’t appear on either tape). She’s managed to milk social media stardom for all its worth, which, as it turns out, is a lot.
So here, take a few minutes and celebrate: