With the end of the year approaching, the Hot One Hundo is featuring the #1 hits of 2017 in a weekly feature.
In any given year, you’ll have a couple of bon-a-fide hits – songs that not only perform well on the charts, but also seep so far into popular culture that even those who don’t follow pop music become familiar with the song. It takes a lot for a song to remain consistently popular for so long; if you look at the songs that have stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 10+ total weeks, over the past 7 years, you’ll see that there’s usually only one or two of these songs per year, and that most of these songs still have staying power:
Early this year, it looked like Ed Sheeran’s tropical-dancehall pop song “Shape of You” was going to easily be the biggest hit of the year. Released on January 6th as one of the first singles from his album, Divide, it had an immediate impact on the mainstream by debuting at #1. “Shape of You” would continue to dominate the Hot 100 during the Spring of 2017, posting a total of 12 weeks at #1, including 11 consecutive weeks from February 18th to April 29th before being ousted from the top position once and for all. With Sheeran being one of the biggest pop stars on the planet and coming back after a relatively long hiatus (is less than three years between studio albums considered to be a long hiatus nowadays?), as well as the song itself following the “tropical pop” trend that had been established one year prior by Drake’s “One Dance” and Sia’s “Cheap Thrills,” “Shape of You” was all but destined for long-term success. Speaking of “Cheap Thrills,” this song sounds suspiciously a lot like it in terms of rhythm and instrumentation. It also happens to sound a lot like TLC’s “No Scrubs” – enough so that the composers of that song got co-writing credits on “Shape of You.”
Writing credits aside, “Shape of You” has “major hit” written all over it. After the doldrums of late 2016, it was a relative breath of fresh air on mainstream radio that reminded the public that pop music can be unifying, light, and fun. To say that “Shape of You” broke new musical ground is a vast overstatement, it doesn’t appear to have spawned any direct copycats, but many of the previous number one hits prior to “Shape of You” claiming the throne were relatively heavier trap songs (see “Black Beatles,” “Bad and Boujee”) that did well with younger generations, but appealed less so to those who favored more traditional musical themes and songwriting. However, “Shape of You” found an audience across all demographics and generations. The song’s widespread popularity can be traced to its conventional pop tropes: it is easy to sing along with, has relatable lyrical themes about meeting someone in a bar after a few drinks, it features a great backing mid-tempo rhythm, flourishes of strummed acoustic guitar, and amplifies itself via handclaps. In essence, Sheeran and co-writer/producer Steve Mac pulled all the stops to assure that this song would appeal to nearly everyone, whether you were at a bar or walking down the street and unsurprisingly, it worked.
“Shape of You” has been so dominant in the mainstream that it hit one billion streams on Spotify in only 153 days, and is currently the most streamed song of all time on the service (as of writing this article, it has nearly 1.4 billion streams). Its music video, which features Sheeran working out, sumo wrestling, and racing trains has over 2.5 billion views, good for 6th all-time on YouTube. But what will the future hold for “Shape of You?” Will it become a pop standard – a song that continues to be beloved by the general public, or will it become another of the constantly overplayed regular rotation songs that features on every pre-determined playlist of relatively “safe songs?” We’ll see. All I know is that if you think you’re done hearing “Shape of You,” you’re dead wrong. Its chart dominance may be in the recent past, but its impact on the mainstream has been felt, and will continue to be felt over the next few years.
I enjoy “Shape of You,” despite it being ridiculously overplayed this year. It’s better than the vast majority of pop songs that are on the radio, it’s inoffensive, and is just a plain good example of how to create a pop song in 2017. Before this song came out, I thought of Sheeran as just another acoustic pop crooner with legions of 16 year old fans like Jason Mraz or a poor man’s John Mayer. “Shape of You” dramatically changed my perception of Sheeran as well because the song itself has a decent amount of personality, even if that personality was manufactured and taken from a couple of other songs that I also happen to enjoy. Regardless, that infusion of personality lends itself well to Sheeran’s overall image by showing he has some character outside of being able to play the acoustic guitar decently, and being the token quirky redheaded friend of Taylor Swift.