Music News

How Pop Radio’s 10 Most-Played Songs Are Performing On iTunes, Spotify

How are songs like “Slow Hands,” “Strip That Down,” and “Look What You Made Me Do” faring on the sales and streaming charts.

This past July, Headline Planet explored how US pop radio’s Top 10 songs were performing on the US iTunes and Spotify charts.

Two months have passed since that feature, and all three charts have markedly changed.

The time seems right, therefore, for a new investigation.

There is a clear theoretical link between the radio, sales and streaming charts. Songs faring well at radio are receiving considerable audience exposure, and that exposure should yield strong sales and streaming numbers.

Radio programmers, moreover, may look to sales and streaming numbers to determine which songs are connecting with listeners — and thus deserving of more airplay.

Granted, the analysis will not be perfect.

Record labels have been increasingly using discounts to improve sales — and chart positions — on iTunes. This tactic complicates the analysis. Is it more accurate to ignore the impact of the discount and simply focus on the song’s current chart position? Or, should we speculate where the song might rank without the discounted pricing?

The same questions also apply to prime Spotify playlist placement. Songs at the top of Today’s Top Hits have a huge advantage when it comes to the daily streaming chart.

Spotify streaming, moreover, tends to skew in favor of rhythmic- and urban-oriented songs, many of which do not sound like conventional “pop hits.” Should we accept that the pop chart will never mirror the Spotify chart? Or should we encourage pop radio to more warmly embrace the rhythmic-leaning fare that does well on Spotify?

It is also important to consider the impact of audience research. In addition to commercial numbers, radio professionals will look at listener surveys (“callouts”) and switching data to gain more insight into which songs are connecting. Only a limited amount of this data is available to the public.

The rankings below are based on the weekly Mediabase pop chart (for the September 17-23 tracking period), the real-time US iTunes chart, and the daily US Spotify chart for September 23.

The breakdown makes specific note of songs that are declining at pop radio. These songs have peaked and should probably be held to a lower standard for sales and streaming.

Top 10 at pop radio:
1) Slow Hands by Niall Horan
#15 iTunes (discounted), #70 Spotify

2) Attention by Charlie Puth (-6.2%)
#28 iTunes, #51 Spotify

3) Strip That Down by Liam Payne ft. Quavo
#12 iTunes (discounted), #30 Spotify

4) There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back by Shawn Mendes (-5.8%)
#26 iTunes, #73 Spotify

5) Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do
#1 iTunes (discounted), #9 Spotify

6) No Promises – Cheat Codes ft. Demi Lovato
#66 iTunes, #143 Spotify

7) Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man
#3 iTunes, #24 Spotify

8) Believer by Imagine Dragons (-18.1%)
#7 iTunes, #43 Spotify

9) Unforgettable by French Montana ft. Swae Lee
#40 iTunes, #7 Spotify

10) Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato
#10 iTunes (discounted), #8 Spotify

Top 10 iTunes performers that are not in the Top 10 at pop radio:
Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” (#2 on iTunes, #29 at radio), Post Malone’s “rockstar (featuring 21 Savage)” (#4 on iTunes, impacts pop radio this week), Macklemore’s “Good Old Days (featuring Kesha)” (#5 on iTunes, not yet confirmed as a radio single), Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” (#6 on iTunes with discount, #38 at radio), Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes” (#8 on iTunes, #17 at radio), Logic’s “1-800-273-8255 (featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)” (#9 on iTunes with discount, #12 at radio).

Top 10 Spotify performers that are not in the Top 10 at pop radio:
Post Malone’s “rockstar (featuring 21 Savage)” (#1 on Spotify, impacts pop radio this week), Logic’s “1-800-273-8255 (featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)” (#2 on Spotify, #12 at radio), 21 Savage’s “Bank Account” (#3 on Spotify, not charting at pop radio), Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” (#4 on Spotify, #37 at radio), Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3” (#5 on Spotify, not charting at pop radio), Khalid’s “Young Dumb & Broke” (#6 on Spotify, impacts pop radio this week), Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” (#10 on Spotify, no longer charting at pop radio)

Brian Cantor

Brian Cantor is the editor-in-chief for Headline Planet. He has been a leading reporter in the music, movie, television and sporting spaces since 2002. Brian's reporting has been cited by major websites like BuzzFeed, Billboard, the New Yorker and The Fader -- and shared by celebrities like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj. Contact Brian at brian.cantor[at]