What Does Sia Have in Common with Hip-Hop Artists Dr. Dre, Eminem, Jay-Z and Pharrell?

There’s a common saying that “life begins at 40.”  There’s also a rude counter statement that goes “so does age spread and cataracts.”

Nevermind the spreading and cataracts when it comes to the new #1 song on the Billboard pop charts.

This week, Sia’s big hit record with Sean Paul, “Cheap Thrills,” becomes the #1 song on the Hot 100 chart, displacing Canadian rapper Drake’s “One Dance” after his 10-week waltz at the top.

Sia featuring Sean Paul top this week's Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Cheap Thrills."
Sia featuring Sean Paul top this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Cheap Thrills.”

With that accomplishment, the reclusive Australian singer, with her blonde-and-black face-covering hair wig intact, joins an élite list of artists who this century have defied age expectations in pop culture and reached #1 above the age of 40.

Sia Furler was born December 18, 1975, making her 40 years and 7 months as her first #1 song reaches the pinnacle on the current chart (dated August 6, 2016).  Her featured “senior” partner, Jamaican dancehall rapper Sean Paul, was born on January 9, 1973, making him 43 years and six months.

Before 2014, Sia had primarily made a name for herself by writing songs for other artists.  It wasn’t until her breakthrough top-ten hit, “Chandelier,” that she began being recognized as an artist in her own right.

So, with this week’s crowning, Sia becomes one of very few women in a non-featured role to have topped the American pop charts over the age of 40.  Even more impressively, she gets her first #1 record at this age, making her the first woman to accomplish that feat since Bette Midler got her first and only #1 in 1989 (age 43) with “Wind Beneath My Wings” and, before that, Tina Turner who did it in 1984 with “What’s Love Got To Do With It?,” a song that reached #1 when Tina was 44.

But the age-defying company that Sia keeps during this century may come as a surprise to most readers.  Of the now nine artists (including Sia and Sean Paul) that have topped the Hot 100 during the 21st century at the age of 40 or above, a whopping six of them have been of the hip-hop variety, including the previous five.  The last five  acts before Sia to have #1 songs at or above 40 were Pharrell Williams (who turned 41 while “Happy” was still at #1 in 2014, and was 40 when “Blurred Lines” topped the chart in 2013), Eminem (who was 41 when “The Monster” reached #1 with Rihanna three years ago), Dr. Dre (the now-51-year-old rapper/producer who, at 44, teamed up with Eminem for his “Crack a Bottle” in February 2009) and Jay-Z (who was 40 when his “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys topped the chart at the end of 2009).

(Note: Hip-hop artist Wanz also deserves mention in this discussion.  He was 51 years old in 2012 when he was featured on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ #1 “Thrift Shop,” and sang the song’s hook.)

The last four artists - before Sia - to top the Billboard Hot 100 at 40 years old or above were these four (clockwise from top left: Eminem, Dr. Dre, Pharrell and Jay Z.
The last four artists – before Sia – to top the Billboard Hot 100 at 40 years old or above were these four (clockwise from top left): Eminem, Dr. Dre, Pharrell and Jay Z, plus singer Wanz who was a featured guest on “Thrift Shop.”

Yeah, I know…you didn’t think those guys were that old, did you?

Rap music and the people that make it have usually been associated with the rebelliousness of youth and counter culturalism.  So the fact that the last four artists before Sia to have #1 songs over the age of 40 were of the hip-hop genre defies most logic and many of the stereotypes usually attached to that sub culture.

It’s also noteworthy that Sia teamed up with reggae-style rapper Sean Paul to achieve her first #1.  To say Paul knows a little sometin’-sometin’ about topping the Hot 100 would be an understatement.  Before “Cheap Thrills,” he reached #1 three times with “Get Busy” and “Baby Boy” (both in 2003 and the latter as a featured act on Beyoncé’s hit), and with “Temperature” in 2006.  And with the pairing of Sia and Sean, they become the only collaboration of two artists to reach #1 with both artists being over the age of 40.

Sia also becomes the first woman to reach #1 above the age of 40 since Madonna, who did it in October 2000 when her “Music” topped the chart for four weeks.  She was 42 at the time.

Aside from Madonna and the others mentioned above, the only other artist this century to do it was Carlos Santana, who at 52 had two #1s at the turn of the century with “Smooth” and “Maria, Maria.”  They were the Latin-rock legend’s first #1 singles (credited to his band Santana), making him the second-oldest male to achieve a first-time #1 hit (behind Louis Armstrong who was 62 when he knocked the Beatles out of #1 in 1964).

A rare uncovered facial photo of Australian singer and songwriter, Sia.
A rare uncovered facial photo of Australian singer and songwriter, Sia.

While Sia defies age limitations this week with “Cheap Thrills,” the 21st century has pretty much been a youth-driven pop music market.  As a case in point, the recent #1 song “Panda” by Desiigner occurred earlier this year when the rapper was just 19 years old (he released it when he was 18).  The artist with the most #1 singles this century, Rihanna, has had 14 #1 hits all before the age of 29 (her first – “SOS” – occurred in 2006 when she was also 18).  (Note: one of those Rihanna #1s, 2012’s “Diamonds,” was written by Sia).

This century’s biggest superstar, Beyoncé, achieved all four of her #1s with Destiny’s Child as a teenager (she was still 19 when their final #1, “Bootylicious,” reached the top in August 2001).

Not surprisingly, most of the artists to reach #1 since 2000 have been in their 20s or 30s, with several others having been in their teens and the above-mentioned artists being 40 or over.

But this century’s pace marks a slow-down in the rate at which artists over 40 hit #1.  In the 1990s alone, eight songs by artists over 40 reached #1, compared to the eight songs (by nine artists) over the last 16 years and 7 months.  Between January 1990 and December 1999, Elton John (twice), Peabo Bryson, Rod Stewart, StingLos Del Rio, Aerosmith, Cher and Santana were all over 40 with #1 singles.  And, technically speaking, Santana’s song “Smooth,” was #1 in 1999 and 2000, so I’m generously crediting it toward both decades’ tallies.

It also happened several times during the 1980s, but comparing that decade (and any decade prior) to the modern-era charts would be like comparing apples and oranges, particularly with the charts having used modern technology to measure sales and airplay since 1991, and with there being many more #1 hits during each of the earlier decades than there have been since.

So Sia defies all odds to reach the top this week.  And she takes her sweet time doing it (“Cheap Thrills” makes the slow crawl to #1 in its 23rd chart week).  Plus, she and Sean Paul continue the dominance of non-American artists reigning over the Hot 100 since last July.  See more about American artists’ recent struggles by clicking here.

As a long-time fellow member of the 40-and-over club, I’m pretty thrilled about Sia’s and Sean Paul’s achievement.

Sia earlier in 2016 does Carpool Karaoke with Late Night host James Corden
Sia, earlier in 2016, does Carpool Karaoke with “The Late, Late Show” host James Corden.

So Congrats to Sia on her amazing accomplishment!  Now she has only 80,000-plus hours before she turns 50 to work on that next #1!

DJRob

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