There’s a “No-Girls Zone” around the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 this week, something that hasn’t happened since 1984.
A lot can be said musically about the year 1984.
It was the year that Prince’s Purple Rain – both the movie and its iconic soundtrack – elevated him to superstar status.
It was the year that two huge artists of that era – one a superstar rock group, Van Halen; the other a superstar on the verge of a comeback, Tina Turner – were so moved by the year’s enormity that they were compelled to name an album (Van Halen’s 1984 – MCMLXXXIV) and a song (Turner’s “1984”) for it.
It was the year of Bruce Springsteen’s big pop breakthrough with his Born In The U.S.A. album and the first of its record-tying seven top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
It was also the year in which Michael Jackson’s landmark album Thriller finished its record-breaking 37-week Number-One run and tallied the last of its record-setting seven top-ten singles, the title track.
Finally, the year 1984 was the year that Madonna broke big and achieved the first (“Borderline”) of her record 38 top-ten Hot 100 hit singles (and her first No. 1 with “Like A Virgin” that December).
But perhaps even more noteworthy than all those things was something that went relatively unnoticed until now – some 33 years later – when a streak that began that February ended just this week.
For two weeks that winter on the Billboard Hot 100, there were NO women with songs in the top ten. In an era that included such stars as Pat Benatar, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Ross, Joan Jett and the Go-Gos, no ladies had hits in the upper tenth of the chart.
Then on February 18, 1984, all of that changed when three very diverse and unique women surged into the top ten – each of them for the first time. They were an American dance artist named Shannon (“Let The Music Play”), a German new wave singer named Nena (“99 Luftballons”) and a novelty pop artist named Cyndi Lauper (with the appropriately titled “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”).
Indeed, girls did just wanna share in some of the fun of the pop top ten – a region that had been dominated by men for much of the Hot 100’s existence – dating back to August 1958 when the chart debuted.
And girls have had top-ten fun every week since that February 1984 chart, which equates to roughly 1726 weekly charts where at least one woman has been listed in the top ten.
That is, until this week when, for the first time since that chart in February 1984, women are totally absent from the Hot 100’s top ten.
This week’s top 10 (for the chart dated April 29, 2017) is as follows:
- “Shape Of You” – Ed Sheeran
- “That’s What I Like” – Bruno Mars
- “Humble” – Kendrick Lamar
- “Sign of the Times” – Harry Styles
- “Something Just Like This” – Chainsmokers & Coldplay
- “iSpy” – KYLE feat. Lil Yachty
- “Mask Off” – Future
- “XO TOUR Llif3” – Lil Uzi Vert
- “Body Like a Back Road” – Sam Hunt
- “Paris” – Chainsmokers*
(*As a footnote, “Paris” features vocals by Emily Warren, but she’s not credited on the label as a featured artist, so this is logged as strictly a Chainsmokers hit.)
The last time women were completely absent from the pop top ten, it looked like this (on February 11, 1984):
- “Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club*
- “Joanna”* – Kool & the Gang
- “Talking In Your Sleep” – The Romantics
- “Owner of A Lonely Heart” – Yes
- “Jump” – Van Halen
- “That’s All” – Genesis
- “Running With the Night” – Lionel Richie
- “Pink Houses” – John Cougar Mellencamp
- “Think of Laura”* – Christopher Cross
- “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” – Elton John
(*As another footnote, the song titles involving “Joanna” and “Laura” – as well as the lead singer of Culture Club – despite his androgyny – do not count as women for this purpose.)
To put this in perspective, the last time this happened Former President Ronald Reagan was still in his first term, Thriller – the album – was still No. 1 (for the 30-somethingth week), no one had ever heard of Purple Rain, Madonna hadn’t yet achieved her first of 38 top tens, and I hadn’t yet graduated from High School.
To find a top-ten week in which women are completely absent is a rare occurrence. But in the historically male-dominated world of pop music, there were plenty of weeks where only one woman represented her gender in the top ten.
For instance, during the month of January 1984 – before that two-week estrogen drought in February – the lone female occupant of a top-ten slot was Olivia Newton-John, whose “Twist of Fate” held top-ten court all by her lonesome for four weeks.
In the early ’80s, it wasn’t uncommon for ONJ to be the only female top-ten resident.
When her platinum juggernaut “Physical” moved to No. 1 in November 1981, she was the only female in a top-ten that included Foreigner, Hall & Oates, Rolling Stones, Air Supply, Christopher Cross, The Police, Bob Seger, Little River Band and composer Mike Post.
When Olivia’s “Magic” moved to No. 1 in August 1980, she was the lone solo female in a top 10 whose only other female was the lead singer of the funk group the S.O.S. Band (Mary Davis) who joined Olivia in the top 10 with “Take Your Time (Do It Right).”
When Olivia’s 1974 hit, “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” reached the top ten that June, she was the only female there.
And, while uncommon, there were other weeks when NO women were in the top-ten, including in April 1964 when the Beatles had four songs there and the other six were by the Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, Terry Stafford, Louie Armstrong, Bobby Vinton and the Dave Clark Five.
But after that February 1984 chart, women would not be absent again until now.
And there have been some huge names that have helped women maintain that top-ten status for all these 33-plus years, including icons like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, Paula Abdul and the aforementioned Madonna in the 1980s; Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and TLC, along with Whitney, Janet and Madonna (again) in the ’90s; Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys in the ’00s; and Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Adele during the current decade.
Some of those women have gone on to create history within the Billboard Top 10.
As previously mentioned, Madonna has had more top-10 hits than anyone – male, female or group. Whitney became the only person to have seven-consecutive No. 1 hits. Janet is the only person to have seven top-five hits from one album and three albums with at least six top-10 hits each. Mariah has the most No. 1 hits among all women with 18, including the longest-running No. 1 to date (16 weeks for “One Sweet Day”).
And Katy Perry tied Michael Jackson’s record of five No. 1 singles from the same album in 2011, just to name a few.
So what happened this week? Why are no women in the top ten?
One could argue that the upper part of the charts are more man-friendly these days with the resurgence of rap – which has always been a male-dominated field – and the success of artists like Drake, Future and recent upstarts like Lil Uzi Vert, Migos and KYLE.
In the current environment, even Rap Queen Nicki Minaj’s hotly anticipated Remy Ma diss track, “No Frauds,” which helped her establish the new record for most chart hits by a female, couldn’t crack the top ten as it stalled at No. 14 (then quickly fell to No. 84 the following week).
It could also just be a matter of bad timing and the stars aligning a certain way. Current superstars like Swift and Adele haven’t released new material since 2014 and 2015, respectively. Beyoncé’s Lemonade album ran its course last year, and Rihanna has likely seen the last hit from her ANTI album with this year’s former top-ten “Love On The Brain” now making a quick descent (it sits at No. 24 this week).
It could also be the normal career ebbs and flows of pop superstars who’ve likely seen their best singles chart years.
Former chart queens Katy Perry and Lady Gaga seemingly can’t buy a top-ten hit – or at least one with any legs – since both their heydays earlier this decade. Perry (“Chained To the Rhythm”) and Gaga (“Million Reasons”) achieved top-ten status in the past two months, but both required the assistance of exposure from awards show performances and the quick, but non-lasting, sales and streaming spikes that followed. The songs exited the top ten fast.
The same applies to Beyoncé (“Formation”) who hasn’t spent more than two weeks in the top ten of the Hot 100 since early 2014.
Whatever the reason for this week’s absence of ladies, I believe it’s just an anomaly, as women will soon reappear in the top ten – perhaps as early as next week – to begin a whole new streak. There are four songs by women waiting in the wings at Nos. 11-14 ready to stake their claim to a top-ten slot (although one of those – Anne-Marie who’s featured on Clean Bandit’s “Rockabye” at No. 13 – has already been in the top ten and just now vacated that upper echelon to create this situation).
The other three on the verge are Selena Gomez (at No. 11 along with Kygo on “It Ain’t Me”), Julia Michaels (at No. 12 with “Issues”) and Canadian soul singer Alessia Cara (who teams with EDM producer Zedd on “Stay” at No. 14).
So is this the beginning of a new male-dominated era for the charts? Or will Selena, Julia and Alessia be the Cyndi, Nena and Shannon of 2017 and start the fun all over again?
We’ll soon find out…
Postscript: Credit goes to several others for this article, as I was late in noticing this historic chart occasion. Thanks to music pal Tony Andrade for posting the Billboard article that revealed this chart trivia (and to the Hot 100 chart observer Dwight Fischer of Wichita, KS, who submitted it to the trade publication).
Also thanks to my good friend Kevin Martin who inspired me to write this and who encouraged me to use the Shannon photo below. He always knew it would come in handy one day.
Finally, thanks to Billboard and to all the hundreds or maybe thousands of women who have placed songs in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 for all these many years.
You still rock!