One way to size up pop stardom is to measure how much noise an artist can create with a deluge of new music. Think of Ariana Grande releasing two Number One albums in less than six months, just because she can, jamming up radio programmers with five different singles in rotation simultaneously and burying everyone under a barrage of hits.
Another way to evaluate stars is by clocking their achievements during periods of relative silence. Everyone has to rest now and then, but a true star can still assert him- or herself even in off-months.
That has been Post Malone this year in the run-up to his new album, Hollywood’s Bleeding. At a time when most artists are hyperactive, Malone has barely moved a muscle — but dominated anyway. The 10th biggest album of the year is Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys (1.12 million album-equivalent units), which is still bringing listeners back 16 months after its release. And the 22nd biggest album of the year is Malone’s Stoney (717,000), which came out in 2016. For context, the close to three-years-old Stoney outsold several of 2019’s biggest albums, including Baby on Baby by DaBaby and Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III.
As Malone’s back catalog did the heavy lifting, he was able to release new music sparingly. “Sunflower,” a happy-go-lucky collaboration with Swae Lee, benefitted from the marketing budget and sustained global exposure of a major Hollywood movie: It appeared in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which grossed close to $400 million worldwide. If it weren’t for the unexpected eruption of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” “Sunflower” would be the biggest streaming single of 2019. The track is closing in on a billion streams so far, according to Alpha Data, and it is leading the Number Three single — Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” — by a healthy margin of 180 million streams.
“Sunflower” exploded immediately upon release in October; 112 pop radio stations added it into rotation the minute it came out. With that song performing so well, Malone had nothing to lose, so he threw out a heat check, dropping “Wow.” the day before Christmas.
“Wow.” sounds like it was put together in about three minutes; this is club-rap to play after old DJ Mustard productions and recent Tyga hits. But a mix-show hit for some rappers is a runaway train for Malone: “Wow.” is the fourth-biggest streaming single of the year (close to 677 million streams). It went Number One at pop and rhythmic radio, and it still gets played over 4,000 times a week on Top 40 stations. It’s a throwaway that won’t go away.
If “Wow.” was a lay-up, Malone has been spending the last two months testing out contested long-range jump-shots. In July, conventional wisdom dictates that carefree, lightweight tracks storm the charts. Instead, Malone offered up “Goodbyes,” a morose, spiteful power ballad featuring Young Thug that invokes Kurt Cobain. “Goodbyes” debuted at Number One on the RS 100. Malone’s latest is “Circles,” which sounds like an attempt to smuggle Peter-Bjorn-and-John-like production on to the pop charts. It’s working: “Circles” is the biggest record on Spotify in the U.S. right now.
This means Malone is an enviable position as he prepares to release Hollywood’s Bleeding: He’s barely done anything this year, and his album is already a hit.