XXXTentacion does what Bowie and Prince didn’t and scores a posthumous No. 1 hit
XXXTentacion’s music experienced a sharp resurgence after he was fatally shot June 18.
“SAD!” — a sorrowful electronic ballad with a haunting refrain, including the lines “Suicide if you ever try to let go/ I’m sad and low, yeah, I’m sad and low, yeah” — skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, unseating Drake’s “God’s Plan.” It had previously peaked at No. 7, in March.
The song jumped from No. 52 in the week since the rapper was slain, making it the first posthumous No. 1 hit for a lead soloist since 1997 — the year that Notorious B.I.G. was killed and his anthem “Mo Money Mo Problems” raced up the charts.
During the week ending on June 21, “SAD!” was streamed 48.9 million times in the United States, a 264 percent increase from the previous week. It also saw a 659 percent jump in downloads, which clocked in at about 26,000. Finally, it was played 2.9 million times on the radio, a 112 percent increase, according to Nielsen Music.
Eight other songs by XXXTentacion are also currently in the Billboard Hot 100, seven of which reentered the charts after his death — meaning they’d charted before but had since fallen off. These eight are “Moonlight” at No. 16, “Changes” at No. 18, “Jocelyn Flores” at No. 19, one with an unprintable title at No. 28, “Everybody Dies on Their Nightmares” at No. 42, “The Remedy for a Broke Heart (Why Am I So in Love)” at No. 58, “Hope” at No. 80, and “Numb” at No. 82.
It isn’t unusual for an artist’s sales to spike after his or death, particularly if the end was unexpected. While those spikes generally translate into more record sales, however, they haven’t always launched a song to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
And there are been plenty of opportunities recently. The deaths of musical giants have left a mark on the past few years, but they didn’t result in No. 1 songs.
When Price died in April 2016, his record sales skyrocketed by 40,000 percent in a mere five days, the Los Angeles Times reported. One compilation, “The Very Best of Prince,” sold a quarter-million copies — a 70,000 percent rise. The weekend after he passed away, 2.3 million of tracks were sold as singles, which was a 33,500 percent increase.
He hit the top of the Billboard 200 chart, which tracks album sales. But none of his individual songs rose to No. 1.
David Bowie, who died in January 2016, saw a 5,000 percent increase in his record sales.
But still, like Prince before him, no No. 1 song.
Ditto Michael Jackson, who sold more than 9 million copies of his albums in the first three weeks after his death in 2009. And, as The Washington Post previously noted, “In the four days after Amy Winehouse died in 2011, her record sales experienced a 37-fold increase, according to Billboard. Less than a month after Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel bathtub in 2012, she became the first woman with three albums in the top 10 of Billboard 200’s chart.”
“Our research indicates death-related publicity serves primarily as informational advertising that informs new customers,” University of Warwick assistant professor of marketing Leif Brandes wrote in a blog post on the school’s website, but it “also triggers considerable nostalgic reactions” and “a feeling of their own mortality . . . from existing record-owners.”
That streaming would play a huge part in XXXTentacion’s record-breaking No. 1 hit this week is only fitting.
The rapper broke into the mainstream via streaming services, beginning in March 2014, when he uploaded the song “Vice City” to SoundCloud, the free music-streaming platform where he would eventually amass more than 2 million followers. He released several EPs there, before adding his music to services such as Spotify — including two albums that would chart No. 1 and No. 2 on the Billboard 200.