Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’: how it finally toppled ‘Old Town Road”s record-breaking chart run

It's been a chart battle for the ages

The music landscape has altered dramatically over the past decade, but one thing that streaming hasn’t been able to topple is a good-old fashioned chart battle. It’s slightly different now, though. Instead of racing down and buying physical copies of singles at Woolworths, new trickery like remixes, bundles and videos are used to ignite showdowns. And we’ve probably just seen a perfect example of a modern battle.

Yesterday, it was announced that Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ was the Number One single in the US, finally toppling Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road (Remix)’. The latter was, quite simply, massive. It broke countless records and became the longest-running Number One on the US singles charts, lasting a whopping 19-weeks at the summit.

But there was a worthy contender right behind the loveable country star. Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’, the biggest single from her debut album ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ was lurking right behind at Number Two for quite some time. With a final push last week, it became the first Number One single for Billie, and the first for an artist born this millennium. Here’s how it did it…

The video

Released on the same day as the album (March 29), the playful video and song became synonymous with the hype. Featuring toy cars, nosebleeds and a colourful pivot away from her previous horror-lovin’ visuals, the song and video was an instant smash. By the end of March the video had 18 million views. In April, May and June, it clocked up over 100 million each month, with performances at Coachella Festival and Glastonbury contributing to the consistent views.

On April 13, the song charted for the first time at Number Seven in the US. By that point that song had already charted at Number Two in the UK, and at Number One in several European countries, including Norway, Slovakia as well as topping the charts in Australia. A juggernaut was on the way…

The memes

Considering Billie was one of the artists who garnered a dedicated following on social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, its little surprise that the song, in particular the sarcastic “duh” line, got turned into a meme. 

On April 13, Seth Everman uploaded a 46-second video called ‘how to create billie eilish’s “bad guy”’, where he uses a saucepan, cushions and a very very, moody stare to do a budget version of the song. The video has since had 33-million views on YouTube, and helped kickstart a wave of edits on the track.

The song was initially cut with scenes from The Simpsons, but cover versions in the style of Blink 182, Green Day and more propelled the song and video to new heights. By the end of May, the song had climbed to Number Three, behind ‘Old Town Road (Remix)’ and Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s collaborative single ‘I Don’t Care’. The gap was closing…

The remixes

In July, Billie shut down rumours that she was working on her second album, but teased something new coming up. That turned out to be a remixed version of the song featuring her idol, Justin Bieber. Speaking to NME in 2017, Billie said that Bieber was one of her first musical loves and that she was a “die-hard Belieber”. The single’s artwork features a picture of Billie in her bedroom, surrounded by Bieber posters.

Released on July 11, the song featured a verse from Bieber and a few growls here and there – but it worked. The interest in the song – and the original – cemented its positioning at Number Two, with the song gaining steam on US radio stations.

But the Lil Nas X hype wasn’t dying down. His hit single became the longest-running US Number One single (overtaking 2017’s ‘Despacito’, which lasted 16-weeks), and an internet-busting Glastonbury appearance and his debut EP ‘7’ kept the streams coming. Perhaps there was no stopping this show.

The final push

Last week, Interscope saw that it was now or never. The pair both appeared on the covers of influential US publications – TIME for Lil Nas X and Rolling Stone for Billie – but Billie had one last trick up her sleeve. A vertical video purpose built for her young fans to consume on smartphones was released, featuring behind-the-scenes and outtakes from the original video.

In a couple of days, the song landed her four million views, all of which contribute to chart positions. By Monday, it was all over. After nine weeks behind Lil Nas X, Billie took her first Number One single in the US, matching her chart-topping debut album. The defeated Lil Nas X took it gracefully with a jokey tweet and congratulated Billie.

With little in the shape of challengers behind, it could be up there for a little while…