Five Burning Questions: Lizzo and Cardi B’s ‘Rumors’ Debuts at No. 4 on the Hot 100
1. Lizzo was one of the biggest breakout stories of 2019, but hadn’t been heard from too much this decade thusfar. Do you think she’s all the way back to ’19 levels, following the No. 4 debut of “Rumors” on the Hot 100?
Rania Aniftos: Yes, I think it’s just the beginning of Lizzo’s next string of hits. While she hadn’t been releasing music over the past year, Lizzo has taken notes from her collaborator Cardi and kept herself relevant on social media since her album release. She’s been sharing such relatable and inspirational messages about self love, and she’s absolutely hilarious on TikTok (remember that whole Chris Evans DM situation?). It doesn’t surprise me that the first song of her new musical era is already doing so well, because it’s like she never left.
Lyndsey Havens: In 2019 a perfect storm of delayed TikTok virality along with the world not being… what it currently is helped launched Lizzo into megastardom. Now, in 2021, the No. 4 debut of “Rumors” is about what I’d expect from the hit, but I don’t think she necessarily is or ever will be back to ’19 levels — and that’s not a bad thing. In 2019, some still questioned her staying power, but what Lizzo accomplished two years ago set her career up for good.
Jason Lipshutz: In case there was any doubt, the No. 4 debut of “Rumors” indicates that, no, Lizzo was not a one-year wonder. Her relative silence over the past 18 months following a wildly successful 2019 has not slowed down her commercial viability, based on the widespread interest and immediate reaction to her comeback single. “Rumors” may not enjoy the months-long chart run that both “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” scored two years ago, but its high debut suggests that future singles and a new album could very well garner the same type of buzz that Lizzo possessed during her breakthrough two years ago.
Mia Nazareno: I love Lizzo, her stitches on TikTok and her vegan recipes, but music-wise, she’s not back to 2019 levels with “Rumors.” “Truth Hurts” was literally inescapable (especially for me when I was a receptionist at our office, and the track would play 17 times a day in our reception area!). From getting ghosted by a mans to getting rejected by a job, everyone’s automatic response was, “You coulda had a bad b–ch!” in 2019. The song’s universal appeal was apparent on the charts, too. The track spent seven weeks at the top spot, which in 2021, translates to BTS or Olivia Rodridgo-level of big. Having said that, “Rumors” is definitely still an enjoyable song, but it doesn’t have that same magic ingredient that propelled her to becoming a household name in 2019.
Andrew Unterberger: A No. 4 debut is extremely impressive for 2021 Lizzo, even with the boost of a Cardi appearance — let’s not forget, that while she had two massive hits in 2019, those were her first (and before “Rumors,” only) major crossover hits, on her own or as a collaborator. Does that mean she’s back to 2019 levels? Not necessarily: Meghan Trainor, another viral breakout pop star who owned a year last decade, also returned with a pretty big hit off her next album — “No,” whose No. 21 debut on Radio Songs “Rumors” matches this week as the chart’s highest bow since 2016 — then pretty quickly lost momentum from there. But it’s an awesome start for her, and shows that fans certainly haven’t forgotten about her over the past two (very, very long) years.
2. Lizzo is in the unique position of having to follow up both a successful breakthrough LP and a pair of simultaneous breakout hits — but with those hit singles pre-dating said LP by several years. Does this sound like a totally new Lizzo era to you, or does it hew more closely to the sound/feel of either Cuz I Love You or those earlier-recorded smash hits (“Truth Hurts,” “Good as Hell”)?
Rania Aniftos: Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You era was so successful, why change it? “Rumors” is just as confident and cheeky as her past era, with the same catchy, groovy instrumental sections. As a fan, this is exactly what I want from Lizzo’s return to the music scene, and I won’t accept any slander saying otherwise.
Lyndsey Havens: The only thing distinctly 2021 about “Rumors” is that brief rock moment (shout out Sister Rosetta Tharpe) that falls in line — even if only momentarily — with what else is trending on the charts today. That said, it doesn’t feel like a new Lizzo era, and rather a natural evolution of her sunny, feel-good flow over production that sounds more lush and snappier than on her previous hits.
Jason Lipshutz: “Rumors” nicely threads the needle between finding a new lane for Lizzo — in this case, reflecting on fame and the new haters that it inevitably brings — and keeping her focused on feel-good rhythmic pop. Part of the reason why “Rumors” works is because it prominently features the boisterous, endlessly charismatic persona that helped Lizzo become a star in the first place, while also pushing her into new thematic territory. Whether or not “Rumors” is on the same level as her breakthrough hits, the song undeniably serves as a positive progression.
Mia Nazareno: It isn’t a new era in the way other pop stars change their entire vibe with each release. (See Lorde or Billie Eilish for reference.) It sounds like it does belong to the “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” family, but I’m okay with it. I still like that era, and I’m not done with it just yet!
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll admit that I’d hoped for something a little more fresh-sounding from Lizzo’s return — her and producer Ricky Reed had both done a great job throughout the 2010s of keeping their sounds updated and new, but the snappy horns and all-ages party vibes of this one hews pretty close to their prior successes together. But for a reintroduction, it clearly reminds you why Lizzo found the success she did at the end of the 2010s, and it’s definitely good to have her back.
3. Music videos have long played a role in Lizzo’s successes — how much do you think the “Rumors” clip helps with the song’s No. 4 debut this week?
Rania Aniftos: While my Greek self loves the Grecian theme of the music video, I think Lizzo and Cardi’s combined star power was enough to reach the top 5 without the visual accompaniment. Cardi B is an unfailing hitmaker, and every song she touches seemingly turns to gold. Match her up with the wildly talented Lizzo, and it’s a recipe for success.
Lyndsey Havens: A good amount. As a Disney fan, I was immediately sold on the Hercules-inspired clip. And with a guest turn from a pregnant Cardi B, I think fans were eager to see how she plays it up for the camera as well — especially in contrast to Normani’s “Wild Side” clip, in which she was still — quite literally — covering up the news.
Jason Lipshutz: The Greek chorus motif of the “Rumors” video is charming enough, although the costumes and set pieces don’t have a ton of replay value. Maybe the “Rumors” clip was part of the initial interest in the single’s opening week, but I’d guess that the song itself remains the main attraction as it picks up radio steam and gathers audio streams.
Mia Nazareno: I’ll spare you the full “In this essay I will…” spiel, but the music video was so awesome and progressive for a critical race theory nerd like me. The role reversal of putting Black women as goddesses in the context of Greek mythology is the type of imagery I’d love to see more of in media. Despite the Internet trolls holding society back one mean comment at a time, we need to see more Black women and other women of color asserting themselves in traditionally white spaces, and I think the music video got people’s attention and sparked these conversations online – further boosting its popularity.
Andrew Unterberger: It certainly helped, though given how strong the song also started in sales and on radio, it clearly wasn’t the sole or even primary factor. More importantly than adding to first-week streams, it also just re-stablishes her strengths: It’s fun, creative, and subtly subversive, like all of Lizzo’s best stuff has been.
4. “Rumors” is the highest-peaking Hot 100 entry to date with its title, but far from the only hit on the subject. What’s your favorite pop song along the general theme of rumors and/or gossipmongering?
Rania Aniftos: Easily Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me.” Now that we all know the devastating details of Britney’s conservatorship, the anxiety-inducing levels of media scrutiny and tabloid stories she dealt with throughout her career hit harder than ever. Even though the song was released just before her conservatorship began as a middle finger up to the gossip, it feels more fitting for 2021 – because she’s not putting up with any mistreatment anymore. Like she says, “Oh my God, that Britney’s shameless”… and I love that for her.
Lyndsey Havens: Anyone remember “Drivers License”…? That wins for the most recent favorite pop song that spawned countless headlines, at least two response tracks and kicked off a global phenomenon. I also appreciated the universality of that track — about the unravelling of a relationship — in comparison to “Rumors,” which is more on-the-nose when it comes to the woes of being on center stage (“Last year I thought I would lose it/Readin’ s–t on the internet/My smoothie cleanse and my diet”) — a tactic that has paid off in songs for Billie Eilish by sending the internet spiraling in response. A taste of one’s own medicine, if you will.
Jason Lipshutz: Gotta go with “Gossip Folks,” in which Missy Elliott dresses down a group a knucklehead rumor-spreaders, Timbaland expertly flips Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus” on the hook, and Ludacris shouts out Timmy from South Park. An underrated follow-up single to “Work It,” and a great song about rumors.
Mia Nazareno: “Blank Space,” easy. In a 2016 performance at The Grammys Museum, Taylor revealed how her 2014 hit was inspired by the tabloid storm surrounding her dating life. She wrote it “as a response to [during] the last couple of years, the media have had a really wonderful fixation on painting me as the psycho serial dater girl.” The resulting single became an addictive sing-along song that reminds all of us Swifities of our own “psycho serial dater girl” days — good times.
Andrew Unterberger: Let’s flash back 40 years to the Pretenders’ mini-masterpiece “Talk of the Town” — singer Chrissie Hynde’s gently devastating account of an unrequited infatuation that makes her the titular subject of local scandal (though maybe only in her head). Nearly two decades later, it was quoted by Shirley Manson in Garbage’s “Special,” to similarly heartbreaking effect.
5. Better chart flex/called shot: Drake predicting “I’m on the Hot 100, numero uno, this one ain’t come with a bundle” on “What’s Next” before it debuted at No. 1 earlier this year, or Cardi B boasting “My records live in the top 10” before landing comfortably in that region with the No. 4 bow of “Rumors”?
Rania Aniftos: The law of attraction gurus say you have to be very specific with your manifestations, so I’m going to give the crown to Drake, who opted for a no-frills approach to his flex and called out a straight-up No. 1 hit. He also shouted out the Hot 100 by name, which, as a Billboard staffer, is always fun to hear.
Lyndsey Havens: Predicting you’re going to be numero uno then in fact debuting atop the chart is an impossibly cool — if perhaps braggadocious — flex, and impossible to beat in my book.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s give Drake the edge, thanks to the No. 1 premonition and the insight into shifting chart rules and regulations. Cardi’s boast is nearly as impressive, though, and I hope it leads to more Hot 100 braggadocio in the future — maybe an artist can drop a “greatest gainer” boast soon?
Mia Nazareno: I’m more impressed by Cardi! Not only is she a “Bronx b–ch with some pop hits,” but she’s also a pregnant working mom who effortlessly manages to crack the top ten. We love to see it! *hand clap emoji*
Andrew Unterberger: Probably gotta give Drake the W for specificity and degree of difficulty — though you also gotta respect a star artist who’s practical enough to leave herself options.