Adele's 'Someone Like You' is the first ballad in three years to top the Hot 100 -- or is it?


Adele’s success is certainly refreshing, and she continues to rack up accolades and records — in fact, she has a handful of new entries in the latest Guinness Book of World Records).

And some people, apparently, are even making up arbitrary turns of events in order to keep her awards flowing.

This morning, Billboard reported that Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which is currently the number one song on the Hot 100, is the first ballad to sit atop that list in over three years. They cite Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” as the last ballad to inhabit the top position.

The article is a pretty interesting read, because it gets into the psychology of radio programmers and how they approach playing songs based on tempo, as well as the way that trends dictate what the top song in the country is (thanks to the likes of Ke$ha, Britney Spears, and Katy Perry, uptempo pop tends to rule radio). There are more machinations in choosing radio playlists than you probably thought.

While that conversation is well and good, it’s built on a fundamental untruth: “Someone Like You” is not the first ballad to top the Billboard Hot 100 since “Take a Bow.” Since “Take a Bow” abdicated the position to Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” back in 2008, at least three songs that could be described as ballads have taken the number one position.

The most obvious one is “Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem and Rihanna’s juggernaut from the summer of 2010. Though it prominently features angry rapping and a video about domestic violence, it certainly is as slow-burning as “Someone Like You.” Let’s put it another way: You certainly can’t dance to it.

There are other chart-toppers from the hip-hop world that could probably slide into the “ballad” category, including T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Are these not ballads? Is it possible to craft a hip-hop ballad? And what is a ballad, anyway? Is there a certain set of criteria it must satisfy, or is it like the Supreme Court’s take on pornography and you simply know it when you see it?

Let us know your thoughts on balladry in the comments below. (And seriously, “Love the Way You Lie” is totally a ballad.)

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Comments (148 total) Add your comment
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  • whatevs

    I think part of what defines a ballad is the sentimental or romantic aspect of the lyrics. It’s not just a slower slong.

    • Jennifer

      I’m with you on this. And by this definition, Love the Way You Lie definitely isn’t a ballad – I’d never even thought of it in those terms, however much I like the song.

      • What is the point of Kyle’s story?

        Did some nasty editor make you think up something on the fly, or what?

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      • Nancy

        It is better than half of all popular music on the charts today, regardless of whatever pigeon hole category you manage to stuff it into.

      • PN

        I don’t see Love the Way You Lie as a ballad. It’s more of a danceable number to me. It has more of a midtempo feel to me.

      • Michael

        Kyle, “Love the Way You Lie” is not a ballad. It’s rap/pop.

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    • Paul

      Agreed. Those other examples aren’t ballads.

      • Nancy

        Most of these people didn’t even know the english word for ballad before this song existed.

    • Aunt Sassy

      I think the reason for the confusion is that “Love the Way You Lie” and “Empire State” are classified first and foremast as “hip-hop” songs, not ballads. That’s not to say that they can’t be both – I just think that most people have a hard time thinking of or associating an Eminem song with “ballads” (even though “Cleaning Out My Closet” was a ballad – at least to me because of the emotion the song packed).

      • Jackie

        Cleaning Out Your Closet? NOT a ballad. And neither are the other three, this article is stupid.
        I think his song Mockingbird could be considered a ballad though.

    • sv

      Agreed. Kyle, you’re wrong in deeming those songs as ballads – they’re slow, but it’s just ignorant to blanket all slow songs (as you are seemingly trying to do with your article) as ballads. Billboard is correct in saying that Adele’s “Someone Like You” is the first ballad to hit the top in three years.

      • Nancy

        I want to kick Kyle in the balls.

    • Lisap

      I personally wouldn’t call any of the examples given ballads, feels more like you came up with a theory then tried to find evidence to support it. It seems you are doing just what you are accusing Billboard of doing, turning something completely arbitrary, like the definition of a ballad, and turning into news.

      • Trent

        Absolutely right, Lisap. Non-article for a non-issue.

    • ice

      The Billboard article is correct, and is excellent writing. For EW to call Billboard’s writing an “untruth” is groundless, wrong, and in very bad taste.
      Since the writer doesn’t bother to do any research, and just asks ” And what is a ballad, anyway?”, here’s the answer: a ballad is a light and simple song.
      Someone Like You is absolutely the only song listed that could be considered a “light and simple song”.

      • jennrae

        Light and simple? Like “Happy Birthday?”

      • Adam

        A ballad is not a light and simple song. A ballad is, by definition, a song that tells a story. How long has it been since a song like that has hit the number 1 spot? A lot longer than 3 years, I’d say.

      • Nancy

        A song that tells a story. Think of it like a hip hop song without all that thuggery and b s.

    • Regina

      Regardless of “Take A Bow”, how long has it been since there has been such a bare-bones ballad as “Someone Like You?”

      • sam

        Thats what I was thinking…not only is ‘Someone Like You’ not up-tempo, it doesn’t even have any percussion!

      • RyRyNYC

        According to THIS week’s Billboard article it said it was the first song of its kind (piano + vocals ONLY) in the board’s 57 year history to reach no. 1

      • @RyRyNYC

        Wow, how cool.

        I do miss the ’90s when you could hear slow songs on the radio and belt them out.

      • PN

        I think that people wanted a break from an endless run of summer dance pop hits and wanted to hear something simple in Someone Like You. And decided to make that song No. 1 Yes, they’ll go back to the usual, but they want to hear Adele’s ballad. It’s only Adele and a pianist playing in that song. It still gives me chills everytime I hear it.

      • Ben

        Adele’s beautiful song Someone Like You may have a simple arrangement but it is not a simple song. Complex emotions and very well-written. And of course, the masterful vocal.

    • cynders

      a ballad is defined as: Ballads are poems that tell a story. They are considered to be a form of narrative poetry. They are often used in songs and have a very musical quality to them. So by that definition a song that simply has a slower tempo does not qualify.

      • Elle

        I agree with you Cynders, It’s acceptable idea

  • RockIt

    I agree whatevs, Kyle, your kinda reaching here.

    • wino

      LOL, must be a slow news day in the EW office. ballads are slow tempo songs….the examples Kyle gave are all hip hop songs. rapping and singing arent the same thing. so yes, Someone like you IS the first ballad to reach #1 since Rhianna.

    • Nancy

      Kyle is nuts.

  • Hum

    If you can bounce to the beat, which you can in all three of your examples, it’s not a ballad.

    • Tim

      Give me a break man.

  • Jennifer

    From Wikipedia: “A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music . . . In the later 19th century it took on the meaning of a slow form of popular love song and the term is now often used as synonymous with any love song, particularly the pop or rock power ballad.” Yeah, definitely not Love the Way You Lie.

    • PJ

      Well, if that’s what Wikipedia said, IT MUST BE TRUE!!!

      • Lisap

        A) Wikipedia is not quite as rampant with innacurate info as people think it is

        B) This is not an academic paper here, I’m pretty sure Wikipedia is sufficient reference

      • Nancy

        It’s a song that tells a story. It’s not that complicated.

      • Elle

        Hey PJ tell us your own idea about this , not others

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  • GHB

    Wikipedia… pfffft
    I think when they’re talking ballads, they mean flat-out love songs

    • PN

      I think when they’re talking ballads, they’re talking very slow songs with a live band and no fancy slick production like on most current hits. And when you can hear the singer sing fully over the arrangement and melody of the song.

  • nodnarb

    None of those songs are ballads. Sorry.

    • nodnarb

      Oh, and to be fair, it is possible to make a hip-hop ballad thanks to LL Cool J.

      • Makeith

        You hit it right on the nose! “I need Love”, “Hey Lover”…etc

  • Brittany

    While I love all 3 examples mentioned in your article, I completely agree with the posts that they are so NOT ballads. Which brings me to another point, why does everything have to be disagreed with? Its fairly obvious to most people that Billboard is not lying and yet we have to have an article that questions their stance. Its ridiculous. I understand the author was just “thinking out loud” but seriously lets try to remember the times when people actually took things at face value.

    • Kristyn

      Perfectly stated, thank you for saying what I wanted to.

    • wino

      great point. it seems Kyle/EW were bored.

      • Phil

        Bored & misinformed…and I hate to be a stickler here, but not only does he throw around false information, he baltantly lied, which generally is a huge journalistic offense. The Billboard article he refers to was written a week ago, which may not seem a big deal ‘at face value’, but when you consider that Kyle had a week to write up this piece with the loads of misinformation he peppers through-out it, its what makes this entire post beyond acceptable.

      • beb

        Totally agreed, Phil. Billboard has even gone further, calling “Someone Like You” the first piano-and-vocal-only ballad to reach #1 in the Hot 100’s 53-year history. Watch for Kyle’s mis-informed, un-researched rebuttal next Wednesday, when Billboard is ready to release the Top 10 of the new chart.

      • Phil

        Brian its really sad that these idiots heer wanna refer to me as bitter when I come here and make (mostly) accurate statements, and correct the piss-poor reporting thats been going on for months now. I dont need or want everyone to like me or my comments, but I try to be as honest as possible with reasoning to back it up. Anyone here who doesn’t understand what a true ballad is, is sadly no better or smarter than Kyle, and deserve the moronic writing thats been littering this site lately.

      • beb

        Phil – haters gonna hate. You have a lot of industry experience working in radio, and there are people that appreciate your comments. Maybe we should talk about something a little more current – Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All” (not a ballad, in case people were wondering) debuts at #18 on next week’s chart. Personally, I was hoping for something higher but realized that her only better showing was “Never Again,” which started (and peaked, I believe) at #8.

      • Phil

        Haha Brian thats a gimme! I dont even have to think about that questioning! Kelly goes for adds at radio Monday, so other than debuting on Ryan Seacrest’s syndicated radio show, the song isn’t getting much radio play yet, so the #18 debut relies heavily on digital sales only. I know you love Kelly, and she is the most genuine Idol of all the graduates, and I do hope the album does well. I also kinda hope it includes the leaked song “Let Me Down” cause I loved it. I caught myself musing the other day what other artists have had songs with “Mr.” (Know It All) and “Miss” (Independent) in their bodies of work, and can’t think of any. Now that woulda been a relatively interesting post here on…SIGH*

      • beb

        Very much looking forward to KC’s “Stronger” – hoping that “Let You Down is on there as well. As far as your question goes, Ne-Yo hit #7 on the Hot 100 with his own “Miss Independent” – one of my favorite songs from him.

      • Phil

        Haha both “Mr. ” and “Miss” or “Mrs.” not just one of ‘em…haha Don’t think there are any others!?

      • beb

        Let Me Down – long day!

      • beb

        I don’t think there have been any #1’s that have both genders represented, but there were others: “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel and, more recently, “Ms. Jackson” by OutKast come to mind.

      • beb

        or any other songs for that matter…

      • Nancy

        Ryan Seacrest should get punched in the vagina.

  • Liz

    I’d have to disagree; I don’t feel like those three songs could/should be considered ballads, especially “Love the Way You Lie.” Then again, I’ve had a different take on the meaning behind those lyrics since I heard the song.

    I guess it also depends on the definition of a ballad. If it’s just a slow tempo song, I can see the point of your selections. If it’s in regard to a love/break-up song, I’m not sure how you would define the remaining two: Empire State of Mind in regards to NYC?

    Whatever You Like might be the closest to a ballad, buuuut I guess I’d have to default to the Supreme Court on that one. Listening to it again, it just doesn’t feel like a ballad….

    • Tiny Dancer

      You’re not alone. No one considers Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind a ballad. If you were to conisder them ballads they would be called hip hop ballads, never just plain “ballad”.

      • jasper

        However, I would consider the versions of LTWYL and ESOM on Rihanna’s and Alicia Keys’ albums ballads.

      • Van

        @Jasper – those were not the radio versions that reached #1, so your point is moot in this discussion.

      • Ibrahim

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  • Greg

    Every ballad is a slow song, but not every slow song is a ballad. ‘Empire State of Mind’ is atypical radio fare because of its slower tempo, but it is not a ballad. I think Billboard is right, but on a point that is not very impressive really.

  • jc

    a ballad is not just slow but a song the is primarily singing not just in the chorus.

    • mike

      I Need Love is definitely a ballad and it is not sung.

  • commentor

    If you wouldn’t slow dance to it at a high school dance, it’s not a ballad.

    • Marissa

      I think your definition is the best so far!

    • MultiPass

      Yes. Perfect definition.

  • Britany S. Pears

    A ballad is a male duck.

    • Derek

      Funny. good call

      • Tim

        A mallard is a upset male duck

    • Alan

      Glen Ballard was once married to Keanu Reeves.

  • Kat

    Whatever You Like and Empire State of Mind are not ballads. You’re really reaching here.

  • Phil

    The version at the end of the iTunes Only “Loud” album (Piano Version) without Eminem is the ONLY version of “Love The Way You Lie” that can be dubbed a ballad. And the Billboard article you’re citing was written a week ago, NOT today, proving once again how not only poor the writing has gotten here, but how late EW has been on alot of things in the entertainment world. And a s a fan of music, if you consider T.I. ‘s “Whatever U Like” or Jay-Z & Alicia’s “Empire State of Mind” (Again, there is a Part II (Broken Down) without Jay-Z that could qualify as a ballad) I would seriously reconsider your artistic license as a qaualified journalist. There is quite a difference between a mid-tempo song and a ballad, and it doesn’t take a music major to know the difference. And a ballad CAN NOT feature a rapper. If T.I. read your piece and caught that u referred to him as a balladeer, he’d prolly wind up back in prison again for a third time in a year for murder.

    • asher

      If Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” had topped the charts, I could consider that as an example of a #1 hip-hop ballad. There is nothing romantic or slow-tempo about “Love the Way You Lie” (original version), “Empire State of Mind” (original version) or “Whatever You Like.”

      • Phil

        If you consider “Your Love” a ballad, you should do some further research, I’d also wager you are under the age of 25.

      • Allison

        As an English lit minor, I’m going to respect the definition of ballad as a poem that tells a story, and therefore I don’t understand why a ballad can’t include rap. “Empire State of Mind” tells a great story.

    • asher

      @Phil – My point was, I agree with you, except for the part that a ballad can’t feature a rapper.

      • Tiny Dancer

        No worries @asher. In all his posts on EW, Phil always comes off like a bitter bish. Just sayin.

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  • EC

    none of those songs are ballads, so yes, it’s been 3 years.

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