Billboard Names The Top 100 Pop Songs In The Past 20 Years

During the week of October 3, 1992, Billboard launched its Pop Songs radio airplay chart, gauging the biggest hits on mainstream Top 40 radio. To commemorate the chart’s 20th anniversary, Billboard is counting down the Top 100 Pop Songs on the chart over the past two decades (1992-2012). From rock to country music and everything in between, each genre is represented well in the countdown. That said, you’ll be surprised to know who lands in the Top 10.

Given that it’s a Pop Chart, you’d assume the artists in the above picture would’ve made the upper echelon of the list. Sure Katy Perry, Britney Spears, LMFAO and Adele make the Top 100 cut, but fail to make the Top 10. Instead, the list is occupied mostly by pop-rock ballads with a dance track thrown in for good measure. Even more shocking is who landed the No. 1 slot. Here are a few highlights from the Top 100 Pop Song list, with the Top 10 after that.

  • 97. “Grenade” Bruno Mars (2011)
  • 81. “My Love” Justin Timberlake Featuring T.I
  • 79. “Stickwitu” The Pussycat Dolls
  • 73. “Complicated” Avril Lavigne (2002)
  • 68. “Promiscuous” Nelly Furtado
  • 66. “Genie In A Bottle” Christina Aguilera
  • 51. “Lovefool” The Cardigans
  • 48. “The Sign” Ace Of Base
  • 43. “You Belong To Me” Taylor Swift (2009)
  • 40. “Don’t Let Go (Love)” En Vogue
  • 30. “You Were Meant For Me” Jewel
  • 27. “Bleeding Love” Leona Lewis
  • 16. “…Baby One More Time” Britney Spears
  • 15. “Tik Tok” Ke$ha
  • 12. “We Found Love” Rihanna Featuring Calvin Harris


10. Since U Been Gone

Artist: Kelly Clarkson
Released: 2005

9. Slide

Artist: Goo Goo Dolls
Released: 1999

8. Here Without You

Artist: 3 Doors Down
Released: 2003

7. Don’t Speak

Artist: No Doubt
Released: 1996

6. Truly Madly Deeply

Artist: Savage Garden
Released: 1998

5. Smooth

Artist: Santana ft. Rob Thomas
Released: 1999

4. Hanging By A Moment

Artist: Lifehouse
Released: 2001

3. Apologize

Artist: OneRepublic ft. Timbaland
Released: 2008

2. Another Night

Artist: Real McCoy
Released: 1994

1. Iris

Artist: Goo Goo Dolls
Released: 1998

According to Billboard, “Iris” spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1998 on the Pop Chart and spent 39 weeks total on the chart (tied for the second-longest run). Do you think the Goo Goo Dolls song from the City of Angels soundtrack is a worthy No. 1? What surprised you most about the Top 10 list? Which artist do you think was robbed of a spot? Sound off below. To check out the entire Top 100 list, head over to http://www.billboard.com.

Billboard's Top Pop Songs: Which Are Your Favorite(s)?

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  • Joshua

    This is going to be long, so you’ve been warned. I’ve kept a log of the pop radio airplay chart from 1994 on (I use Mediabase data, but Billboard uses practically the same sample), and this is completely based on that data. There’s no one who was robbed, because this listing is just a compilation of chart data, so whether or not you like other songs better, these simply are the ones that accumulated the most airplay.

    Notice that in the top 10, only one song comes from even the past five years (although “We Found Love” had an impressive run that sets it at #12). Part of this deals with two trends that run parallel and can each affect chart composition greatly, let alone in tandem: (1) how music is disseminated and (2) what I will call the “public attention span.”

    It used to be that airplay rolled like a wave. Songs would break out in a major airplay market, often Los Angeles or New York, employees of stations elsewhere would catch wind and test them in their own markets, consumers would hear a song on vacation and request it back home, and so on. This meant that a song climbed in popularity over a number of weeks and often maintained high chart numbers for months because as its airplay would dwindle in one market, it would be building in another. It also meant that many songs got trapped in the lower reaches of the chart, as their steam in various markets didn’t quite coincide and translate to high chart marks.

    Nowadays, because of the pervasive use of the internet for mass market impact, songs often explode onto the airplay charts and weekly spin changes (the increase or decrease in total number of times a song is played) are often in the thousands, a feat unheard of not even ten years ago. All markets become saturated with the same songs at the same times, meaning that more songs make it to #1 but usually don’t stay at the top too long before the next big thing comes along. It also means that the highs are higher: on average, the top five or six pop songs in the nation are each spun over 10,000 times per week. Just to give you a point of reference, Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” was, I believe, the first pop #1 to break 10,000 spins, so what was a record-breaking performance for a #1 song only seven years ago is now routine for five or six songs per week. The flip side of that is that the markets all begin to pull the same songs from heavy rotation at the same time, so songs now usually plummet off the chart, whereas in the past they would float down much more gently. So, songs from the 1990s and even the early 2000s, when the internet was not nearly being utilized for marketing the way it is today, had the chance at a much longer chart run.

    But the public attention span seems to have changed greatly with the advent of the internet as well. Whether that’s real or perceived, the radio industry has latched onto the notion, and songs quickly soar in and out of heavy rotation at stations, in ways they never used to. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to you. For me, it’s nice that stations are willing to add new music instead of getting stuck on a playlist for months at a time, but I also think that they end up running songs into the ground by dropping all older songs from rotation and (over)playing only the newest of the new hits, running them into the ground. Whether or not you appreciate the change, from a chart standpoint, the shorter attention span means that songs fire on and off the chart much quicker than they used to, adding to the effect of music dissemination.

    All this is just to say that it really is no surprise to see “Iris” at #1, because it really hit at the perfect time to get an incredible chart run. Pop music had come out of a time of short attention in the early 1990s and had settled by 1995 or so, but the traditional wave effect of music dissemination continued. It also was the right genre for the time: Top 40 (then CHR/Pop) format stations at that time were a lot like Adult Top 40 stations are today, which is to say that singer-songwriters and bands you could feasibly compare to Matchbox Twenty were huge. The most surprising thing about its success to me is the song’s length. It’s nearly five minutes long, and the only difference on radio seemed to be that the DJs would talk over the intro and fade it out early. By contrast, our #3, “Apologize,” is barely three minutes long, though it was also ten years later and in an age of shorter attention.

    Anyway, my point is just that for someone who follows the chart, this listing is just about what I would have expected it to be, and I hope what I’ve written gives everyone a little better idea of why it turned out like it did. Hope everyone has a nice day!

  • ondine

    Um, where is Gaga? Bad Romance? Poker Face? Just askin’ though.

  • Joshua

    “Bad Romance” is at #50, her highest overall ranking. “Just Dance” is her only other position in the top 100, tied for #70.

    “Poker Face” suffered a similar problem as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and the 2001 remake of “Lady Marmalade.” All of the songs rushed quickly up to #1 but were such cultural phenomena of their times that they were played to death, so the listening public got sick of them quickly, and stations swiftly moved onto the next. Since this top 100 is a cumulative ranking, it favors songs that had staying power over ones that had huge, albeit brief, impact.

  • Peter

    Thanks, Joshua, for that breakdown. The landscape of radio also seems to have changed a great deal since ClearChannel began taking over Top 40 stations across the country. It’s much more homogenous than ever before, but at the same time there are so many other formats like satellite and the internet that allow us to escape radio’s attempts to have us listen to the same thing all day every day.

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