Having been released less than two months ago, Perry's No. 1 Billboard 200 album "PRISM" this week yields its third hit on the Nielsen BDS-based Pop Songs radio airplay chart, as "Dark Horse," featuring Juicy J, debuts at No. 40.
Unlike uptempo first single "Roar," which topped the tally for five weeks, and ballad follow-up "Unconditionally," which lifts 10-8 this week (although down seven plays from last week), the moodier, rap-infused "Horse" trots in due solely to unsolicited airplay.
Notably, "Dark Horse" was released as a digital "PRISM" preview track and debuted on the Digital Songs chart at No. 4 the week of Oct. 5. It's sold 785,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. ("Unconditionally," meanwhile, has sold less than half that sum: 340,000. The set's other preview cut, "Walking on Air," which bowed on Digital Songs at No. 8 with 113,000 the week of Oct. 19, has sold 150,000 so far.)
Such exposure, and a chart position, for a song not being promoted to top 40, while another track from an artist is a focus track, is a rarity at the format. The practice has a deeper history, for instance, at country radio, with superstars like Shania Twain having charted cuts on Country Airplay in the '90s prior to their releases as official singles. Twain's "From This Moment On," for example, dotted the chart between Nos. 75 and 62 for 17 weeks before its proper release and eventual vault to a No. 6 peak.
RADIO: 'DARK HORSE' A 'WELCOME RHYTHMIC SOUND'
Stations playing "Dark Horse," unsurprisingly, say that Perry's star power is fueling its exposure.
It's not, however, the only reason.
Danny Howard, program director of WDOD Chattanooga, Tenn., which played "Unconditionally" 70 times and "Dark Horse" 17 times last week, says that by spinning "Unconditionally" and "Dark Horse," listeners get to hear different sides of Perry's musical personality. "Katy is possibly one of only a handful of artists, perhaps in history, that could pull this off. We look at 'Roar' and 'Unconditionally' as part of her signature pop sound, while 'Dark Horse' is her more edgy, wild alter ego. It's a welcome rhythmic sound in the sea of pop and alternative material out now."
Howard adds that strong sales for "Dark Horse" have increased his confidence in playing it. "While Capitol hasn't actively worked the track, it's a top 20-selling song in Chattanooga, which I'm sure [the label isn't] too upset about. Plus, 'Unconditionally' is in super-power rotation. So, everyone is smiling."
Nick Russo, assistant PD/music director of KTFM San Antonio agrees that says that the sound of "Dark Horse" has helped make it a surprise addition; the station played the track 41 times last week, compared to giving "Unconditionally" 10 plays. "[KTFM is] a rhythmic-leaning pop station and we became convinced that 'Dark Horse' was a hit record. Juicy J is very familiar to our audience and the sound is something we look for with KTFM.
"Audience research has come back huge. While I hope it grows nationally, whether or not it does, it's a win for us."
WJFX Fort Wayne, Ind., likewise played "Dark Horse" (62 times) more than "Unconditionally" last week (37). PD Brooke Taylor concurs that the station is following its audience's reaction to the former song. "While we understand that it's not the label priority, the fans of our brand are the ones we have to take into consideration when it comes to our title selection."
Sound, too, Taylor says, is central to the station's choice to wrangle "Dark Horse" onto its playlist. "Sonically, it has the architecture of what, on the surface, sounds like a hit from a proven superstar. After exposing it to the market, our belief rang true. From Shazam rankings to retail to research, 'Dark Horse' has actually outperformed 'Unconditionally.' "
"It also might be forgotten that 'Dark Horse' was a fan-selected favorite in a recent Pepsi/MTV Video Music Awards promotion," Taylor points out.
"If her fanbase already picked it as one of its favorites, why would radio, and Capitol, not follow suit?"
Still, Capitol, Thompson and Perry herself hope that "Unconditionally" "gets its full day in court," as Thompson says. He cites that its momentum has boosted with the release of its official video, which, since its Nov. 20 premiere, has drawn 18 million worldwide YouTube views. "The video is off to a great start, and it follows her performance of the song on the American Music Awards.
"And, on a personal, lyrical level, 'Unconditionally' is very special to Katy."
The song additionally bullets at No. 10 on Adult Pop Songs (up 4% in plays) and re-enters Adult Contemporary at No. 30 (up 33%).
Now that "Dark Horse" has galloped onto the Pop Songs chart, a natural question follows its unexpected ride to radio, as well as its lofty sales: Will Capitol choose it as the third official single from "PRISM"?
"Katy's well aware of 'Dark Horse' and we're discussing it," Thompson says. "It might be the next single. Or, due to the play it's getting now, maybe it can never have a full campaign as a single. We're watching it – and certainly appreciating the airplay – while still wanting 'Unconditionally' to have a full run."
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Jul 14, 2013 3:27:01 GMT -5
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Jul 14, 2013 3:27:49 GMT -5
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Jul 15, 2013 12:03:42 GMT -5
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Mar 8, 2014 13:58:56 GMT -5