Week Ending Jan. 16, 2011: Songs: Britney Tops Taylor

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Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" sold 411,000 digital copies this week, which enables Spears to break Taylor Swift's record for the biggest first-week sales tally for a song by a female solo artist. The old record-holder was Swift's "Today Was A Fairytale," which sold 325K in its first week a year ago.

This is Spears' biggest one-week digital sales total to date. It surpasses "Womanizer," which sold 303,000 copies during Christmas week 2008 (when sales traditionally spike).

"Hold It Against Me" posted the fourth biggest first-week sales tally in digital history. It trails Flo Rida's "Right Round," which sold 636K in its first week in February 2009; the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow," which sold 465K in its first week in April 2009; and Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent's "Crack A Bottle," which sold 418K in its first week in February 2009.

"Hold It Against Me" debuts at #1 on this week's Hot 100. This is the second time that Spears has opened atop the chart. She achieved the feat in October 2009 with "3." Spears is only the second artist in the chart's 52-year history to debut at #1 with two or more songs. Mariah Carey has debuted at #1 three times. She scored with "Fantasy" in September 1995, "One Sweet Day" (with Boyz II Men) in December 1995 and "Honey" in September 1997. (What about Celine Dion? See The Fine Print, below.)

Spears' achievement is all the more impressive because she has been a star so long. Her first single, "...Baby One More Time," reached #1 in January 1999. Most of the artists who have entered the Hot 100 at #1 have been relative newcomers (such as the red-hot Ke$ha, who did it in November with "We R Who We R").

Only five other artists who have debuted at #1 had been stars for more than a decade at the time they made these powerful debuts. Elton John had been a star for 27 years when he debuted at #1 in 1997 with "Candle In The Wind 1997." Michael Jackson had been a star for nearly 26 years when he debuted in the top spot in 1995 with "You Are Not Alone." Aerosmith had been a top act for 25 years when they debuted at #1 in 1998 with "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing." Eminem had been a star for nearly 12 years when he debuted at #1 last year with "Not Afraid." Whitney Houston had been on top for 10 years when she debuted in the top spot in 1995 with "Exhale (Shoop Shoop Song)."

"Hold It Against Me" is Spears' fourth #1 hit on the Hot 100. It follows "...Baby One More Time," which took 11 weeks to reach #1, "Womanizer," which took two weeks to hit the top spot, and "3."

"Hold It..." will quickly become Spears' eighth million-selling digital hit. Her top digital sellers, per Nielsen SoundScan, are "Womanizer" (3,114,000), "Circus" (2,763,000), "3" (2,049,000), "Piece Of Me" (1,668,000), "Gimme More" (1,627,000), "Toxic" (1,537,000) and "If U Seek Amy" (1,175,000).

The key line in Spears' song is "If I said I want your body now/would you hold it against me." Groucho Marx is said to have come up with the double entendre when he hosted the TV game show You Bet Your Life. The line provided the title of Bellamy Brothers' 1979 hit "If I Said You Have A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me," which topped the country chart for three weeks and cracked the top 40 on the Hot 100. The dry wit of the line was central to the success of the Bellamy Brothers' hit. I'd say the line is incidental to the success of Spears' song. The driving techno beat is what matters.

Spears' song sold nearly 10 times as many copies as this week's #1 album, Cake's Showroom Of Compassion, which sold just 44,000 copies this week, a new low for a #1 album in the Nielsen SoundScan era. Here's a link to this week's Chart Watch: Albums in which I give all the depressing details. (Of course, albums cost about 10 times as much as an individual song, so it evens out, sort of.)

The Fine Print: Celine Dion debuted at #1 in February 1998 with "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From ‘Titanic')" and did it again that December with "I'm Your Angel" (with R. Kelly). But Billboard doesn't count the second hit as an official #1 debut. Let me explain: The song bowed at #1 the same week that the magazine changed its chart methodology to allow non-singles to enter the chart. Silvio Pietroluongo, the magazine's Director of Charts, explains, "That debuted at No. 1 due to the change in chart rules, not on a proper week to week comparison. The song was ranked in the prior week's test chart." (Billboard is right to be scrupulous about its chart standards, though I'm pretty sure that Dion's small army of devoted fans won't be happy with this.)

Bruno Mars' "Grenade" slips to #2 on the Hot 100 after a total of two weeks on top. It debuts at #1 in the U.K. It's Mars' third hit to reach #1 in both countries, following B.o.B's "Nothin' On You" and Mars' solo smash "Just The Way You Are."

Mars is only the fourth male solo artist in chart history to hit #1 in both countries with consecutive singles. Elvis Presley reached #1 in both countries in 1960-61 with three consecutive hits: "It's Now Or Never," "Are You Lonesome To-night?" and "Surrender." Shaggy scored in 2001 with "It Wasn't Me" (featuring Ricardo "RikRok" Ducent) and "Angel" (featuring Rayvon). Usher triumphed in 2004 with "Yeah!" (featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris) and "Burn."

Is there really any information about that is nonessential? We all see things from different angles, so something relatively insignificant to one may be crucial to another.

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