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Why Justin Bieber Has Never Notched a No. 1 Single: A History From 'Baby' to 'Boyfriend' (Analysis)

The 18-year-old may be a worldwide pop phenom, but has yet to arrive at the top of the Hot 100 summit.

Justin Bieber publicity 2012 L
Darren Tieste/CPi

Justin Bieber has achieved just about as many career accomplishments as some of his music industry peers twice as old. But surprisingly there's one milestone that has eluded him during his meteoric rise from YouTube star to worldwide pop phenomenon: A No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.

While his infectious singles “One Time,” “Baby” and “Somebody to Love” have all quickly become pop culture staples, only one has cracked the Top 10. Until his latest effort, “Baby” was Bieber’s highest charting single, peaking at the No. 5 spot on Feb. 6, 2010. 

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His current single “Boyfriend” debuted in the No. 2 slot thanks to feverish promotion and a new, more adult sound. Though the track dropped to No. 5 in its second week, “Boyfriend” could certainly continue to ascend the chart in the coming weeks. The track has continued to receive an unprecedented surge in radio play following a "history-making bow" in its first week, according to Billboard.

"It bounds 24-16 (54 million in audience, up 33%) on Radio Songs, passing 2010's "Baby" (No. 24 peak) for his best rank on the list," Billboard notes in a recent analysis. "The track also enters On-Demand Songs at No. 35 (286,000) following its arrival at a wide variety of streaming services."

According to Los Angeles radio host Chris Booker (Amp FM 97.1), Bieber's recent radio success is due to a void left by Justin Timberlake.

“The comparison is almost too easy to make,” Booker tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The first Justin was presented with the same problem of, ‘How do I shed this boy image?’  He answered it with a pop album that changed music. Bieber is trying to do the same thing, and probably will, because he's putting in the work.”  

But could Bieber's mission to evolve from teen superstar with a predominantly tween female fanbase to adult male pop artist for the ages potentially burn the singer out?

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“I hope he doesn't abandon his fans at some point because he's worn down from it,” Booker continues. “Because I can see how it would get taxing. Timberlake caved.” For his part, Timberlake has gone on to pursue the world of film with noteworthy roles in The Social Network, In Time and Friends With Benefits. He will return to music -- on the big screen, at least -- as Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart in the biopic Spinning Gold.

With radio presence playing a key role in chart placement, Bieber has struggled to translate his tween-friendly hooks to chart-dominating hits.

While “Boyfriend” marks Bieber’s 22nd track to place on the Hot 100, only eight have been officially released singles (“Eenie Meenie,” one of the eight, is technically a Sean Kingston song that features Bieber). Many of his lower charting releases, including “First Dance,” “All I Want For Christmas” and “Pray,” received brief stints -- of one to four weeks -- on the chart due to accompanying music videos or various promotions.

“One Time,” Bieber’s first offering, received moderate radio play in the early days of his career after the aspiring singer made personal appearances at stations across the country, where he charmed DJs and performed acoustically. At 25 weeks, the single is Bieber’s longest-charting track, yet it peaked at a lukewarm No. 17. 

"Radio airplay wasn't as big in the beginning because of his groundswell movement," says KIIS FM (Los Angeles 102.7) radio host Ellen K, who can be heard on Ryan Seacrest's weekday morning program. "He and his manager Scooter [Braun] were literally a traveling show."

“The first album snuck up on radio and was already happening without airplay, which sometimes happens with ‘Tweener’ music,” Booker adds. “It hits the scene fast and furious with a VERY young Disney-type following, which can be polarizing to stations that have a broader playlist.”

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Bieber's following singles didn’t fare much better, with only “Never Say Never” and “Baby” cracking the top ten of Billboard's Hot 100 at No. 8 and No. 5, respectively.

"It wasnt a kid thing, in my opinion," Ellen K says of any correlation between Bieber's youthful vocals and a lack of airplay. "It was because he was a YouTube sensation and he needed to get the exposure to convince everyone what we now know. He is truly talented."

Explains Booker: “This time around is different. The world already knows who the ‘Biebs’ is… He is so smart.  He's knows his place in music right now.  He understands the expectation.  He's embraced the challenge.  He's not in it to be famous -- though I'm sure that 's a nice perk -- and he loves the work, he loves the music.”

It's worth noting that even as Bieber has struggled on the Hot 100, the Billboard 200 album chart is a different story. His previously released studio efforts, My World 2.0 and the Christmas album Under the Mistletoe, both debuted atop the Billboard 200 and his debut EP, My World, peaked at No. 5. Bieber is currently working on his next studio album, Believe, which has yet to name an official release date.

Below, find Bieber’s 10 highest charting tunes. Could “Boyfriend” be the first to reach the top? Bieber is currently facing stiff competition from fun. ("We Are Young"), Gotye ("Somebody That I Used to Know), The Wanted ("Glad You Came") and One Direction ("What Makes You Beautiful").

"Number one will come," assures Ellen K, "because it's always about the songs. Justin writes, produces, sings and plays it."

Bieber's Top Charting Songs:

“Boyfriend”
Peak: No. 2, Weeks on Chart: 2

“Baby”
Peak: No. 5, Weeks on Chart: 20

“Never Say Never”
Peak: No. 8, Weeks on Chart: 19

“Mistletoe”
Peak: No. 11, Weeks on Chart: 10

“Somebody to Love”
Peak: 15, Weeks on Chart: 18

“One Less Lonely Girl”
Peak: 16, Weeks on Chart: 16

“One Time”
Peak: 17, Weeks on Chart: 25

“Never Let You Go”
Peak: No. 21, Weeks on Chart: 2

“Favorite Girl”
Peak: No. 26, Weeks on Chart: 2

E-mail: Sophie.Schillaci@thr.com
Twitter: @SophieSchillaci

Additional Reporting by Shirley Halperin.