Welcome to Billboard Pro’s Trending Up column, where we take a closer look at the songs, artists, curiosities and trends that have caught the music industry’s attention. Some have come out of nowhere, others have taken months to catch on, and all of them could become ubiquitous in the blink of a TikTok clip.
This week: The pop smashes on both sides of a major copyright dispute see gains, Nate Smith makes his case as country’s next reliable hitmaker and Luke Combs’ cover of an ’80s alt-folk classic gives it a sales boost.
Listeners Making Their Own Judgments in Ed Sheeran-Marvin Gaye Copyright Trial
It’s been a long week for global pop star Ed Sheeran, as he defended himself against claims of copyright infringement from the heirs of Ed Townsend, co-writer of Marvin Gaye‘s 1973 soul classic “Let’s Get It On.” Sheeran was accused of plagiarizing “Let’s Get It On” with his own Grammy-winning 2014 smash “Thinking Out Loud” — a charge that he not only strenuously denied, but threatened to quit music altogether if he was found guilty of it. (Today, the jury returned a not guilty verdict, so presumably fans will not have to go directly from the release of Sheeran’s – (Subtract) album this Friday, May 5, into mourning for his career.)
It may be cold comfort for Sheeran, but a small silver lining to his recent legal battle is that it’s drawn enough attention in news headlines and over social media over the past week to direct listeners back to the songs in question. “Thinking Out Loud” rose 15% in weekly on-demand official U.S. streams, from under 2.7 million for the tracking week ending April 20 to over three million the following week, according to Luminate — while also nearly tripling in sales, from under 400 to almost 1,100. And the numbers have also gone up for “Let’s Get It On,” which has risen 11% in streams (to around 900,000) and 93% in sales (to nearly 400) over that same period.
Clearly, listeners are interested in drawing their own conclusions about the similarities (or lack thereof) between the two songs as the trial goes on — and with the official verdict now in, the number of those independent investigations may still continue to climb. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Nate Smith’s Country Fans ‘Ship ‘Wreckage’
Much like Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman, Nate Smith is a new-school country singer-songwriter beloved by the TikTok set, and the California native has leaned into app engagement, regularly teasing songs and even posting “duets” with fans who are lip-synching along with his tracks. “Wreckage,” a track from Smith’s self-titled debut album that was released last Friday (Apr. 28) on Arista Nashville, has been out since November, but the tender love song (“Laying in this bed beside you, I don’t have to hide away / You see all the wreckage, and it wrecks me that you stay,” Smith growls) keeps rising in streams in part due to TikTok engagement, as well as some prime placement on major streaming playlists.
“Wreckage” leads both Amazon Music’s Country Heat playlist and Spotify’s Hot Country this week — especially impressive, considering competition like Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Luke Combs’ “Fast Car.” And although the song has been hovering around 3 million weekly U.S. on-demand streams since the beginning of April, last week, as Smith went into full album-promo mode, that weekly total rose 44% to 4.68 million streams, according to Luminate.
Although “Wreckage” has yet to hit the Billboard Hot 100 — Smith’s previous single, “Whiskey on You,” peaked at No. 43 last year — that could change next week, if streams continue to rise and country fans, including Smith’s 1.5 million TikTok followers, delve into his first full-length. – JASON LIPSHUTZ
Tracy Chapman’s Original “Fast Car” Speeding Up in Song Sales
Country superstar Luke Combs‘ cover of alt-folk hero Tracy Chapman‘s 1988 smash “Fast Car” is one of the surprise breakout hits of 2023, climbing all the way to No. 14 on the Hot 100 — now just eight spots away from matching the peak of the original — and becoming one of the spring’s best-selling songs, reaching No. 3 on Billboard‘s Digital Song Sales listing.
While the cover has not resulted in a pronounced streaming uptick for Chapman’s version, its sales impact has carried over: The original “Fast Car” jumped 148% in digital song sales the week of Combs’ Gettin’ Old release week (the album with his cover) to nearly 800 copies, and that weekly sales number has continued to climb to nearly 1,000. The numbers are still relatively small, but if they continue to climb — or simply steady at a higher weekly number than it was doing two months ago — it could add up to a nice little annual bonus for the artist behind what Combs has called his “first favorite song.” – AU