In early 2011, Miguel was a rising R&B singer who had just released his debut album, All I Want Is You, and was seeing his single “Sure Thing” gain traction on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. The song would eventually reach No. 1 that May, while also climbing to the summit of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and peaking at No. 36 on the Hot 100, where it spent 23 weeks between March and August, when it fell from the chart. After 59 weeks on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, it eventually fell from that chart in 2012.
And that was the extent of its chart run — until this year, when a TikTok trend led to an explosion in streams, catapulting it back onto the charts — and to entirely new territory. Earlier this month, “Sure Thing” broke the record for most weeks on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at 76 (it is not at 78), and this week it achieved a mainstream crossover, 12 years after its initial debut on the charts, by reaching No. 1 on Pop Airplay, the longest trip to the top of that chart from a song’s release in history.
It’s the latest example of older songs being reinvigorated and reaching new chart heights in recent months, following The Weeknd’s “Die For You” (after a remix featuring Ariana Grande) and Lady Gaga’s “Bloody Mary,” which also benefited from a TikTok trend. And it helps RCA senior vp of digital marketing Tarek Al-Hamdouni earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Al-Hamdouni explains how the track came back after such a long break, and how RCA helped spur it into a new realm. “We know activity can spring up at a moment’s notice, and when it does, the best labels are able to move quickly and turn a spark into a flame before it goes out,” Al-Hamdouni says.
This week, Miguel’s “Sure Thing” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Airplay chart, 12 years after its initial chart run. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?
The climb to No. 1 began in November of 2022 when we first saw the signs of organic growth and engagement on “Sure Thing” across socials and streaming services. The first major decision came in us validating the opportunity and investing in sustaining the activity across TikTok, Reels, Shorts & Snapchat. The initial goal was to “see how far we could take the trend,” knowing every jump in creations and streams was broadening our listener base and building familiarity, which would eventually result in bigger opportunities.
We knew the record was already a favorite among fans since its release, but the key component to this new activity is that it was coming from new listeners. This led us to make the key decision to treat “Sure Thing” as a new record in our marketing efforts, also giving us the new task of turning listeners into fans. To connect the dots, we worked closely with Miguel — who deserves all the credit in the world for leaning in with curiosity, passion and optimism around this new activity — to start to engage with fans and content across socials.
Our promotion team did a fantastic job in following along with all the activity we were generating and timed their impact such that we were already receiving pull from the markets and stations. The last key decision I’ll offer up is the move to leverage the activity around “Sure Thing” to prime the market for new music from Miguel, something that we kicked off with his new single, “Give It To Me.”
In its original run, the song was an R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay hit. Why did the song work at Pop radio this time around?
I think the beauty of an artist like Miguel is that he’s always been ahead of his time. While often thrown into the “R&B” box, his music and artistry have always pulled from diverse corners of the music spectrum. And when you look at the freedom streaming has given Gen Z to bounce from record to record and genre to genre with such ease, it’s no wonder they gravitate towards a forward-thinking artist like Miguel.
It’s also worth noting that the dynamic between data and radio has strengthened at a rapid pace over the last few years. This has given us the opportunity to build our case in advance of an impact, showing the audience potential and, in a lot of ways, letting the story and streams reach critical mass with core Gen Z music fans before taking it to the broader audiences that only radio can reach.
The song’s resurgence originated on TikTok with a sped-up version. How did that come about? How often are these sped-up versions of tracks spawning new life for songs?
The sped-up version of “Sure Thing” emerged purely as organic UGC on TikTok. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise to see the activity come from such an edit, as sped-up sounds have been a trend on TikTok and across UGC for quite some time now. That said, I do think it’s fair to say that sped-up sounds hit a bit of critical mass in early 2023 as we started to see platforms like TikTok create specific playlists centered around the phenomenon, all of which gave us more editorial placements and ways for Miguel to lean in.
The opportunities to breathe new life into a record through a sped-up sound are plentiful, but it’s important to note the viral success of a record like “Sure Thing” is still a huge outlier in terms of how much effect a campaign could have. At this point, I expect most singles to be accompanied by a sped-up version at some point in their life cycle.
This is the latest example of an older track coming back to be a force at radio and in pop culture — something that almost never used to happen. Are you guys increasingly focused on working catalog songs in a similar manner to new songs?
We don’t focus solely on the “catalog” aspect of any record at this point as much as we’re focused on using the influx of data we receive from social and streaming platforms to ensure we never miss an opportunity. We know activity can spring up at a moment’s notice, and when it does, the best labels are able to move quickly and turn a spark into a flame before it goes out.
The reliance on data is important because our core mission as marketers is to create this activity and engagement out of the gate. By collaborating with our internal data teams, we can build tools to monitor the key aspects we believe drive streaming growth while spending the majority of our time and energy collaborating with our artists and building next-level marketing campaigns.
Although to be fair, I think the rediscovery of music by the next generation of listeners is something that has happened for quite some time. Prior to shortform video, syncs played a huge role in this rediscovery, going back to examples like Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” in Volkswagen’s 2000 Cabrio commercial to the much more recent lift of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” off the back of its inclusion in season four of Stranger Things.
The song also broke the record for most weeks ever spent on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, now at 78. How did you help market the track beyond radio and TikTok?
Outside of those two platforms, we worked to ensure this record and Miguel’s content was spread far and wide across the internet. We built custom campaigns for Instagram and YouTube, we drove awareness and engagement through savvy ad spends and boost campaigns. And we worked closely with media accounts and press outlets to drive consistent presence in front of a wide range of audiences.
What have you learned from the song’s surprise success that you can use moving forward on other projects and songs?
When you zoom out far enough, you start to see that the equation we’re chasing with a resurgence is new context for a great record with a new, young and engaged audience. Additionally, the benefits of driving engagement through a catalog record doesn’t require the type of success we’re seeing on Miguel to be meaningful. Going forward, we see this as a key way to drive engagement and build demand for new music for any artist with an established catalog.