Ranking low but solidly on the list of benefits we’ve reaped from modern technology is the niche delight of coming across a questionably Photoshopped, officially released image of celebrities. Consider that ridiculous “Dark Universe” cast photo from two years ago, or the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” posters released in March. They’re so silly but reach such a wide audience! What a wonderful oddity.
The latest addition to the Photoshopped family is an image Mariah Carey tweeted Monday night after Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” beat the Billboard record for the longest-running No. 1, which she and Boyz II Men previously held for their 1995 collaboration, “One Sweet Day.” (It was tied with fellow 16-weeker “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s 2017 hit featuring Justin Bieber, who addressed the development with a simple “@LilNasX congratulations” tweet.) In the shared composite, a beaming Carey looks off into the distance as she hands a torch over to a bare-chested, cowboy-hatted Lil Nas X, who stands on the other end of a red carpet. The Billboard logo appears behind them.
“Sending love & congrats to @LilNasX on breaking one of the longest running records in music history!” Carey wrote. “We’ve been blessed to hold this record with a song that means a great deal to @BoyzIIMen and myself and has touched so many. Keep living your best life!”
Lil Nas X’s 17-week reign over the Billboard chart owes a lot to streaming, a higher-ranking benefit of modern technology. Things worked differently back in the (one sweet) day: It wasn’t until 2005 that the Hot 100 began to track digital downloads from iTunes and the like; 2012 that it began to incorporate streaming from services such as Spotify; and 2013 that it counted YouTube views. After that last development, Billboard shared in an “Ask Billboard” column that its Hot 100 formula “targets a ratio of sales (35-45%), airplay (30-40%) and streaming (20-30%).” Last year, it updated the formula by creating weighted tiers of streaming plays: a full point for paid subscription streams, two-thirds of a point for ad-supported streams and half a point for programmed streams on services such as Pandora.
All of this is to say that streaming has increasingly dictated what succeeds on the modern Billboard chart, so it helps that Lil Nas X, 20, has a keen understanding of how the Internet operates. “Old Town Road,” born a TikTok meme, entered mainstream discourse because of Billboard itself, which removed the “country-trap” song from its Hot Country Songs chart in March — a move that drummed up controversy over apparent double standards for black and white artists boxed into specific genres. Billy Ray Cyrus stepped in to help fight the good fight, and the first of many “Old Town Road” remixes to come soared to No. 1 in April. Since then, Lil Nas X has released iterations with Diplo, Young Thug, Mason Ramsey and RM (of the Korean pop group BTS), all of which Billboard counts as the same song.
Billboard reported Monday that “Old Town Road” amassed 72.5 million streams in its 17th week, topping Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and “Señorita,” a duet by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. Lil Nas X had set the record for the top streaming week in April, when he released the Cyrus remix, with 143 million streams.
“EVERYBODY STREAM ALL 79 VERSIONS OF OLD TOWN ROAD!! LETS BREAK THE RECORD!!” Lil Nas X tweeted two weeks ago. On Monday, newly crowned, he thanked Carey for her kind words.
“you are a legend and an icon and i’m blessed to even have you acknowledging me right now!” he gushed. “growing up to your music & now having you talk to me directly is unreal!”
Might a real photo of the two legends follow that precious Photoshop job?