It’s grown so gradually that you might not have even noticed how huge it’s gotten, but Rema and Selena Gomez‘s “Calm Down” has become the highest-charting hit from an Afrobeats lead artist in Billboard Hot 100 history.
The song, which first debuted on the Hot 100 back in September of last year, moves 5-3 on the chart dated June 18 to hit a new peak on the chart, in its 40th week. It’s Rema’s first entry on the chart, and now also Gomez’s second-highest-peaking hit of her career, behind only her 2019 No. 1 “Lose You to Love Me.”
How did the song become such a slow-burner? And can it make history by climbing another two spots on the chart? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. “Calm Down” hits a new peak in its 40th week on the chart, a practically unheard-of slow build for the song. Why do you think the song is still growing this deep into its lifespan?
Kyle Denis: I think what has really benefitted “Calm Down” is that the song isn’t tied to a specific cultural moment. Burna Boy’s “Last Last” was tied to Summer 2021, and Wizkid & Tems’ “Essence” to the summer before that. While having massive cultural moments can absolutely boost a song’s commercial success, you also risk people moving on once the moment has passed. With “Calm Down,” attention on the song wasn’t concentrated for two or three months. Instead, the song grew in tandem with Rema’s rising global profile, and the Selena Gomez remix arrived at the right time to keep some wind in the song’s sails. Moreover, “Calm Down” has been chugging along for a minute now, so it was also able to benefit from the groundwork Rema laid with “Soundgasm.”
Lyndsey Havens: It may sound silly, but I think it has a lot to do with the song itself. It’s a melancholy slow jam — in a rush to go nowhere, not even the top of the charts. While it may not be as immediately grabbing as a pop song that scores a high debut, its strength is in the subtle hypnotic draw — the kind that gets stuck deep in the back of a listener’s mind, prompting them to return again and again.
Jason Lipshutz: The slow rise of “Calm Down” reminds me of Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” climbing for months to the top of the Hot 100 a year and a half ago: what started out as a TikTok hit crossed over to major streaming platforms around the world, and then really took off on U.S. pop radio. “Calm Down” was a global hit in the months after Selena Gomez hopped on Rema’s song last August, but didn’t reach the top 10 of the Radio Songs chart until early April, where its current No. 2 ranking is helping it climb up the Hot 100, even though the song only comes in at No. 18 on Streaming Songs. The cross-platform transition is the key to understanding a 40-week behemoth like “Calm Down.”
Heran Mamo: Selena Gomez’s remix undoubtedly gave “Calm Down” new legs six months after its initial release, even allowing it to enter the Hot 100 in the first place. But different formats that Selena’s dominated in the past, like Rhythmic Airplay and Pop Airplay, have now been able to discover and support the song, which has gone on to top both charts. Bringing a familiar voice into Rema’s fresh Afro-rave sound has ultimately allowed the song to experience sustained success.
Andrew Unterberger: Whenever a song does this well this late into its run, the answer is almost always radio-related, first and foremost. Radio was slower to embrace “Calm Down” than streaming audiences — it’s only been on Billboard‘s Radio Songs chart for 20 weeks, half its Hot 100 run — but now it’s No. 2 on the chart, behind only the behemoth that is “Flowers.” That’s more than enough radio support to sustain a song’s late-chart life, especially during a relatively slow release period for major artists, and when new audiences still appear to be discovering it daily — the song’s been in the top 5 of Shazam’s chart for seemingly all of 2023.
2. While Afrobeats has launched major crossover hits already by Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tems, CKay and others, “Calm Down” is now the biggest of all of them (outside of Wizkid’s appearance on Drake’s “One Dance”). Does that surprise you?
Kyle Denis: I’m not incredibly surprised, it’s a great song packed with several strong hooks. If anything, I’m surprised that Rema is the artist behind what is now the biggest Stateside Afrobeats hit of all time. Burna Boy and Wizkid have been familiar names in the state for years now, so, in theory, one of them would have produced a song big enough to compete with the numbers of “Calm Down.” I think that it’s very impressive that this guy born in 2000 pulled off one of the biggest Afrobeats crossover hits of all time on his debut album. To have a song reach success of this magnitude without the cushion of major name recognition is truly admirable.
Lyndsey Havens: It does. Without being anywhere near an expert on the genre, the artists behind those previous crossover hits seem to have greater name recognition in the states — and more “mainstream” hits to boot.
Jason Lipshutz: No, with a caveat. The “Calm Down” remix boasts a charismatic performance from Rema, a game superstar in Selena Gomez and an undeniable, summer-ready hook for the two of them to share – I’m not shocked that it’s harnessed the potential of the recent Afrobeats movement in popular music and risen up the Hot 100. That said, my caveat is: how did Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence,” one of the most sumptuous singles of the decade thus far, only get to No. 9? That continues to surprise me more than anything!
Heran Mamo: It does surprise me (to an extent). “Essence” reached No. 9 on the Hot 100 after Justin Bieber hopped on the remix, and that’s the only song that’s really come close to the Hot 100 success of “Calm Down.” But I also feel that “Essence” walked so that “Calm Down” could run, since Wizkid and Tems’ collaboration opened the doors for other songs by Afrobeats artists to follow suit. Afrobeats and adjacent sounds coming out of the continent are becoming less and less foreign to global audiences, and having an assist from a rather dormant but very familiar superstar like Selena Gomez can make a song like “Calm Down” accessible to everyone.
Andrew Unterberger: Yes, just because the crossover success of previous songs — especially “Essence” — felt like so much more of a dam-breaking moment for Afrobeats. But as is often the case with musical moments historically, it’s not the first artist through the door who ultimately reaches the greatest commercial heights. And in this case, “Calm Down” is definitely benefitting from the chart ground already broken by Wizkid, Tems and others.
3. Obviously Selena Gomez being added to the song added to its global visibility — do you see that as her primary contribution to the song’s success, or do you think her vocals added a new dimension to it?
Kyle Denis: I definitely think that a boost in the song’s global visibility is her primary contribution to the song’s success. I’d also imagine that having Selena’s name attached to the record made the song a lot more appealing to Top 40 radio programmers. Outside of what she brings to the song in terms of visibility, it is also nice to hear a female voice and perspective on a love song like “Calm Down.” Furthermore, Selena’s appearance on the song and its subsequent success are reminders that despite her relatively lengthy recent breaks from music, her name still brings eyes and ears to whatever record she is a part of.
I do think it should be noted, however, that the Selena Gomez version of “Calm Down” has not completely replaced Rema’s original solo version. In fact, you’re probably more likely to hear the original version depending on what kind of crowd you find yourself in, which offers a parallel to the trajectories of the original and Justin Bieber versions of “Essence” two years ago.
Lyndsey Havens: While I think her contribution largely helped the song’s success — though the original, in my mind, is just as strong on its own — I do like the way her feature makes the song more conversational. Given the already intimate nature of the production, her soft-spoken vocals help listeners feel privy to a private discussion. Who doesn’t love that?
Jason Lipshutz: Her vocals create an equilibrium to “Calm Down,” balancing out Rema’s onomatopoeic flirtations and altering the chemistry of the production when her verse arrives. Gomez isn’t overpowering on the song, but she doesn’t have to be – she just needs to scoop up Rema’s charm and return serve. Her addition to “Calm Down” raised the profile of the song, particularly in North America, but Gomez improved it, too.
Heran Mamo: While I do believe Selena’s vocals complement Rema’s well, I think her familiarity to pop radio programmers and access to an even bigger, global audience are ultimately her primary contributions to “Calm Down.” She’s currently the most-followed woman on Instagram with 421 million followers, and she’s been in the music industry for more than a decade.
Partnering with Selena was a smart business move, but I appreciate what Rema had to say about working with her in his Billboard interview earlier this year. “When she started working on it, she called me on FaceTime, and we talked a little about it. The mixing, the music video, making sure that she didn’t take from it,” he said at the time. Considering remixes of popular Afrobeats songs with Western superstars have become increasingly common, like Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence” (with Justin Bieber) and Fireboy DML’s “Peru” (with Ed Sheeran), it’s important to underline her efforts to not detract from the original track’s musical qualities.
Andrew Unterberger: She’s a seamless fit on the song, and she doesn’t do anything to distract from the charms of the original (nor does the remix contort itself to better fit her style or brand). The song is arguably more balanced and enjoyable for her added presence. But would I really even notice if I was out in the world and the original version without her was playing instead of the hit version? Probably not.
4. On Billboard’s U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart, “Calm Down” has now reigned for a staggering 41 weeks. Would you think any of the songs below it have a particular chance of deposing it, or is it going to take a totally new hit for it to be unseated?
Kyle Denis: I think it’s 50-50. “Calm Down” will probably keep the top spot for a few more weeks or months since it’s so far ahead of its closest competitors. Of the songs that currently rank below Rema’s smash, I think that Libianca’s “People,” Burna Boy’s “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” Davido’s “Unavailable” and Victony’s “Soweto” all have solid chances of deposing “Calm Down.” Burna’s new single has already gotten off to a strong start across consumption metrics, and the other three songs are all growing steadily and relatively early in their chart runs. Nonetheless, my gut is telling me that the song that will end the reign of “Calm Down” hasn’t been released yet. Or it just might be Rema’s own “Charm.”
Lyndsey Havens: I’m rooting for Libianca’s “People” to climb that one final step to No. 1. It’s such a stunning, personal song, and in many ways would make sense as the next hit on the chart. Production and energy wise, “People” is similarly intimate and lyrically even more soul-baring, making for a relatively seamless swap-out with “Calm Down.”
Jason Lipshutz: The obvious answer is Burna Boy’s “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” which debuts at No. 5 on this week’s chart and follows the same winning formula as “Last Last.” But don’t sleep on “Amapiano,” the sleek call-and-response single from Asake featuring Olamide: currently at No. 12 in its third week on the chart, the track may get a boost as the Nigerian star releases his album Work of Art this Friday, and tours the U.S. later this summer.
Heran Mamo: I think there’s a song or two (*cough cough* “People” by Libianca) already on there that could be a new No. 1. In the chart’s very short history of 63 weeks (for reference, the Hot 100 is 65 years old), only six songs have gone No. 1. “Calm Down” has been No. 1 for most of the chart’s existence, while the other five (“Essence,” “Last Last,” “Love Nwantiti (Ah Ah Ah),” “Peru” and “Free Mind”) have only been on top of the chart for a mere fraction of the time.
But considering how new the chart is, “Calm Down” is one of those rare, fresh hits to come out after the chart’s inception and therefore impact it not too long after the song’s release, whereas the other songs were a couple years old by the time it hit its peak. Now that a lot more newer songs have been able to enter the chart, I feel like they could experience incremental or even significant surges in the coming weeks and eventually dethrone “Calm Down.” “People” is a very strong contender, considering it’s been No. 2 for 22 weeks (angel numbers!). This summer might crown another Afrobeats song of the summer, with Davido’s “Unavailable,” featuring Musa Keys, and Burna Boy’s “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” (which debuted at No. 5 this week) being a part of that conversation. So we’ll see as (if) the weather gets warmer!
Andrew Unterberger: Get “People” a remix! Or a big TV synch. Or a major pop star co-sign. Something to help give it that extra push from TikTok virality to wider mainstream pop success. It’s so close already, it really won’t take much.
5. Do you think “Calm Down” will become the first No. 1 from an Afrobeats lead artist on the Hot 100?
Kyle Denis: It’s tricky to bet against Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and how stagnant the charts have been in 2023, but I think “Calm Down” can make it to No. 1. The song is still growing, another remix is definitely not out of the question (the same goes for sped-up versions, a cappella versions, or what have you), and a lot of it simply comes down to timing. Even if “Calm Down” misses the top spot, the song’s impact is simply undeniable, and nothing can change that.
Lyndsey Havens: I sure hope so. But hope alone isn’t enough; fortunately, I think the song is capable on its own.
Jason Lipshutz: “Calm Down” has two juggernauts ahead of it on the Hot 100 in Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers,” and both will be tough to surpass… but I’m still going with yes. I predicted it would be a way-too-early song of the summer a few months ago, and here we are, in summer, and it keeps climbing. The longer that the weather stays warm, the more I think “Calm Down” can make it to the top spot.
Heran Mamo: At the rate it’s going now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the song went No. 1 before the remix’s 1st birthday (on August 25). Compared to other Afrobeats songs that have been on the all-genre tally, “Calm Down” has been experiencing unprecedented success – and considering Billboard and Spotify have already claimed it as a strong contender for the 2023 song of the summer – it’s bound to make that leap this season.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m rooting for it, but it just doesn’t have the streaming numbers right now to really threaten “Last Night” as the latter’s chart reign stretches into the double-digits. It’s not going to pass “Last Night” on its current momentum, it’ll likely need (another) new version or cultural boost to get it over the top.