When “Work” summited the Billboard Hot 100 in early 2016, Rihanna collected her 14th number-one single in the US and surpassed Michael Jackson as the artist with the most fourth-largest number of chart-toppers in the country. Today, she holds tight to that position, behind only The Beatles (20), Mariah Carey (18) and Elvis Presley (17).
Mariah herself is the soloist with the most #1’s on the Hot 100, with 18 to her name, and unlike Rihanna, she is the lead artist for all of them (she even wrote 17 of them; the exception being a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”.)
Rihanna is hot on Mariah’s heels, but can the Fenty Beauty empire starter actually stand a chance of surpassing Mariah?
To match her record, Rihanna needs four number-ones, and to surpass, she needs five, which would put her right under The Beatles, who have 20.
Excluding her debut, all of Rihanna’s studio albums have produced at least one chart-topper, starting with “SOS” from 2006’s A Girl Like Me. Assuming that this trend continues, Rihanna will need five more albums, which would probably take another ten years since she no longer releases studio albums annually.
But Rihanna can’t possibly stay equally popular for another decade. Everyone (without exception) have their prime periods, career lows and legendary comebacks.
That said, three of Rihanna’s chart-toppers are singles where she was the featured artist: T.I.’s “Live Your Life” in 2008, and Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie” and “The Monster” in 2010 and 2013 respectively. She nearly returned to the top spot last year with DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts,” which peaked at #2 (blocked by Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” which coincidentally matched Mariah’s “One Sweet Day” as the longest-running #1 single in American history.)
Assuming Rihanna is lucky to attach her name to another artist’s chart-topper again, the possibility of breaking Mariah’s record may well happen in under ten years.
Rihanna garnered 14 #1’s in the 12th year of her career, which started back in 2005. Meanwhile, Mariah garnered her 14th chart-topper, “Heartbreaker” featuring Jay Z, in 1999, the 10th year of her career, so Mariah actually reached the milestone earlier than Rihanna.
However, the American songbird hit a career slump in the first half of the 2000s, and would only add four additional number-ones throughout her second decade in music.
Rihanna’s second career decade started three years ago, and while she’s only sent one single to the top so far, her popularity continues to reign at a formidable high. Her single successes are unrelenting, just like Madonna back in the 80’s and 90’s.
Most importantly, Mariah is unlikely to add more chart-toppers her long list, so Rihanna isn’t sprinting towards a moving finish line. Mariah’s prime is long over; her 2005 comeback with “We Belong Together” is a thing of the past and she hasn’t had a Top 10 hit that isn’t a catalog song since “Obsessed” in 2009.
Thanks to the 2013 incorporation of online streaming to the Hot 100 chart metrics, her 1994 holiday classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” actually bested its former peak by leaping to #9 just last year, but is that song likely to ever become a No. 1?
The odds are, it won’t, because the song only receives seasonal boosts every December and can’t ride an buildable current that elevates it to the top spot. At risk of sounding mean, I only foresee the song hitting #1 if Mariah tragically dies in a freak accident and becomes the talk of the town. I mean realistically, look at what transpired when Michael and Whitney left.
So Will Rihanna eventually surpass Mariah? As much as I love the “Touch My Body” songbird, that 2008 single is likely to be Mariah’s last #1. At the rate Rihanna’s been going, the “We Found Love” singer will eventually overtake Mariah as the soloist with the most number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
All of this will come full circle, because Rihanna’s career debut single, “Pon De Replay”, was ironically blocked from the top spot back in the summer of 2005 by Mariah herself (“We Belong Together” was a career-reviving 14-week juggernaut.)