Five Burning Questions: The Kid LAROI’s ‘Stay,’ Featuring Justin Bieber, Debuts at No. 3 on the Hot 100

Five Burning Questions: The Kid LAROI’s ‘Stay,’ Featuring Justin Bieber, Debuts at No. 3 on the Hot 100

The Kid LAROI’s star keeps rising higher and higher in 2021. Just a few months after the Australian singer-rapper notched his first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the Miley Cyrus-featuring version of his “Without You” ballad, he eclipses that breakout hit this week, with the top 5 debut of his Justin Bieber collab, “Stay.”

Thanks in large part to the week’s best streaming tally, “Stay” launches at No. 3 on the Hot 100 — behind BTS’ “Permission to Dance,” the group’s second straight No. 1 debut of 2021, and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U,” which has now spent the past eight weeks at No. 2. It’s a resounding bow for the uptempo pop-rock track, easily the most energetic of LAROI’s hits to date.

Why was “Stay” able to perform like this right out of the gate? And why is seemingly every hit song right now a pulse-racer? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. Is the top 5 debut for “Stay” more about Kid LAROI having a weighty assist from Justin Bieber, or about LAROI finally having the right song to put him over the top as a superstar? 

Rania Aniftos: Though JB’s guest verse brings me back to the Purpose-era Bieber I loved so much, LAROI is the star here. Over the past year, he’s been consistently proving himself as Gen Z’s coolest new hitmaker, and nearly every song he puts out goes viral. It’s clear that while superstar features certainly don’t hurt, LAROI’s ability to deliver what people want to hear is a talent all his own.

Stephen Daw: A little of column A, a little of column B! Obviously, there is no denying that adding Justin Bieber to your single is a pretty easy way to ensure that your song will climb up the charts. But, when you hear “Stay” for the first time, there is something distinctly different about it from LAROI’s past singles that makes it even more fun to listen to. I think this is a simple case of great feature on an already pretty great song.

Heran Mamo“Stay” is such an infectious song on its own, and the heart-thumping, blood-pumping percussion underlying Justin and LAROI’s emotive lyricism really captivates their desire to have their former significant other stick around. But having Bieber as a featured artist after it was the other way around on the Justice cut “Unstable,” and after Cyrus was slotted in the passenger seat of “Without You,” is a pretty big deal. LAROI’s coming out swinging with two pop heavy hitters on his first two top 10 hits, but I don’t think the “feat.” credit on “Stay” should take away from the power of the song itself.

Mia Nazareno:  Superstar seems like a generous adjective at this point in his career, but I think LAROI is laying the bricks for that foundation — especially with his big ticket collabs. For his latest song, I think Bieber’s assist on “Stay” helped push the song into the top 5. To secure superstar status, LAROI will need to court listeners outside of the TikTok and Lyrical Lemonade radius.

Andrew Unterberger: Bieber helps for sure, but with this song it’s more a case of just a good feature on a good song that a simple name-recognition thing. LAROI and Bieber are a seamless fit together on the track, which is an immediate winner and feels right in the pocket for both artists — even though neither’s ever had a single quite like it before.

2. Though the song has a resounding debut at No. 3, it’s unable to unseat the two artists who have occupied the top spots for the past eight weeks now: BTS (with the new “Permission of Dance” replacing their prior seven-week No. 1 “Butter” at pole position this week”) and Olivia Rodrigo (“Good 4 U”). Do you think “Stay” will ultimately be able to unseat either or both of those two artists, or will No. 3 ultimately be the song’s peak? 

Rania Aniftos: While it’s tricky to unseat two of the biggest artists of 2021, in Bieber’s words, “never say never.” I think “Stay” will have a similar trajectory to last summer’s “Mood” by 24kGoldn and Iann Dior, which debuted below smash hits like “WAP,” “Blinding Lights” and “Dynamite” — but later ended up notching multiple weeks at No. 1 thanks to its staying power. I’d love to see LAROI with a No. 1 hit, so I have my fingers crossed.

Stephen Daw: In short, I don’t see BTS or Rodrigo going anywhere anytime soon. The fact that BTS’ fans were able to replace “Butter” with “Permission to Dance” in a week’s time is, frankly, wild, and I would be surprised if “Permission” didn’t get at least a few more weeks in that top slot. As for Olivia, she’s still in her breakout year and already has two No. 1 singles under her belt, along with two more top 10 songs — she’s managed to keep herself this high on the charts for this long, and I don’t see Kid LAROI being the one to finally unseat her.

Heran MamoI can see “Stay” moving past “Good 4 U” and coming in at No. 2, but “Permission to Dance” or even “Butter” if it comes back might be a harder feat. Where LAROI’s latest hit beats out BTS’ in terms of streams (by almost 19 million) and radio audience impressions (12.9 million for “Stay” compared to 1.1 million for “Dance” in both of the songs’ first week), BTS’ sales are through the roof (140,000 downloads sold for the original and instrumental digital versions of “Dance” compared to 12,000 downloads sold for “Stay”). But… a No. 1 seat is not impossible for LAROI, and “Stay” might be the song to put him out on top. 

Mia Nazareno: Not to be harsh, but there’s no way it’ll dethrone the current top spots. It’ll peak at No. 3, and “Stay” there for a couple weeks. Both BTS and Olivia have a machinery of fans behind them, have fronted multiple recent magazine covers, and have forged an emotional connection with their listeners that no big-name feature can replicate. The only way LAROI can take the top spot is if he can persuade BTS to do a collab — it worked for Jason Derulo!

Andrew Unterberger: It might depend on what the ARMY allows, to be honest. Eclipsing “Good 4 U” will be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one — the song is already slipping in streams, and “Stay” still has that rocket momentum and “Mood” energy. But BTS? If they keep selling over 100,000 copies of their new single a week, it’s gonna be pretty tough to unseat them without a similarly concentrated and coordinated fan effort from the Beliebers and, uh, Laroyals in response.

3. The credits to “Stay” feature a number of familiar names — including a couple less-expected writer/producer collaborators in Cashmere Cat and Charlie Puth — including one name who’s appeared on a number of the past year’s biggest hits, in Omer Fedi. Is he officially the hottest behind-the-boards artist in pop right now? 

Rani Aniftos: Yes, without a doubt. I love a producer who is in tune with what’s exciting and different, and doesn’t go with the usual “pop” grain. Every song he touches is undeniably cool, and I’m excited to see what he does next.

Stephen Daw: Yes, absolutely. Between “Mood,” “Montero,” “Without You” and now “Stay,” it’s becoming very clear that Omer Fedi knows exactly what makes a successful, viral, winning pop song in 2021, in a way that it seems only a few other producers have been able to put their fingers on.

Heran MamoDefinitely. Omer Fedi seems to be the guy guys like LAROI and 24kGoldn just chill out, play video games and watch movies with, then accidentally stumble into an impromptu jam session together for a smash hit song — before going right back to hanging out. As of April, he’s the only producer with multiple No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 in 2021, from 24kGoldn’s “Mood” to Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” And with the resurgence of pop-punk on the charts, someone who simultaneously topped four different rock and/or alternative songwriter and producers charts now has to be considered someone who’s indelible to today’s pop scene. Omer Fedi is no niche producer, he’s a natural boy wonder.

Mia Nazareno: I gotta give it to Dan Nigro! There was a lot of pressure riding on the follow-ups to “Driver’s License,” and I think the resulting Sour didn’t disappoint. To me, it was the perfect 11-track album that spurred a cultural phenomenon with the chart numbers to back it up.

Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, he’s the guy right now, no question. Shoutout to Blake Slatkin, though, who’s not far behind — having collaborated with Fedi on three of his megahits this past year (“Mood,” “Without You” and now “Stay”), and also working with quintessential Gen Z artists ranging from Rod Wave to Gracie Abrams.

4. The Hot 100’s top five currently includes three disco-inflected dancefloor jams in “Permission to Dance,” Dua Lipa feat. DaBaby’s “Levitating” and Doja Cat feat. SZA’s “Kiss Me More,” as well as a pop-punk song in “Good 4 U” and now another pulse-racing pop-rocker in “Stay.” Why do you think such uptempo songs are dominating the charts like this right now? Are we about to hit a saturation point, or will this just keep going?

Rania Aniftos: Because it’s vaxxed girl (and boy) summer! As we are able to attend more social gatherings, I’m guessing everyone else is feeling like I am and just wants to dance and have fun. The uptempo songs are the perfect soundtrack for that, and I see the trend continuing throughout the rest of the year as we put a year stuck in our homes behind us, hopefully for good.

Stephen Daw: I think we’re at a point, both in the history of music and, to be honest, in history, where we’ve all been through just a little bit too much, and we need some comfort. All three genres mentioned in the question — disco, pop-punk and pop-rock — share in their musical DNA a sense of release. Whether it’s four-on-the-floor rhythms that you can dance you, lyrics that you can scream along with, or melodies that you can bang your head at, all of this music offers some form of tension release. I don’t see that becoming less popular anytime soon, because that’s absolutely something we are all still in desperate need of.

Heran Mamo: We’ve been cooped up at home for over a year, and disco-pop was undoubtedly the predominant sound of pandemic music. Some of those hits (like “Levitating”) are rolling over to the third quarter of 2021, when the world is slowly opening back up. Dance anthems in the warmer weather are always essential — but they’re particularly special this year because, as BTS’ hit indicates, we have permission to dance in spaces that were once deemed not safe for us to do so. “Kiss Me More” discusses a type of physical contact that once was seen as a threat to our health. The uptempo beat of these songs are surely lifting up listeners’ spirits, but the lyrics hold just as much weight as to why these kind of songs are dominating the Hot 100 right now. It might just be for the season we’re in, though — come October/November, the classic Christmas carols will no doubt take reign of the main chart once more. 

Mia Nazareno: I think these up-tempo tracks make people think of a different time when we were young and free, and I think we’ll keep going as we enter another era of the Roaring ’20s. Especially with the resurgence of pop punk and with Travis Barker and Machine Gun Kelly flooding our feeds with their double dates, it’s fun to be reminded of our angsty teenage years when our problems were mild compared to that of a global pandemic. As for the rise in disco/dance tracks, I think fans are excited for their Vaxxed Girl Summer and are revving up their playlists for when we can get back out there and do things that vaxxed girls can do.

Andrew Unterberger: Obviously it’s been a long time coming for uptempo, after slow and dour dominated the back half of the ’10s. But it also might largely have to do with a sort of hole in the calendar hip-hop and R&B-wise, with the only big rappers with hits right now being pop-leaning MCs like Doja Cat and Lil Nas X, and a lot of the big names likely to file back in shortly (starting this week with Pop Smoke and next week with Kanye West, supposedly). That said, Post Malone was one of the defining artists of downtempo’s late-’10s reign, and his trappy new single “Motley Crew” — which sounds like it very easily could’ve come out in 2017 — debuts at an underwhelming No. 13 this week, so maybe it’s a little more meaningful than just a scheduling fluke.

5. Even before this new LAROI & Bieber cut, “Stay” was already one of the most decorated song titles in Hot 100 history. Which is your favorite of the 15 prior “Stay”s to grace the chart? 

Rania Aniftos: Rihanna and Mikky Ekko’s “Stay” has my heart. It captures the devastating sense of yearning behind the word “stay” the way some other songs with that title don’t, and RiRi’s voice blends so naturally with Mikky Ekko’s. It’s a song that truly *stays* good no matter how many years go by.

Stephen Daw“Stay” by Rufus & Chaka Khan, because there is simply no one else on this list could ever hope to out-sing the queen Ms. Chaka.

Heran Mamo“Stay” by Rihanna and Mikky Ekko. That one’s a tearjerker, and the ballad is as raw and bare as Rihanna vulnerably clutching her naked body in the murky bathtub during the music video — which, by the way, is close to entering the Billion Views Club on YouTube.

Mia Nazareno: In in her pre-Fenty days, I was obsessed with Rihanna’s “Stay” when it first came out in 2013, so that’s hands down my favorite “Stay” song in Hot 100 history. And I will take this opportunity to echo everyone’s sentiment of how we’re so excited for more music (and makeup!) from her!

Andrew Unterberger: I’ll go back to one of the first ones — and the only one of the bunch to conquer the Hot 100 outright — in Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ 1960 doo-wop classic, a perfect pop song even at a length (1:36) that’d seem brief even by TikTok-era standards. However, if we’re counting parentheticals, then the unquestionable champ is singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb’s Hot 100-topper from 34 years later, the absolutely singular “Stay (I Missed You).”

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