1. The Kid LAROI has been slowly percolating as a major mainstream force for the past year or two. Is “Without You” now officially the crossover hit he needs to make him a superstar, or does that still remain to be seen?
Rania Aniftos: He needs one more crossover hit to solidify his place in the mainstream. At this point, I feel as though a casual music listener would recognize the song more than his name. Another hit, however, would make LAROI more of a recognizable presence in the music world. I have faith in his ability to do so, though, because his songs are generally really catchy and well made.
Josh Glicksman: There’s no arguing that The Kid LAROI has compiled eye-popping streaming numbers over the past year. Part of that lies in his versatility as an artist – on Spotify, LAROI’s music has appeared on countless curated genre-specific playlists, including Pop Rising, Alt NOW and RapCaviar. Still, he’s not quite at bona fide superstar status yet for me, even with last week’s SNL performance. With Miley Cyrus picking up an official credit on the chart listing, a solo top 10 hit still eludes LAROI, as does a debut album, though the latter is slated to come out later this year. That said, superstardom is more of a when for LAROI, not an if. He just needs a bit more time.
Lyndsey Havens: I do think enough people were asking “Who was that?” following his Saturday Night Live debut this past weekend (and then finding out) to solidify his superstar status. But at the same time, one major metric of judging just how big a newer act is — live performances — remains largely on hold. I’m most curious to see what size venues he will book and where his name might fall on festival lineups as we continue to return to normalcy. To me, that — paired with his chart success — is key to determining staying power.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s unlikely that “Without You” clocks multiple weeks atop the Hot 100 and transforms The Kid LAROI into a household name in the way that “Old Town Road” and “Drivers License” did for Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo, respectively. That said, the single represents a significant mainstream breakthrough for an artist who’s been racking up millions of streams over the past two years and has his eye on even bigger commercial prizes, as he told Billboard’s Josh Glicksman. Regardless of where “Without You” peaks, the song is his first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 and brought him to the SNL stage, both of which are crucial mile markers in his ascendant career.
Andrew Unterberger: If he’s not quite at superstar level yet, it’s certainly viewable on the horizon for the Kid. “Without You” is the kind of cross-genre, cross-platform smash that star careers are launched from, and the singer/rapper had already been trending in that direction for a long time prior. An SNL appearance helps, an implied Miley co-sign helps, and an official debut album should probably put him over the top, whenever that materializes.
2. The single benefits greatly this week from the presence of Miley Cyrus on the song’s new remix, which they performed together on SNL on Saturday. Does the duet version of “Without You” feel more like a fleshed-out song to you — or will it be more of a short-lived novelty bump?
Rania Aniftos: It feels much more complete to me, simply because of how natural Miley sounds on it — something I don’t often feel with remixes. “Without You” is right up her alley with the edgy and heartbroken lyrics, and her voice blends so well with The Kid LAROI’s. I already forgot that it was ever a solo single.
Josh Glicksman: An important thing to keep in mind is that “Without You” had been gaining on the Hot 100 even before Miley jumped on the track – last week, it hit an at that point No. 23 high in its 21st week on the chart. I don’t think the song was fading before the remix, and I especially don’t think it’ll do so now. Plus, the duet does make the song feel more fleshed-out, both because its lyrical nature lends itself well to a back-and-forth vocal element and Cyrus’ slight rasp fits nicely in tandem with LAROI’s softer crooning in the chorus.
Lyndsey Havens: Miley sounds excellent on this remix, and the pair sound even better together. But beyond that, I believe we’re looking at a short-lived novelty bump. The remix keeps the original largely intact, and that’s not a knock coming from someone who loves both versions, but in terms of holding onto its top 10 placement or even elevating it to a higher peak from here… I’m on the fence. Unless we get an epic new music video… or a second remix with Travis Barker on drums, of course.
Jason Lipshutz: Listening to the studio version of the remix made me question its staying power: not that Miley Cyrus’ performance was ineffective by any means, but “Without You” works best as a wounded-heart solo crooner. Yet watching the pair duet on SNL over the weekend made me rethink its potential as a call-and-response anthem, karaoke duet and male-female sing-along — a “Shallow” for disaffected youth, if you will. “Without You” will likely endure best as a Kid LAROI solo track but kudos to Cyrus for putting a thoughtful spin on the song’s DNA.
Andrew Unterberger: Eh. Miley’s a natural-enough fit over the song’s acoustic balladry, but her and Laroi aren’t particularly seamless duet partners, and having Cyrus sing the song’s already-odious “Can’t make a wife out of a ho” lyric feels like a real misfire. It wouldn’t be a shock to see pop radio gravitate towards this remix thanks to Miley’s more familiar presence — à la the Charlie Puth remix of Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” — but I doubt it’ll actually supplant it in many fan hearts (or on many listener playlists).
3. The visit to the top 10 is the first for Cyrus since “Malibu” in 2017. What does her presence on the song’s remix mean for her career and the place she currently holds in pop’s mainstream?
Rania Aniftos: She’s not going anywhere, no matter what she tries or how often she changes. Miley has been a prominent character in pop culture as a whole since she was a teenager, and is one of the few child stars who have successfully transitioned into a more mature sound as they’ve gotten older. Lending her star power to collaborations for up-and-coming artists is a fun and smart next step that is sure to keep her around for a while longer. In her own words, “she’s just being Miley”… and it works.
Josh Glicksman: Sure, she hasn’t been in the top 10 since 2017, but she’s been on the doorstep multiple times (“Don’t Call Me Angel” reached No. 13 in 2019; “Midnight Sky” peaked at No. 14 last year). I don’t know that her presence on the song’s remix tells us anything earth-shattering about her career that we didn’t know already. Miley Cyrus can dial up a pop hit with the best of them when she feels compelled to do so, but she’s also going to keep experimenting with her sound in the meantime. If that leads to more “Zombie”–esque covers, well, I’m more than happy with that tradeoff.
Lyndsey Havens: Let’s also not forget Cyrus recently climbed to No. 1 on the Top Rock Albums chart with Plastic Hearts — and I believe that with or without this remix, her SNL musical guest spot was a lock, and there was that pre-pandemic Governor’s Ball lineup (RIP) that gave her top-billing with a performance slot just before Stevie Nicks. All of this is to say, Miley has had a hold on pop’s mainstream for over a decade now, and I don’t think she’ll let up any time soon.
Jason Lipshutz: Miley Cyrus has released a slew of truly great songs since last visiting the top 10 (“Mother’s Daughter,” “Slide Away” and “Midnight Sky,” just to name a few), as well as her most complete full-length to date in last year’s Plastic Hearts. Even if she’s not scoring pop radio hits with the ease of her Bangerz era anymore, she’s operating at such a high musical level — and so widely respected as a music industry talent — that a successful remix like “Without You” shouldn’t be shocking. Neither should a solo song that breaks through in the coming years, or any collaborations/remixes that vaunt her back toward the top of the chart.
Andrew Unterberger: I mostly think it’s just interesting that Cyrus is now the established veteran, lending her established star power and household-name status to up-and-comers in need of a pop insider to wave them past the velvet ropes of pop’s remaining gatekeepers. She’s still only 28, and hasn’t been a can’t-miss fixture on pop radio for the better part of a decade now — but she’s still Miley, and her presence will always be meaningful. It’s pretty cool to see her get to that stage.
4. Along with Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut in the Ocean,” there are two songs from Australian rappers in the top 10 this week. Do you think that means anything in particular about the global market for Australian pop or hip-hop, or is it mostly just a happy coincidence?
Rania Aniftos: I love the Australians, but I’m going to say a happy coincidence on this one. I like that they’re getting more attention on the charts, though, because Australia has a vibrant music scene that we don’t often get a glimpse of over here across the Pacific. I hope the trend continues!
Josh Glicksman: The past two years have proved that there’s something of an untapped market of Australian talent ready to make global hits. Since 2019, Tones and I, Masked Wolf and The Kid LAROI have all scored top 10 entries on the Hot 100. Three’s a trend, right? And don’t forget about established Australian talents dominating other genre-specific charts, either: in 2020, Tame Impala, Kylie Minogue and Keith Urban scored No. 1’s on the Top Rock Albums, Top Dance/Electronic Albums and Top Country Albums charts, respectively
Lyndsey Havens: The former! I believe we’re just now starting to see the stateside impact of a rich musical scene that’s been brewing in Australia for some time. 24-year-old Tkay Maidza has been making stellar hip-hop music for a minute, and there’s the more-seasoned Australian rapper Allday, whom another Aussie fave of mine, Mallrat, has long cited as inspiration. The list goes on, but as Masked Wolf and The Kid Laroi are proving, there’s a lot to be excited about in terms of the global market for Australian pop and hip-hop finally cracking wide open.
Jason Lipshutz: Happy coincidence! I don’t believe the large majority of “Without You” and “Astronaut In The Ocean” listeners are pressing play due to any perceived Down Under affinity. That’s not to discount the influence that Australia has had on U.S. pop over the years, but in this case — with two hits that don’t really reference their artists’ land of origin — I believe we’re looking at a “fun fact” rather than a deeper trend.
Andrew Unterberger: Probably more of a fluke than a trend, but I do think there’s something to be said for hip-hop’s booming globalization, and also the ease at which international hits can cross to U.S. shores via TikTok and streaming in 2021 without needing to go through the usual pop channels. They might not be representative of a larger movement, but they probably won’t be the last of their kind, either.
5. “Without You” is one of the most well-traveled song titles in Hot 100 history, with Kid Laroi & Miley Cyrus’ version marking the 13th Hot 100 hit to have that two-word main title. Which of the previous hits with that title do you care to rep for?
Rania Aniftos: “Without You” by David Guetta and Usher is my pick. The sentiment of “Without You” feels more romantic in this one than devastating — especially with the euphoric breakdown at the one-minute mark. Also, anything featuring Usher is a win for me.
Josh Glicksman: I’ll go with the David Guetta/Usher collaboration, primarily because it sends me down a rabbit hole of wonderful Nothing But the Beat 2.0-induced nostalgia. I’d also like to shout out Avicii’s “Without You,” which somehow only reached No. 14 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart and deserved much better.
Lyndsey Havens: Sorry to all the other “Without You” hits out there, but to me there is only one: Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You.” The way in which the combination of these two (or in Mary’s case, three) words immediately call to mind that signature piano melody… there is simply no contest.
Jason Lipshutz: Like the rest of The Chicks’ 1999 album Fly, “Without You” is smart, sensitive pop-country, a heartbreak ballad with chorus harmonies you’ll want to belt out by the second go-round. Honestly? Would love to hear Miley Cyrus remake that “Without You,” whenever she has some downtime!
Andrew Unterberger: Gotta rep for the only No. 1 of the bunch: Nilsson’s megaballad version of Badfinger’s “Without You,” a Hot 100-topping tearjerker back in 1972. It’s a timeless-enough classic that it returned to the Hot 100’s top five two decades later via a Mariah Carey cover (as part of a double A-side with “Never Forget You”), and it wouldn’t be shocking to see it make a third visit to the top 10 via yet another version in the 2020s.