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Looking for love on the Billboard Hot 100: 1989

30 years ago, the popularity of Milli Vanilli meant more than half the songs by black artists on the pop chart were for lovers

Where did the love go? Specifically, what happened to popular black love songs?

The year-end Billboard Hot 100 charts are widely regarded as the best measure of America’s most popular songs. We compiled numbers from the Billboard charts for the last five years (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), and for 10-year intervals over the past 50 years (1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009). These charts show a decrease in love songs by black performers. (To see our story on the reasons behind the change, click here.)

How did we define a love song?

Love songs give voice to humanity’s most powerful emotion, that alchemy of need, companionship and commitment that can include, but also transcends, the physical. Songs that only talk about sex are not counted as love songs. Songs that talk about heartbreak, lost love, etc. are counted as love songs. Our definition of love songs includes those dealing with dysfunctional aspects of love: domestic and emotional abuse, cheating, and other unhealthy or harmful situations. We call these songs “tainted love.”

We recognize the subjective and malleable nature of “black music.” Is the salsa remake “I Like It” by Afro-Latino Cardi B an example of “black music”? What about work by Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny or the Colombian reggaeton artist J Balvin? Reasonable people can disagree … but Cardi B says “n—a” in the song, so that’s gotta be black music. We include Bruno Mars as making black music because he’s way too fonky.

Songs by white performers that “feature” black artists are not counted as work by black artists on our list. Nor are songs by white artists who perform in a black style (with the non-negotiable exception of Bobby Caldwell). We are analyzing black music. Nothing by Post Malone is black music, even if he has a black artist performing on that particular song. Same for Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris, Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake, etc. We do not count Eminem as producing black music because his fan base is overwhelmingly white. Don’t @ me.

Here are the receipts for 1989, when black love was still big on the charts:

Guide to reading the chart: Black artists are in bold, love songs are all CAPS, and rap songs are in italics. On the year-end Billboard Hot 100 for 1989, there were:

27 songs by black artists.

Of that 27, there were 16 LOVE SONGS BY BLACK ARTISTS


  1. “LOOK AWAY” (Chicago)
  2. “My Prerogative” (Bobby Brown)
  4. “STRAIGHT UP” (Paula Abdul)
  5. “MISS YOU MUCH” (Janet Jackson)

    Janet Jackson on stage in Dortmund in November 1989.

    Fryderyk Gabowicz/Getty Images

  6. “Cold Hearted” (Paula Abdul)
  7. “WIND BENEATH MY WINGS” (Bette Midler)
  8. “GIRL YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE” (Milli Vanilli)
  10. “GIVING YOU THE BEST THAT I GOT” (Anita Baker)
  11. “RIGHT HERE WAITING” (Richard Marx)
  12. “WAITING FOR A STAR TO FALL” (Boy Meets Girl)
  13. “LOST IN YOUR EYES” (Debbie Gibson)
  14. “DON’T WANNA LOSE YOU” (Gloria Estefan)
  15. “HEAVEN” (Warrant)
  16. “GIRL I’M GONNA MISS YOU” (Milli Vanilli)
  17. “The Look” (Roxette)
  18. “She Drives Me Crazy” (Fine Young Cannibals)
  19. “On Our Own” (Bobby Brown)
  20. “TWO HEARTS” (Phil Collins)
  21. “BLAME IT ON THE RAIN” (Milli Vanilli)
  22. “LISTEN TO YOUR HEART” (Roxette)
  23. “I’LL BE THERE FOR YOU” (Bon Jovi)
  24. “IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME BY NOW” (Simply Red)
  25. “LIKE A PRAYER” (Madonna)
  26. “I’LL BE LOVING YOU (FOREVER)” (New Kids on the Block)
  27. “How Can I Fall?” (Breathe)
  28. “BABY DON’T FORGET MY NUMBER” (Milli Vanilli)
  29. “TOY SOLDIERS” (Martika)
  30. “FOREVER YOUR GIRL” (Paula Abdul)
  31. “The Living Years” (Mike + The Mechanics)
  32. “ETERNAL FLAME” (The Bangles)
  33. “Wild Thing” (Tone Lōc)
  34. “WHEN I SEE YOU SMILE” (Bad English)

    Bobby Brown performed at Wembley Arena in London in 1989.

    Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images

  36. “Buffalo Stance” (Neneh Cherry)
  37. “WHEN I’M WITH YOU” (Sheriff)
  38. “DON’T RUSH ME” (Taylor Dayne)
  39. “BORN TO BE MY BABY” (Bon Jovi)
  40. “GOOD THING” (Fine Young Cannibals)
  41. “THE LOVER IN ME” (Sheena Easton)
  42. “Bust a Move” (Young MC)
  43. “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” (Great White)
  44. “Batdance” (Prince)
  45. “Rock On” (Michael Damian)
  46. “REAL LOVE” (Jody Watley)
  47. “LOVE SHACK” (The B-52s)
  48. “EVERY LITTLE STEP” (Bobby Brown)
  49. “Hangin’ Tough” (New Kids on the Block)
  50. “MY HEART CAN’T TELL ME NO” (Rod Stewart)
  51. “So Alive” (Love and Rockets)
  52. “YOU GOT IT (THE RIGHT STUFF)” (New Kids on the Block)
  53. “Armageddon It” (Def Leppard)
  54. “Satisfied” (Richard Marx)
  55. “Express Yourself ” (Madonna)
  56. “I LIKE IT” (Dino)
  57. “SOLDIER OF LOVE” (Donny Osmond)
  58. “SOWING THE SEEDS OF LOVE” (Tears for Fears)
  59. “CHERISH” (Madonna)
  60. “When the Children Cry” (White Lion)
  61. “18 and Life” (Skid Row)
  62. “I DON’T WANT YOUR LOVE” (Duran Duran)
  63. “SECOND CHANCE” (38 Special)
  64. “THE WAY YOU LOVE ME” (Karyn White)
  65. “Funky Cold Medina” (Tone Lōc)
  66. “IN YOUR ROOM” (The Bangles)
  67. “MISS YOU LIKE CRAZY” (Natalie Cole)
  68. “LOVESONG” (The Cure)
  69. “Secret Rendezvous” (Karyn White)
  70. “ANGEL EYES” (The Jeff Healey Band)

    Natalie Cole performs at the Beacon Theater in New York.

    Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

  71. “PATIENCE” (Guns N’ Roses)
  72. “WALK ON WATER” (Eddie Money)
  73. “COVER GIRL” (New Kids on the Block)
  74. “Welcome to the Jungle” (Guns N’ Roses)
  75. “SHOWER ME WITH YOUR LOVE” (Surface)
  76. “Stand” (R.E.M.)
  77. “CLOSE MY EYES FOREVER” (Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne)
  78. “ALL THIS TIME” (Tiffany)
  79. “AFTER ALL” (Cher and Peter Cetera)
  80. “RONI” (Bobby Brown)
  81. “Love in an Elevator” (Aerosmith)
  82. “Lay Your Hands on Me” (Bon Jovi)
  83. “THE PROMISE” (When in Rome)
  84. “What I Am” (Edie Brickell & New Bohemians)
  85. “I REMEMBER HOLDING YOU” (Boys Club)
  86. “Paradise City” (Guns N’ Roses)
  87. “I WANNA HAVE SOME FUN” (Samantha Fox)
  88. “She Wants to Dance with Me” (Rick Astley)
  89. “DREAMIN’ ” (Vanessa Williams)
  90. “IT’S NO CRIME” (Babyface)
  91. “POISON” (Alice Cooper)
  92. “THIS TIME I KNOW IT’S FOR REAL” (Donna Summer)
  93. “Smooth Criminal” (Michael Jackson)
  94. “HEAVEN HELP ME” (Deon Estus)
  95. “Rock Wit’cha” (Bobby Brown)
  96. “THINKING OF YOU” (Sa-Fire)
  97. “WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW” (Exposé)
  98. “SURRENDER TO ME” (Ann Wilson and Robin Zander)
  99. “The End of the Innocence” (Don Henley)
  100. “Keep on Movin” (Soul II Soul)


Liner Notes

Source: Chart ranking by Billboard. Categorization by race and subject matter by Jesse Washington and Taylor Thomas for The Undefeated.

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.