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The Awesome Story Behind the Song of the Year

from Billboard Magazine

Ruth B’s ‘Lost Boy’ And The Story Behind The Year’s Strangest Hot 100 Hit

by Elias Leight

Ruth B’s “Lost Boy” is easily the most unusual song on the Hot 100: when it cracked the top 50 earlier this month, it was the only unadorned piano ballad on the chart’s top half, no small feat. It’s also the only song on the chart inspired by a more than century-old play.

That play is Peter Pan, first staged in 1904 and currently enjoying something of a moment in pop music. Last summer, an album with the same theme was released to accompany the musical Finding Neverland, but despite contributions from Nick JonasJennifer Lopez, and Zendaya, nothing cracked the Hot 100. But Ruth B’s out-of-nowhere success — she was an unknown without a record deal before “Lost Boy” — suggests that the problem was with the execution rather than the concept.  And Peter Pan’s appeal transcends genres: while “Lost Boy” climbs the charts, country listeners are warming to Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan,” No. 28 and climbing on the Hot Country Songs chart.

That secret other world has spawned a thousand spinoffs, and the Peter Pan character in the TV show Once Upon A Time is the one who inspired Ruth B to write her hit. After watching an episode, she headed downstairs to her keyboard. “I was in a Peter Pan headspace,” she remembers. “I sang that first line out of nowhere.”

Ruth is a fan of the app Vine — especially after a spontaneous decision to post a loop of her singing the chorus to Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home,” which led to a large increase in followers. She’d never written a song before the first line of “Lost Boy,” though, so she was hesitant to promote it on the app. “I initially didn’t even want to post it because it was a little bit cheesy,” she says. “But it kept ringing through my head.”

She eventually posted it, and the reaction was immediate: people wanted more. She started to add lines in Vine-able increments. “I would finish studying, come down stairs, and add a line to the chorus,” she explains. “In a week, I had a chorus, so I decided I should turn this into a full song and take it to YouTube.”

The result, built six seconds at a time, is a beatless piano ballad. Chords hang in the air, never pressing on top of each other. Ruth occasionally climbs into falsetto, but the track doesn’t have much movement or drama. Although it’s about finding friends, Ruth sings alone, and this isolation is emphasized by an echo effect. Her Neverland is a place of complete liberty — “lost boys like me are free” — and the singer avoids taking sides in the frequently violent squabbles that divide the island’s characters in the original story: “Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Wendy darling, even Captain Hook/ You are my perfect storybook.”

But a perfect story, even one with the long term resonance of Peter Pan, doesn’t guarantee a national hit. That’s where major label radio promotion comes in handy. The tale of “Lost Boy” seesaws between old and new media — while there’s a nostalgia inherent in the idea of not wanting to grow up, the most up-to-date technology played a crucial role in the track’s formation; though Vine helped “Lost Boy” bubble up, old-school radio power gave it a key boost.

The radio clout was corralled in part by Lee Leipsner, EVP and head of promotion at Columbia Records. He has been at Sony music for 22 years; before that, he spent five years at Mercury records. On the phone, he has the enthusiasm and fervor of a lifelong salesman, and an arsenal of statistics to support his points. “It never gets old breaking records,” he tells me.

[ click to read full article at Billboard ]

Posted on May 29, 2016 by Editor

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