In her new movie The High Note, Tracee Ellis Ross plays a high-strung, high-maintenance pop diva who wants to get back in the game. “In the history of music, only five women over 40 have ever had a No. 1 hit,” Ross’s Grace Davis laments, anticipating her label’s underestimation of a woman in the middle of her career. “And only one of them was black.” In reality, there were two black women over 40 with No. 1’s on the Billboard Hot 100 around the time the script for The High Note was written: Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner. And Mariah Carey’s record-demolishing No. 1 “All I Want For Christmas Is You” made her the third to accomplish the feat last December (likely after the movie was shot). At “49” glorious years old, the continued popularity of the singer’s 1996 holiday song made her the first artist to have a No. 1 in each of the past four decades, the artist with the highest number of No. 1’s (19, dahhling), and the oldest black woman to chart that high. The High Note noticed the lack of middle-aged women, but couldn’t have predicted that stans would storm the charts for a 26-year-old song.
Probably because it had been years since such a thing happened. In 2016, Sia joined the ranks with “Cheap Thrills” at 40 years and 7 months old. Sixteen years prior, a 42-year-old Madonna reached No. 1 status with “Music.” Just before that, Cher topped it with “Believe” in 1999, at 52. And Bette Midler soared to No. 1 with “Wind Beneath My Wings” when she was 43 years old in 1989. It was as long ago as 1987 when 45-year-old Aretha Franklin ascended for “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” after Tina Turner hit No. 1 in 1984 with “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” at a stunning 44.
Men, you can probably guess, don’t have as severe an issue. Four men over 40 have snagged a No. 1 in just the four years since Sia’s hit: DJ Khaled and Daddy Yankee both got No. 1’s in 2017 for “I’m the One” and “Despacito,” respectively, while Bradley Cooper and Billy Ray Cyrus each got one for “Shallow” and “Old Town Road (Remix)” last year. In that same time, it took a reliable holiday song and a concentrated social-media campaign to get one woman over 40 to reach the same height. And who knows when the next one will happen organically? The High Note points out a gap in representation on the charts and illustrates Hollywood’s long-standing problem with women “of a certain age.” While divas like Mariah Carey, Cher, Missy Elliot, and Stevie Nicks will always dominate popular music, The High Note wants you to show them some respect on the charts, too. If worst comes to worst, Beyoncé turns 40 in two years. She’ll show them what’s up.