’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Lately”

The one hundred twenty-fifth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Lately” by Divine. This would be the last song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 before the magazine finally updated its long-outdated rules that prohibited radio-only songs to chart. “Lately” went to No. 1 on Nov. 28, and the revised methodology took effect for the issue dated Dec. 5. In that Dec. 5 issue, “Lately” was ranked at No. 3, and its “Last Week” and “2 Weeks Ago” rankings were No. 2 (behind “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill). This suggests that, had the new rules gone into effect a week earlier, “Lately” would not have hit No. 1. So Divine really did get in just before the buzzer.

Divine was an extremely short-lived R&B trio comprising three teenage girls, and “Lately” was their first single. Its success was limited to the United States. They followed it up with a cover of George Michael’s 1988 No. 1 hit “One More Try” (peak: 29), then disbanded.

“Lately” is about missing someone after a breakup that took place in November.

Take a few moments to listen to “Lately”:

If you’ve ever heard the term “radio filler” and wondered what exactly that meant, here you go. The song follows the standard formula for ’90s R&B ballads — a catchy singalong chorus padded by trite, throwaway verses that sound written at the last minute. The members — Nikki Bratcher, Tonia Tash and Kia Thornton — do a capable job with their performances and harmonies, but the track doesn’t present any compelling distinction between them and a long list of contemporaries like Jade, Allure and Total. If anything, singles like “Lately” serve as a reminder of how special acts like En Vogue and TLC were — R&B superstars that had something to say, and did so in interesting, innovative, provocative ways. Those are the girl groups we remember.

Does it hold up? Like all boilerplate ’90s R&B that was piped into our cars, “Lately” has nostalgic appeal for some, but beyond that hasn’t gotten a second wind, and doesn’t sync up with current tastes. The video has been on YouTube since 2008, but as of this writing has only 8 million views. You will see in the comments section that almost everyone enjoys the song because it reminds them of the good ol’ days.

Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks


1 week at No. 1, starting Nov. 28, 1998
Preceded by: “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Lauryn Hill
Followed by: “I’m Your Angel,” R. Kelly and Celine Dion

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

– John

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