Some people call it the Digital Age while others refer it as the Visual Age but there is one fact on which they can all agree: we live in a new era of media. As such, the Billboard Hot 100 chart methodology has been repeatedly adapted to reflect the tastes of music fans throughout the years, and the latest change will have serious ramifications from many artists.
Almost a year after the inclusion of online streaming data from subscription services, such as Spotify, Muve Music, Rhapsody, Slacker, Rdio and Xbox Music, into the tallied point system, the Hot 100 now incorporates YouTube plays as part of the chart formula. No, this does mean that random videos uploaded by overzealous fans contributes toward the success of their favourite artists. Rather, the information is gathered from official VEVO accounts and user-generated clips that utilize authorised audio.
The addition of YouTube streams to the Billboard chart methodology doesn’t only affect Hot 100. Genre-specific lineups – Hot Country Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, R&B Songs, Rap Songs, Hot Latin Songs, Hot Rock Songs and Dance/Electronic Songs – also reflect the changes as of this week.
Other data sources used to formulate the Hot 100 include digital downloads, physical singles sales – as if anybody under the age of 40 years still buys hard copies of singles – radio airplay, on-demand audio streaming, and online radio streaming. Hence, the inclusion of YouTube certainly makes the chart methodology far more comprehensive.
Yet, all is not well in the land of Make People Believe that the Charts Aren’t Affected by Politics and Special Interest Groups. If you you haven’t noticed on your own, let me break it down for you: the addition of YouTube streams will negatively affect new artists as well as those without a substantial online following or major label support, specifically R&B acts.
How exactly can artist like Melania Fiona, for instance, compete with Rihanna on the Hot 100? The latter easily attracts millions of views for her videos within days whereas it takes Fiona months to score similar success if she manages to accomplish it at all.
All the proof is you need for this point is in the label-funded pudding. Bolstered by a performance at the 2013 Grammy Awards and the power of her name, Rihanna’s “Stay (Ft. Mikky Ekko)” video has accumulated almost 30 million views on YouTube in little over a week. Fiona’s “Wrong Side of a Love Song” clip, on the other hand, has been on the site for a day longer but has barely passed the 170K mark.
Naturally, some of you will argue that Rihanna and Fiona are completely different artists but that is exactly the point – Pop artists in 2013 are essentially driven by visuals and their fans stream their videos repeatedly, thus providing them with millions of YouTube views in short periods of time. However, R&B acts rarely get such attention unless their products are notably controversial, such as Marsha Ambrosius’ outcry against gay-bashing, “Far Away”.
Also, imagine how difficult it will be for new artists, especially in the Adult Contemporary fields, Country – real Country music, not that Pop fodder Taylor Swift has been peddling to your children – or R&B, to make a dent on the Hot 100. These budding acts will enter into an arena without the support of large fanbases, therefore making it near impossible for them to compete.
The next logical step in your argument against my point would probably involve citing Baauer’s “Harlem Shake”, which toped the Hot 100 chart this week, as the perfect example of a relatively unknown artist who has won against the odds. Yet, why was his song successful? The answer is simple: Baauer was selling a fad, not music.
I bet you $5 of someone else’s money that you can’t even remember the melody of “Harlem Shake” without a ringtone reminder. That’s because the most people only play the track on YouTube while watching the supposedly “funny” 30+ seconds video. Such a surge in streams helped to take the song to the top of the Hot 100 just as the folks at Billboard coincidentally changed the chart methodology.
We all know how much the commercialism that is known as American popular culture loves to support a good jig – Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” – and “Harlem Shake” is catchy enough to fit the bill, despite the fact that’s not even a throwback to the original dance. In fact, it’s not dancing at all!
Hence, the visual Pop artists of the modern music era will benefit greatly from the updates made to the Billboard chart methodology whereas R&B artists will probably suffer if they don’t make their releases controversial or catchy enough to spark a trend. After she finishes feeding Blue Ivy and Kelly Rowland their dinner, I sense Beyonce will enlist her choreographer to develop another dance craze as a followup to the “Crazy in Love” butt-bounce and the wrist-flick of “Since Ladies”. She shall overcome.
Watch one of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” video tributes below: