Getting to the chart of the matter.
Hi, paying customer and budding music journalist here. I think we need to sit down and have a talk. My dear Hot 100, I know you’re turning 55 this year, and I know you want to stay “hip and trendy” as any father would. You’ve now done it by adding video streaming data from YouTube into your chart formula as announced yesterday per the groaning of social media that Baauer‘s “Harlem Shake” is the new #1 song in the country. In fact, all of your cousins, the genre-exclusive charts, are doing the same thing. Oh, Billboard, sweet Billboard, you change your chart methodology more than you change your socks and underwear and it’s a little bit concerning. Let me remind you of what happened when you changed your formula to the Hot 100 in the past.
In 1968, you made your first minor change, as far as I can see, which put less emphasis on airplay in the top half on the chart, while it was fully allowed from positions 51-100. Hmmm. Seems rather odd, but OK, it worked for some time and the overall flow of the chart didn’t see any drastic changes.
June 9, 1973 marked a major overhaul in your formula under the direction of Tony Lanzetta due to a dropping list of sales reporters, so data from jukeboxes accumulated for nearly half of the total weight of the overall chart. Whoa. This was also the first date when computers tabulated the chart rather than being done by human. Way to go, technology! There were also changes to both how a song achieved a starred position, a “new entry” arrow, and the crediting of songwriters on the chart, which was awesome for those individuals who always wanted to see their named printed in the industry bible. Overall, it was necessary given what was happening in the industry, and for this, I’ll give you a pass. Although, we all could have done without Kris Kristofferson‘s 19-week run in the top 40 for “Why Me”. It peaked at #16. The slower chart runs eventually faded away.
In February 1982, you decided that you needed to further change the star system so that an open star, or superstar, meant a single exhibited by airplay and sales gain and a regular star (or bold star) meant a single just had a sales spike. Plus, how could I neglect to mention that no star at all meant that all you gained was a rejection sticker, a toss into the trash bin, etc. Yes, I know you want to forget when “Even The Nights Are Better” by Air Supply fell from 6-42 in a week on the September 25 chart or when “The Beatles Movie Medley” by The Beatles fell from 20-92 on the June 5 chart under that methodology. It was a sad time for all, especially for those acts that spent four, five and six weeks at their peak position because they couldn’t move down until they lost their star. Boy Meets Girl‘s unintentional ode to the matter in 1988 perfectly sums up that period. Luckily, this was reversed during the next year and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. P.S. you also changed your name to the Billboard Hot 100 during the fall of that same year. Poor Pop Singles Chart. The first #1 single under the change was “Islands In The Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Ironic that we’re talking about streams now. History repeats, I suppose.
Then, we get to November 1991, which will forever be known as when the Hot 100 became the Lukewarm 100. These changes were made under chart director Michael Ellis. Sales were tabulated by SoundScan via the bar code label you see on products; airplay was tabulated via Broadcast Data Systems and now accumulated for not just pop stations, but rhythm and eventually rock and country stations. That was good. However, the way the ratio was edited at the time, everything urban-related ranked so highly and now spent double-digit weeks at #1 as opposed to just a few frames in the past. I’m looking at you, Boyz II Men. 13 weeks at the top for “End Of The Road” and 16 weeks for your collaboration with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day”? Somebody call the chart police. It was a mess. Songs went all over the place. Random limited physical releases ranked oddly. Hit singles that did well on airplay couldn’t chart because a physical single was needed to make the Hot 100. I don’t think I need to go any further than that.
In December 1998, you finally changed the rule on not allowing album cuts to chart on the Hot 100, which was probably the best conclusion you’ve ever come to even if it was a few years late. I realize that you weren’t the ones to tell record labels to stop producing physical singles and focus on full-length albums, but The Rembrandts, No Doubt and The Cardigans, among others, would still like a word with you on the matter. Bart Simpson was pretty offended that you didn’t do the bartman as well. Even Cashbox could do that.
Most of the changes between then and 2012 were positive ones. Digital download sales were ushered in from February 2005 so that airplay wasn’t the king of the formula, which was urgently needed at that point since the CD single was dead. Online streaming from two sources became a component of the chart in August 2007, not extremely necessary but it did help boost some songs that did well from that method and weren’t downloaded as much.
So, now we get to the point where things get ridiculous and look desperate because you weren’t able to change certain stipulations about the chart when they actually happened the first time. Michael Jackson‘s death in 2009 prompted a ruling on older songs to re-enter just after Whitney Houston‘s sudden death in February 2012. In May, you introduced an On-Demand Songs chart, which meant even more streaming was included into the Hot 100 and denied Justin Bieber a #1 debut with “Boyfriend” despite selling 500,000+ copies in its debut week. It wasn’t up for streaming until the next week. Genre-specific charts looked like tragedies in November when the traditional airplay-only tabulation turned into a combination of sales, streaming and spins, even from crossover airplay. Rihanna‘s “Diamonds” debuted at #1 on the R&B chart despite little airplay at Urban radio; Taylor Swift‘s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” vaulted 21-1 on the Country chart despite being pulled at the format. PSY‘s “Gangnam Style” confined to the #2 spot for seven weeks on the Hot 100 prompted this newest change on YouTube streams to be counted. I know, you’re trying to right your wrongs, but it comes at suspicious moments and doesn’t make you look good. Four changes within one year isn’t what consumers and chart-watchers are looking for, especially at the times when the method changes. They want continuity and accuracy. You’re just asking for trouble from rabid fanbases who want their favorite singer or band at the top.
Equating a 30-second video on YouTube to one full view to count towards your chart is like saying that a 30-second radio ad that plays background music counts as one full spin towards a song or that buying one song on iTunes should be counted as an album. It does not work that way and you know it very well. 103 million views for “Harlem Shake” on YouTube didn’t come from viewers watching a video of the whole 3-minute song. It was those random 30-second clips that everyone and their friend’s workplace put together. If a 30-second clip is now considered an entire song, then why do artists bother making three and four minute compositions? What is a song? Their weight should be determined by length, not by overall statistics. 30 seconds of “Shake” equals just under 16% of the full song listened to.
Counting the views from official channels by artists, labels and VEVO are fine by me. I think they would fit nicely into the chart. Everything else, however, is a deal breaker. You do have the power to control this and I would expect that something will change again in the next few months given your recent history.
As frustrated as I may be, there’s nothing that I, as one single blogger, can do. My friend, don’t fret, and don’t shed any tears over the matter. It will be okay. Just remember that Cashbox and Record World are holding a place for you if you don’t realize the errors of your way before you can fix them in a timely manner. (Also, you don’t change your methodology every week. My apologies on that error.)
Sincerely yours (and Sweet Sensation didn’t need YouTube to get a Hot 100 hit),
(Chart changes I referenced can be found at this link.)