Fred Bronson answers e-mail from Billboard.com readers.
CHANGING HOT 100 LANDSCAPE
Since the introduction of digital downloads into the Hot 100 formula, there is a lot more movement on the chart and the top 40 is slowly becoming a mix of different genres again. Notably we are seeing a lot more pop, modern rock, hard rock, and adult contemporary songs showing up in the upper reaches of the chart. Additionally, there seems to be more turnover of songs in the top 10.
Is this attributed directly to digital downloads tally, or is there just a new interest in non-rap and non-R&B songs? I would assume that it is the former and not the latter, since the singles sales figures have a tendency to "democratize" the charts.
Please provide your insight into this phenomenon and please tell us your predictions on what the summer of 2005's hottest hits will be!
St. Louis, Mo.
The charts have become much more fluid since digital downloads were fully integrated back in February. We've had a lot of high debuts, songs jumping into the top 10 quickly and wild yo-yo moves, with songs starting out strong, plummeting in the second or third week and then rebounding.
I think we can attribute this to the new chart formula. For example, the yo-yo moves could be the result of an act's devoted fans downloading a song as soon as it becomes available, and then radio airplay building gradually and further sales kicking in once a mass audience is aware of a song.
The album chart, which is based only on sales, has long included music from all genres. With sales having more of an influence on the Hot 100, we are seeing a more diverse chart on the singles side as well.
EUROVISION SPOKEN HERE
Another Eurovision contest has come and gone. Although early on it looked like a surprising win by Switzerland or even Latvia, as predicted, Greece was the country to beat (with honorable mention going to Malta and Israel).
Europop is one of my guilty pleasures. I enjoy good camp fun. And with a contest that is usually so predictable (ABBA-esque pop, glam rock and power ballads coupled with over-the-top costumes and choreography), could you just help me out a bit on one point -- a point that has become itself, predictable?
How are the various points that each country awards to fellow contestants divided up? Is it wholly on public opinion and those who pay to phone in their vote? Is it true that there is no professional jury which has a voice in the awarding of points? If so, has it always been scored this way? Furthermore, is there no way to get around the almost incestuous voting patterns that several blocks have established? It is certain that all former Soviet block countries give each other points and the Balkans should collectively be banned for voting for another former republic of Yugoslavia.
One last gripe, as an American ex-pat living in Europe, I really appreciate the linguistic diversity of the "old world." I speak four languages. I find it too bad Eurovision (the title says it all, it's not Anglovision) offers so little chance to candidates who do not sing in English.
While having one language that is shared in one way, shape, form or other is handy for traveling, reducing everything to one language (whatever the language may be) is culturally sterile! And not to mention often very poorly spoken (not to mention written, as was the Russian entry "Nobody Hurt No One"). When did the rules change allowing contestants to sing in any language (read English) other than the official language of their country, and what was the reasoning behind this change? I suspect money has something to do with it.
Thanks for your time, Fred. Maybe next May as I'm watching the happenings in Athens I will understand a bit more of the reason behind the apparent madness (which isn't so unpredictable anyway).
This is going to be Greek to those who haven't ever seen the Eurovision Song Contest, but let me see if I can explain it for people who watch the contest as well as those who don't.
The voting is done by the public. Viewers vote by telephone, much as they do in the United States for "American Idol." In each country that broadcasts the contest, there is a phone number assigned to each song. After all of the songs are performed, there is a 10-minute voting period in which people can call the phone number of their favorite song(s). As a fail-safe procedure, each country also has a back-up jury that votes, but this jury vote is only counted if there is a failure in telephone technology.
The votes are counted. Each of the participating countries -- this year that number was 39 -- awards 12 points to the song that received the most votes, 10 to second place, eight to third place, seven to fourth place, and so on down to one point for 10th place.
Each country in turn reports its votes, starting with one point and moving up to 12 points. These votes are locked in and they cannot be changed once the reporting of votes begins.
As points are added up, fortunes change and one country may surge ahead and later fall behind, or vice versa. This year, Greece did not look like a contender in early voting, and Malta didn't show any sign of finishing a strong second. As you point out, Switzerland and Latvia looked like they might claim victory early on.
As for "block voting," let's look at this realistically. People living in Scandinavian countries tend to like music from Scandinavia, so we really shouldn't be surprised if Norway gives points to Sweden. The same thing goes for the Balkans -- we can't be shocked if Lithuania gives high marks to Latvia. The former Yugoslav countries are also likely to vote for each other. There are a lot of Turks living in Germany, so Germany frequently gives Turkey a high score. It's a given that Greece will give 12 points to Cyprus and vice versa.
But block voting can't overcome the power of a great song. Turkey won in 2003 because they had the best song. Ukraine won in 2004 because of Ruslana's "Wild Dances," not because of block voting. Greece's solid win this year was because of support from viewers all over Europe, and Malta's runner-up spot was secured despite the fact that Malta has no neighboring countries and can never profit from block voting. Malta's closest neighbor, Italy, isn't even in the contest.
And then there's the English-language issue. The rule is actually a "free-language" rule, which means a song can be sung in any language or combination of languages. For many years, the rule was that you had to sing in an official language of your country. That meant only three countries could sing in English -- Ireland, the United Kingdom and Malta.
The reason artists often choose to sing in English is that they want to come out of Eurovision with an international hit, and it's much more likely your song will appeal across borders if it's sung in a language everyone understands. It's definitely a commercial consideration, but is that so bad? In 1974, ABBA sang "Waterloo" in English, won Eurovision and were propelled onto the world stage. That might not have happened if they had sung "Waterloo" in Swedish.
Back to the voting for a moment, the televoting is a recent phenomenon. There was a long period of time when all the votes were cast by juries made up of 16 people each. They weren't seen on camera, but their votes were reported in the same 12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 fashion by a spokesperson. Going even further back in Eurovision history, voting was done by on-camera judges who held up cards with their scores.
While Eurovision has evolved over the years, it is more popular than ever with European audiences. The 39 countries that participated this year was a record number, besting the record of 36 that took part in 2004.
DON'T SPEAK, DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL
With Gwen Stefani in her fourth week on top [of the Hot 100] with her first No. 1 song, I've been wondering about "the one that got away" for her and No Doubt -- "Don't Speak," which spent 16 weeks on the top of the Hot 100 Airplay chart in 1997 but was ineligible for the Hot 100 because it was not released as a single.
Has anyone ever figured out, or is it even possible to figure out, how many weeks that song and other massive hits from the same era ("Lovefool" by the Cardigans and "I'll Be There for You" by the Replacements come to mind) would have spent at No. 1 with today's chart rules, which allow songs to chart without being released as a commercial single.
It's not feasible to go back and determine how a particular song would have fared in the past had chart rules been different. It's also not something I would encourage. What was, was. We can't change history.
Of course, we could change history if we could travel back in time and recompile the chart with today's rules. But that might be like stepping on a butterfly and we'd return to an entirely different future. On the other hand, maybe I'm watching too much science fiction.
JUST THE ONE HOPKIN
It was a thrill to see Mary Hopkin mentioned in print in a U.S. column; even if it was just in passing while listing Eurovision songs that had charted here (I've never been able to view the Eurovision contest, but I have purchased many of the yearly compilation discs and enjoy them immensely).
Now, this is extreme nit-picking, but as a longtime fan (she was my first, and still is, favorite vocalist) I did want to note that I hope it was a typo that put the apostrophe after the "s," [Hopkins'], as there is no "s" in her name (we longtime fans always notice that frequent error).
As a side note, I would like to say that thanks to the Internet, over the last few years many recordings that she contributed to over the years have been compiled, released, etc. -- and I have been able to purchase them; my favorite might be a collaboration with Cerrone [and Lene Lovich -- another favorite].
Anyway, thanks for an always interesting and informative column; keep up the great work.
Chalk up my misplaced apostrophe to jet lag. Last week's column was written on the road as I flew from Las Vegas to Europe. I'm feeling better now, and as a fan of Mary Hopkin I know the proper singular form of her name.
Her "Post Card" album is one of my all-time favorites, and I also love her versions of "Que Sera, Sera" and "Tammy" (sung in Welsh).
Speaking of the Eurovision Song Contest, there's no reason now why you couldn't see it. You could either watch it live as an Internet broadcast (too late for this year, but mark May 20, 2006, on your calendar), or you could order the DVD of this year's contest. It will be released on June 6. You'll need a DVD player that is multi-regional, and one that can also play PAL DVDs, or you might be able to view this DVD on a computer.
MAKING A MOUNTAIN OUT OF A FAITH HILL
You may wish to edit your May 19 "Chart Beat" further. A number of times in which you said "Mississippi Queen" you should have said "Mississippi Girl" instead. Mountain is not Faith Hill.
Also, unless Barry A. Jeckell is east of the Eastern time zone, he couldn't have edited "Chart Beat" on 19 May 2005 12:00 PM, since it is that time right now!
Garden Grove, Calif.
Just further proof of my jet lag. Strange things can happen to the mind. As for Barry Jeckell, he has been known to work 24/7, but that time refers to the time the column was posted on our website. If Barry is asleep or watching late-night TV, my column is posted automatically.
[Ed Note: Actually, that column was on 19 May 2005 12:00 PM ET, which is the standard time signature across Billboard.com, as the site is based in Billboard's New York office. And in my case it was not jet lag, but a late night spent with a crying, feverish one-year-old that allowed me to let Fred's "Girl" and "Queen" mixup through (it was changed a few hours later when pointed out by another reader). -BAJ]
It may be premature to speak of "Oh" [by Ciara featuring Ludacris] failing to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100, since it still has a bullet. But dropping a notch is not an encouraging sign. If "Oh" does not make it to the top, then "If" by Perry Como will still hold the record for the shortest No. 1 song title. It hit No. 1 in 1951.
And "O" is not the shortest song title ever to hit the top 40. It is tied for that distinction with "I" by Don Cornell, which peaked at No. 15 in 1952.
Forest Grove, Ore.
As always, thanks for the pre-rock era stats.
HOT AND POP
As another reader indicated a couple of weeks ago, I am completely disappointed with the Hot 100 layout in the May 7 issue of Billboard. The Hot 100 is the flagship chart of Billboard, and as a result, should be given more prominence in the print version of Billboard.
I understand that Billboard will be alternating between the Hot 100 and the Pop 100 for a full-page layout, but to chart purists like myself, this is completely wrong. The Hot 100 must be given the respect that it's earned since 1958. As you suggested, I e-mailed my concerns to the magazine. I am writing this to see if other readers of "Chart Beat Chat" share my opinions.
On another note, the first thing that I always read in the print version of Billboard is "Chart Beat." I believe that it was a mistake to remove it from the magazine. I hope that it will be re-instated; in fact, I hope that it's expanded to the size of the on-line column.
St. Louis, PEI
Thanks for your comments and support. The decision was made to alternate the Hot 100 and the Pop 100 in the print edition of Billboard. Readers who wish to comment on the redesign of the magazine have been invited to send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The alternating Hot 100 and Pop 100 charts prompted another e-mail. Keep reading...
POP AND HOT
Regarding the two different charts (the Hot 100 and the Pop 100), can you tell us which chart you shall be using for "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits" from this point forward?
I know you are not connected with Joel Whitburn, but any idea which charts he will incorporate into his data? It will be interesting to know what was considered No. 1 last month? Was it "Candy Shop" or "Since U Been Gone"? As both peaked lower on the other chart, what will their final peak position be?
At least Gwen Stefani is No. 1 on both charts, so this week is easy.
It reminds me of 1955, where Whitburn uses data from four different charts until the official start of the Hot 100 in 1958.
Also, which page will be shown come 2010 when the next edition of the [decade] chart book is released. Have any idea?
I think the sales chart should be abolished. The vast majority of those songs do not chart on any top 100 chart, so they would appear to be ones that should be on a bubbling under page (especially in Joel Whitburn's books). Seems to me, all these different charts just allow the record companies themselves to say they have a No. 1 record (as opposed to actually having a real No. 1 record).
I was at the Grand Ole Opry a few weeks ago, and Buddy Jewell was performing his latest single, "If She Were Any Other Woman," and he announced it was his No. 1 song, and not one person in the audience clapped, as no one had heard it. It was the No. 1 country singles sales title, yet two months later, it is only creeping up to No. 33 on the country chart after 15 weeks. I hardly think he should be going around saying he has a No. 1 song, when so few country songs are released as singles.
Why not just have a chart for every single song and every record company can say all of them were No. 1 if that were the case?
While something should be done about proportioning the different charts based on how many spins each format gives, adding so many charts is not the answer, and kicking the country artists off the Pop 100 like they are on the Hot 100 also does not seem fair. A top 15 country song should still be in the ultimate top 100 chart, like it was years ago when top 40 actually played all the top 40 hits.
By the way, just heard Tony Christie's "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo." Any chance the record will be released here (and will Neil Sedaka get another shot at the charts himself? Why is he not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?).
The latest edition of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits" covers the years 1955-2003. From Aug. 4, 1958 on, the book is based on the Hot 100. There's no reason to change that in the next edition as long as the Hot 100 exists, and I have no reason to think it won't. The Pop 100 is a different chart and stands on its own, but it has not replaced the Hot 100.
I don't know if Joel Whitburn has made any decisions yet about how to report data from the Pop 100 in his books, especially a book due to be published in 2010. You can contact him directly through his website, www.recordresearch.com.
Remember, the Billboard charts are tools meant to serve the industry. Perhaps someday the Hot 100 Singles Sales list will be irrelevant, but not yet. As long as it serves a purpose, it will continue to exist. The same thing goes for Hot Country Singles Sales. We wouldn't cancel a chart because an audience didn't clap for a Buddy Jewell song. And you can't blame him for saying he had a No. 1 single when he really did.
You referred to us "kicking" country artists off the Pop 100, but that isn't what happened. In fact, country artists are still to be found on this tally. They show up higher on the Hot 100 because that chart includes country airplay. The Pop 100 only includes airplay from mainstream top 40 radio, but all singles sales, and that's how country songs can show up on this chart.
Finally, I'd love to see Neil Sedaka in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don't think we'll see a re-release of Tony Christie's "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo" in the United States, though. It was reissued in the United Kingdom as a charity single for Comic Relief.
FREE DOESN'T COUNT
It's great that The Billboard Hot 100 chart is incorporating digital downloads but I've learned that record companies are up to their old tricks in trying to manipulate the charts. Seems like a few artists -- such as Gwen Stefani, Will Smith, Black Eyed Peas, just to name a few -- are giving away free digital downloads to their fans. Fans can get a code to redeem the song for free on iTunes and apparently they are counting toward the overall tally.
Shouldn't these free downloads be disqualified from the overall tally since these are not paid for? In some cases, fans are downloading them over and over again. People delete their cookies and are able to download the song again. I don't know if the record companies are paying for these free redemptions but it just smells like manipulation by the labels.
The digital sales of "Hollaback Girl" are outpacing the No. 2 ranked song by a 3-1 margin, but how much of it was legitimately paid for?
Thanks for reading,
I checked with Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts to find out the policy on free downloads.
If a corporate sponsor pays for downloads and then makes them available to consumers, who then have a free choice about which songs to purchase, those downloads would count for our charts. The recent Pepsi promotion would be an example of such a corporate sponsorship. However, if record labels pay for downloads and then make them available free to consumers, those downloads do not count.