Fred Bronson discusses year-end charts, import singles and Clay Aiken with readers.

UNFAIR ADVANTAGE

Dear Fred,

It's that time of year when everything is tabulated and everyone tries to figure out the best songs, artists, albums and storylines for 2003. I know this is a hectic time of year for you, but can you give your opinion of who you think will rise to the top this year?

Since Beyoncé now has a total of 17 weeks at the top [of Billboard's Hot 100] with two different songs, do you think that she will be the female artist of the year when the award shows begin? She could have the top two songs of the year with "Crazy In Love" and "Baby Boy." Has any artist held the top two positions in the final countdown?

In the last two years, a song that peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 ended the year in pole position on the year-end chart, but I think the streak comes to an end this year. The only other song that may come between Beyoncé is 50 Cent's "In Da Club." What do you think?

Sincerely,

Dean Smedley
Jackson, Miss.

Dear Dean,

It's too late for me to make predictions about the top hits of 2003, because I've already seen the year-end recaps. The chart year ended this week, and due to editorial deadlines, I've already begun working on my copy for the final issue of the year. It wouldn't be fair for me to pretend to predict when I already know the outcome, and I can't reveal the results yet.

It's just three weeks until "The Billboard Music Awards" are live on FOX-TV. That Dec. 10 broadcast will reveal several of Billboard's year-end No. 1s, and then the year-end charts will be available in the last issue of 2003 as well as here at Billboard.com.

If you want to know the personal top-10 lists of the Billboard and Billboard.com editorial staffs, they will be posted exclusively on this Web site in a few weeks.



THE EARNEST OF BEING AN IMPORT

Dear Fred,

Recently I went into a large record store and bought three import singles which I believe are not yet released in the U.S.: Kylie Minogue's "Slow," Britney Spears' "Me Against the Music" featuring Madonna and Pink's "Trouble." There seemed to be a large amount of these singles in the store. Does the sale of these import singles count toward the chart position of the song? I know the U.S. versions do but what about the imports? It seems that these singles are shipped in large quantities and should have some effect.

On another note, are you shocked at the movement of "Me Against the Music" dropping on the Hot 100 after peaking at No. 38? I thought a much-anticipated song would chart a lot higher than that, especially considering the artists involved.

Thanks,

Robert Alonso
Astoria, N.Y.

Dear Robert,

It's funny that you should write about imports, because I've just returned home from dinner, a movie ("Mystic River") and a short trip to my local Virgin Megastore, where I bought quite a few import singles. You'll be hearing them in the coming weeks on "The Billboard Radio Countdown" at billboardradio.com, as we play one international track every week from the Hits of the World pages of Billboard.

Despite my purchases, and yours, import singles do not sell in large numbers in the U.S., and if Billboard did count them - which it does not -- the effect would be minimal.

While I love singles, and have a large collection of imports, I would not be in favor of counting them for the Billboard domestic charts (and not that I have the power to make that decision, as I am a member of the editorial staff, not the chart department). If U.S. record labels want sales to be counted toward a song's chart position, they need to release a domestic single.

Frankly, I was not surprised at the downward movement of "Me Against the Music." Let's just say it's not going to be on my list of top-10 songs of 2003. Or my top-100. Or my top-1,000. I was also not surprised to see the song rebound to No. 35 this week, given Britney Spears' many television appearances in the last few days.



GIVE THIS E-MAIL FIVE STARS

Dear Fred,

Why is there such a wide gap between how the fans feel about Clay Aiken's music and what the critics hear? There is another negative review of "Measure of a Man" at the Amazon.com sales site. The reviewer gives four and-a-half stars, yet this review says it is boy-band material and without emotion. Emotion is what I feel Clay does best, besides the quality of his voice, and these are such pretty songs.

Can you explain this? One review called us "classless middle America." What are we missing here?

Bertie Smith
Paonia, Col.

Dear Bertie,

Clay Aiken's "Measure of a Man" has received mixed reviews, ranging from the rave in Billboard (which I didn't write or influence) to some pretty disparaging notices. But what artist hasn't received bad reviews? If you do some research, I think you'll be surprised that even some of the rock era's most influential albums have received critical thumbs-downs from some reviewers. Such is the nature of criticism.

I wouldn't be too concerned about a bad review at Amazon.com. I've been able to withstand a couple of unkind notices of my books on this site myself. Most of the reviews written for Amazon are by the book-buying public, not professional critics, although they are bound to range from love-it to hate-it, just like the pros.