"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson answers readers' questions on best original song Oscars, Mariah Carey's performance on the Billboard charts, and chart methodology.
WILL 'LOSE' WIN?
My co-workers and I were recently discussing this year's best songs by genre and happened upon a rather unique idea. Eminem's song "Lose Yourself" seems like the most likely song to be awarded this year's Oscar for best song from a motion picture if the Academy can look past his controversial persona. We scratched our heads as to whether such songs as Johnny Rzeznik's current Disney theme song or Chad Kroeger and Josie Scott's "Hero" are possible winners but neither seem to have the depth that Eminem's song does nor do they have the chart success. Which brings me to my question.
I remember the Academy disqualified Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" for its heavy use of sampling from Stevie Wonder. Does Eminem's song contain samples that may disqualify it from contention? If not, do you feel they will try to snub him the way they tried to snub Diana Ross with her "Theme From Mahogany," which I believe I read in "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits" got pressured onto the ballot and did indeed win the Academy Award that year.
Also feel free to add insight into who you think might be nominated for this category. And feel free to vent about past snubs and winners -- it's your forum.
Thanks for the great column, as always.
You have no idea how timely your E-mail is. I've just come from a screening of "8 Mile" for Oscar consideration. No, I'm not in the Academy, but I'm a member of the Writers Guild, and we're invited to attend the studio screenings for Academy members. From November to January, there are usually more than a dozen films being shown every night in screening rooms in Los Angeles, New York, and London. Last night I saw "Far From Heaven" and tomorrow night is "Die Another Day." I usually see a movie a day this time of year, and it's a great way to not only see the new releases ("Chicago" and "Gangs of New York" coming up) but to catch up on things I missed during the year.
Coincidentally, as "8 Mile" ended I said to the friend who went with me, "Best Song, Best Actor, Best Movie." But I was kidding. I don't think the Academy is ready to reward Eminem yet (and I'm not aware of any samples used in the song that would disqualify it). I have to admit I have a new appreciation for "Lose Yourself" listening to it over the closing credits of "8 Mile," but I think Academy voters will look elsewhere.
Most of the songs that will be eligible are in movies that haven't been released yet. U2's "The Hands That Built America" is already getting a promotional push for its inclusion in "Gangs of New York" (the song is on the band's new CD, "The Best of 1990-2000"). While the songs written for the Broadway score of "Chicago" won't be eligible, John Kander and Fred Ebb have written a new song, "I Move On," and that, too, is getting a promotional push in the ads you see in trade papers like Billboard's sister publication, The Hollywood Reporter. Also being promoted in trade ads: "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride," written by Alan Silvestri and Mark Keali'I Ho'omalu for "Disney's Lilo & Stitch," and "Sitting on Top of the World" written by Van Morrison for "Evelyn."
The Diana Ross song you cite wasn't originally nominated for the best original song category. The 17-member nominating committee from the music branch felt it wasn't worthy based on artistic merit. There was an outcry from other Academy members, and The Hollywood Reporter wrote in a blistering editorial: "The failure to even nominate 'Theme From Mahogany' once again points out the completely antiquated and biased structure of the music branch of the Academy, whose executive committee appears to be run like a restricted private club, with the primary objective being to exclude any 'desirables' from its membership roster."
Pressure to reconsider was so strong that the music branch withdrew the original slate and, in an unprecedented move, allowed all 207 members of the music branch to vote on a new set of nominees. The ultimate five songs in contention were "Theme From Mahogany," "How Lucky Can You Get?" from "Funny Lady" (written by Kander and Ebb, coincidentally), "Now That We're in Love" from "Whiffs," "Richard's Window" from "The Other Side of the Mountain," and the ultimate winner, "I'm Easy" from "Nashville." The best original song category is one where films that might not be considered in other categories have a chance to compete. "Hero" from "Spider-Man" certainly has a chance to be in the top five for 2002.
One indication of which songs might be nominees will come when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announces the Golden Globe nominees on Dec. 19. The lists don't always match, but it will be interesting to see which songs are being considered.
MARIAH'S UPS AND DOWNS
Why is Mariah Carey's "Charmbracelet" No. 3 on The Billboard 200, making it the top-selling debut of the week, yet only the No. 2 selling R&B/Hip-Hop Album for the current chart period? One would assume that her sales toppling all other R&B/Hip-Hop albums on The Billboard 200 would translate into a No. 1 placing on the Hip-Hop/R&B Albums chart.
I don't see the logic in this, so maybe you could provide some insight. It just seems that Mariah hasn't had any luck on Billboard at all (although I know this isn't exactly a subjective matter that Billboard can manipulate).
Thank you kindly for your time.
This is a frequently asked (and answered) question, so I think it's time to add it to the FAQ. Billboard's genre album charts (R&B/Hip-Hop, Country, Jazz, Blues, Reggae, etc.) do not use the same panels of retail outlets as The Billboard 200. The purpose of the genre charts is to show which albums are selling well in those particular genres, so the retail panels include stores that specialize in those specific genres.
This week, Mariah's "Charmbracelet" sold more copies overall than any other album except for Shania Twain's "Up!" and Tim McGraw's "Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors." Just using the information from our R&B panel of retail outlets, "Charmbracelet" sold more copies than any album except for 2Pac's "Better Days."
You are correct when you say Billboard does not manipulate chart data. Still, I can't tell you how many E-mails I receive from fans of this or that particular artist accusing the magazine of conspiring against their favorite recording star because of where they ended up on the charts. I can assure you, Billboard doesn't favor anyone nor does it conspire against anyone when it comes to chart positions. It's also not a case of Mariah not having any "luck" when it comes to the Billboard charts -- the various charts have always accurately reflected her sales and airplay performances.
ROGERS AND CHART
With the recent criticisms by "Chart Beat Chat" readers, I thought I would put my two cents in. As you have mentioned many times before the primary purpose of Billboard's charts is to provide a useful tool for the music industry.
The introduction of the Hot 100 back in 1958 was to provide a single chart that both record companies and radio stations could use. Record companies could see how their records were selling as compared to the competition. Radio stations could see what songs to add to their playlists by what was rising on the chart and what songs to remove (in heavy rotation) once the song had peaked and was moving down. The current Hot 100 holds true to those standards. The 20/50 rule for instance helps provide new material for radio stations instead of songs lingering on the Hot 100 below No. 50.
Some "Chart Beat" readers have suggested using other methods for the chart. But to be a useful tool to the music "business," all sources used must reflect revenue. Interviewing fans for their choices doesn't help if no one profits from it (and as you mentioned fan choices can be manipulated or biased). The effectiveness of Broadcast Data Systems is based on that it not only shows how many times a song is played but also audience size. So if a song is played often enough on high-rated radio stations it not only ranks high on the charts but also increases exposure for the artists' latest releases, which is certainly of interest to the record labels. When radio stations lose their audience that's when they make changes to their playlists or format.
To anyone who complains about how Billboard compiles the charts: don't blame Billboard, blame the music industry. These days radio doesn't take chances on new styles or different sounds fearing they may lose listeners. Record labels benefit by massive advertising of releases to insure a high debut on the album chart. Everything is calculated for success. Even new artists are heavily hyped to almost guarantee an overnight superstar. There is practically no chance of a one-hit wonder anymore or an oddball hit. I believe if they start taking chances again, especially competing to come up with a brand new sound, retail sales would increase. However I applaud Billboard for having the Heatseekers and Independent album charts for at least showing an interest or focus on newer artists.
A few years ago I believe you stated that Billboard would one day use Internet downloads as a source for the Hot 100. I assume the industry has not fully embraced that idea yet since it does not reflect profit at this time.
Richard K. Rogers
Thanks for your spirited defense. Even though the Billboard charts are designed for those in the music business, I know the charts have many fans all over the world. After all, I was one of them long before I started writing my books and, eventually, my print and online columns.
The challenge in having accurate charts is keeping up with ever-changing industry trends and practices. What worked in 1958 didn't work in 1978, and the rules of 1978 weren't applicable to 1998. That's why I suggested that Internet downloads would one day be included in the Hot 100. I don't mean illegal downloads, of course. At this point, it's too early to consider this information when compiling the chart.