Fred Bronson answers readers' questions about Mariah Carey's gold and platinum future, the King's place on Billboard's country charts, an R. Kelly chart anomaly, and video play in relation to the char
AFTER THE GOLD RUSH?
I am disappointed that the new Mariah Carey song "Through the Rain" isn't making an impact on the charts. However, I'm more disappointed in a scenario I just realized. I don't think Mariah will ever see more platinum-age on her old albums.
I'm not aware of the intricacies of her release from both her Sony or Virgin deals, but I'd assume that both companies retain the back-catalog and reissue rights. As neither company has Mariah under contract, I can't see either one paying to update the certifications on her previous albums, even though we'll probably continue to see her Christmas album, among others, trotted out every year. If so, Mariah's catalog freezing could have a negative effect on her career totals, especially if she makes a comeback and the albums become relevant again. Have you heard anything or have any thoughts on this?
I have to admit, I haven't given any thought to this issue. But your E-mail is a good reminder that Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certifications aren't automatic. Record companies must request and pay for them. Record companies that have lost artists to corporate rivals sometimes still file for gold and platinum certifications -- not to please the artists who are no longer with them, but to enhance the value of their own back catalogues. We'll have to wait and see if Sony or Virgin have any reason to request additional gold and/or platinum certifications for Mariah Carey.
Meanwhile, "Through the Rain" has not appeared on the Hot 100, but it did go to No. 17 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.
A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY, A LITTLE BIT HIP-HOP
With Justin Timberlake at No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and Elvis at No. 4 on the Top Country Albums chart (and not on the R&B chart, despite six No. 1 R&B hits), can you remind us of what the current policies are on placement on the genre-specific album charts? Country seems to be mirroring the The Billboard 200, while R&B/Hip-Hop doesn't, so I trust it monitors specific outlets?
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Sales and airplay data for Billboard's genre-specific charts does not come from the same exact panels that report to the Hot 100 and The Billboard 200. Stores that specialize in specific genres or that sell large amounts of records in specific genres and radio stations that play specific genres of music are employed. If Justin Timberlake is being played on R&B radio, he'll show up on R&B charts (and R&B airplay leads to R&B sales). If Elvis Presley is selling in outlets that cater to country music fans, his album will show up on the country chart.
Billboard's director of charts, Geoff Mayfield, commented on Presley's appearance on the country album charts when "Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits" debuted. Here's what he said: "In case you're scratching your head about Presley's inclusion on the latter, consider that 16 of the 31 songs appeared on the Billboard country singles charts, including 11 that reached the top-5 and seven of Presley's 11 country No. 1s. The new collection becomes his seventh No. 1 country album and the 51st to appear on the list since Top Country Albums bowed in 1964."
A BREAK IN THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM
We all know that Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" was the first song to debut at No. 1 on The Billboard Hot 100, in late summer 1995. Can we say that "I'm Your Angel" by R. Kelly & Celine Dion was the last No. 1 bow in December 1998? During that week Billboard launched the new Hot 100 and, given the new criteria, that song had already been charting for six weeks and made its first appearance that very week.
If this were true, R. Kelly would be the writer and the producer of the first and last No. 1 debut on the Hot 100, a record he is going to hold for quite a long time, I suppose.
Thanks a lot,
Gian Luca Bondiani
This is one of those issues that makes people's heads spin - or at least generates some serious headaches.
"I'm Your Angel" is an anomaly. As explained before in this column, the song did not appear on the Hot 100 dated Nov. 28, 1998. The next week, with new rules, the song was listed at No. 1, and at No. 46 the week before. That's because Billboard had been running a test chart using the new criteria for months, and the numbers from the previous week's test chart appeared in the "Last Week" column.
As "I'm Your Angel" did not really advance 46-1, I suppose we have to call it a No. 1 debut, though I would prefer to go lie down and pretend this never happened.
SHOULD VIDEO HELP THE RADIO STAR?
I remember when you answered a question about why Billboard should not count video play [when compiling] the Hot 100, leaving it up to sales and airplay only. One of the reasons you pointed was that not all songs have videos -- so it would be kind of unfair to let only a number of songs to benefit from it.
Well, now the situation has changed so much that almost no song has sales points -- and even if one does, it does not guarantee that it will even burst onto the top-40 of the Hot 100. I'm not getting into the discussion of whether radio stations do play what they want or what their listeners want -- but isn't it time for Billboard to count video and club play to define the most popular songs of the country? I mean, you can't say that a song that rockets to No. 1 on [MTV's "Totally Request Live"] TRL is not popular, since it's chosen by the fans and the albums from which these songs come do sell and storm the top-10 of The Billboard 200.
Some fine examples would be the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears. They have been cold on the radio for the last year, with hardly any of their singles reaching the top-40 portion of the Hot 100. But the last album of new material from the Backstreet Boys sold some million copies, didn't it? Also, the last album from Britney did sell less than her other albums, but it also did sell more than a million copies while it has spawned only one top-40 Billboard hit, which stopped at No. 27 ("I'm a Slave 4 U").
I guess it's pretty obvious that all those albums would not be selling so much if these artists didn't have a strong fan base behind them, but we can't ignore the fact that their videos reaching No. 1 on music channels helped them pass the one million mark. Even Billboard admits that some TV events like the Grammys or the Billboard Awards itself helps promotion -- and so does the videoplay. Now, since only a limited number of songs are commercially released and they can benefit from sales points, I guess that it doesn't matter whether a song has a video or not -- you can't say it would be unfair since it would be unfair to airplay-only singles to compete with airplay hits which also may have sales points to make them leap on the charts.
I hope you understand I'm not bashing the radio or a fan of any artist who's been cold on the Hot 100 lately. My only point is that I don't see the Hot 100 measuring the popularity of songs in the U.S. so well when we have artists selling well partly due to videoplay, but their singles flop on the charts simply because radio decided they're not that nice and that's not what their target audience wants to hear.
Thank you in advance.
The issue of whether video airplay should be included when the Hot 100 is compiled is definitely one for our chart department to decide, so I forwarded your question to our director of charts, Geoff Mayfield. Here's what he had to say:
"Billboard is always open to expanding its pool of chart resources. Beyond that, the chart department is concerned about labels' abandonment of the retail-available single and the impact that trend has had on curbing the authority of singles sales data.
It is quite possible that at some point we would consider using video play from the music channels that are monitored by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems as fodder for a chart. Although labels have balked in the past at making video play an ingredient of Billboard's Hot 100, I have learned to never say never. There may be a day when we could consider doing that.
As for a TRL-styled poll, we'd be less interested, as phone-in polls are prone to manipulation, either by a fan club or a record company. That said, we always keep our eyes open for avenues that will allow us to gauge the public's tastes.
As far as what radio will and will not play, broadcasting is a competitive business. Programmers decide what they will and won't play based on the songs they think their listeners will want to hear and are not liable to be swayed by whether an artist is naughty or nice. If a scoundrel records a bonafide hit, and a music director is certain that the station's target audience wants to hear that scoundrel's song, they will play it because of the fear that a competing station will fetch an audience by playing that song.
When it comes to whether a station will add a song or not, programmers cannot worry about what impact their playlists might have on the charts, and which artists they do or do not like. The bottom line is that the station wants to find, keep, and please its audience and will play the music that management thinks will achieve that goal."