When Lil Nas X self-released “Old Town Road” on Dec. 3, 2018, he marked it as a country song in the track metadata that streaming services use. “It’s a country trap song,” he now says firmly. “But once you take a look at it, I feel like it leans more toward country. Of course it’s easier to get seen [as a rap song], but I didn’t expect to see it on any chart. It’s not like my music was selling prior to it coming out.”
Billboard uses the genre tags provided by content creators as guidelines, and the charts team initially tracked “Old Town Road” as it had been listed. In March, as the song began to gain velocity on the charts -- aided by escalating video views from TikTok -- Billboard’s team examined the song more closely. “The charts team reviews titles each week as they’re released, as they gain in popularity and start to populate our various sales and streaming data feeds, which we receive from Nielsen Music,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s senior vp charts and data development, who adds that even in the streaming era, genre-specific charts remain “reflective of how the music industry markets and promotes music, as well as how fans consume and gravitate” to it. (Digital services may not offer genre charts, but genre-driven playlists like Spotify’s Rap Caviar have unquestionable power.) Pietroluongo calls Billboard’s genre charts “an [organizational] tool to help the industry and consumer slice through data,” adding that his team determines genre after looking at an artist’s chart history, listening to the song, looking at streaming services and examining how and where the label is promoting and marketing the song.