Chart Beat Chat

Fred and his readers discuss Eurovision, "American Idol," "U" and more!


Dear Fred:

Although I am a chart aficionado, this is the first time I have written. Logging on to iTunes this morning, I see that the producers of "American Idol" have released 10 tracks from each of the [top two] finalists, Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks. While we all expected Sparks' "This Is My Now" to be available (and debut at No. 1 very soon), I am curious about the possibility that with enough downloads, Sparks and Lewis could achieve three, five, seven or maybe 10 entries into the Hot 100 all at the same time.

The tracks are available on iTunes and had been previously available through the "American Idol" online digital store. Thus, they are not exclusive, which leads me to wonder if I am interpreting the chart methodology correctly and are we on the verge of Hot 100 history? If so, I wonder how chart purists will feel?

Great column, enjoy it each and every week!

Mike Ward
Carnation, Wash.

Dear Mike,

We'll have to wait until next Thursday [May 31] to find out how the Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis tracks chart, but what you suggest is a possibility -- a remote possibility, for reasons I'll explain.

True, you can purchase 10 tracks by Sparks and 10 tracks by Lewis on iTunes. But five of those tracks for each artist are bundled together as an EP (the term once stood for Extended Play, and indicates a product longer than a single but shorter than an album). Each EP purchased will count as one EP sold and not as five singles, so EP sales won't be eligible for the Hot Digital Songs chart or the Hot 100. Because the EPs are exclusive to iTunes, they won't be eligible for the Hot 100 either. They can chart on the Billboard Comprehensive Albums chart, and Top Digital Albums (EPs chart on our album tallies, not our singles charts).

When individual tracks are purchased -- that is, if someone buys four or fewer tracks from an EP, they count as singles.

It will be difficult for all of the tracks on the EP to chart individually, as many people will be purchasing the entire EP. It's just 24 hours after the finale as I write this, and both EPs are already in the iTunes album top 10.

In the past, the singles by the top two "Idols" have performed well on the charts because of massive sales of physical singles. Since Jordin's "This Is My Now" and Blake's "You Give Love a Bad Name" are both only available digitally at the moment, they may not debut as high as previous singles by Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Diana DeGarmo, Carrie Underwood, Bo Bice, Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee. But they might! One thing is certain -- I'll have a lot to write about in next week's Chart Beat.


Hi Fred,

Love your column and have a question for you. Do only digital downloads in the United States count toward the Billboard charts? Is there a mechanism in place to determine whether a digital download was paid for by someone in the United States or in the rest of the world? Or maybe it doesn't matter (though I think it should)? Thanks.

Ricky Costa
Miami Beach, Fla.

Dear Ricky,

It does matter, because the Billboard charts measure domestic sales only (with the exception of some specific international charts, two of which are noted below). And there is definitely a way for Nielsen SoundScan to determine where the purchaser is based. Sales are tied to your zip code. Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst for Billboard adds, "Sales in other territories are tracked by another related platform, Nielsen SoundScan International, which already provides us with our Euro Digital Tracks and Canada Digital Songs charts in Hits of the World.



It seems that every time I e-mail you it's always about my favorite group, Erasure. Vince [Clarke] and Andy [Bell] just released their latest album "Light at the End of the World" and of course I went out and picked it up the day it was released. After I purchased my copy from Best Buy I noticed that it was the European version (with European catalog number and a "Made in Holland" sticker), but on top of the the bar code was a sticker with another bar code and the U.S. catalog number. After going to the forums at their website, I discovered that a lot of people have purchased this version.

Even though the album is technically an import, will it be eligible to chart in the United States? I would hate for the album to not chart as high because a lot of the fans purchased an import version. Can you shed any "light" on the situation?

Thanks for all you do,

Nick Oswald
Muscatine, Iowa

Dear Nick,

First things first: your purchase will count for the Billboard charts. The Mute label has released the import version in the United States as a "limited edition" CD with two bonus tracks. Instead of manufacturing new copies for sale domestically, the label simply restickered copies made in Europe with an American bar code. There's nothing wrong with that.

Reviews of the bonus tracks are enthusiastic, so it might be worth seeking out this "limited edition" version, especially for Erasure fans.


Hello there Fred!

I hope you had a great time during the Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki. I followed the contest during the whole week, but I must say that I was VERY disappointed with the outcome. Don't get me wrong, I've been in love with the Serbian song ever since the first time I heard it, and [Marija Serifovic] gave an amazing performance. I was satisfied with her winning, and Russia being in third place. But the rest of the top 15 was, in my opinion, very disappointing. The Ukrainian act was a little bit fun, I admit, but to me that's not even music. And there were many acts this year who played in the same league.

It feels like the contest has taken a radical turn these last five years, turning into a show and neighborly voting contest instead of a song contest. I feel like there should be some changes made. For instance, some sort of jury should have the power to affect the result, and there should be two semi-finals instead of one.

Do you think that the contest has reached a very low point, or do you think it's better than ever? Personally, I think it's good that Eastern European countries are entering a new era of music because of Eurovision. But still, I'm frustrated that so many [Western] European acts get so few points.

Is it time to split the competition into a Western and Eastern one? I think so. We don't have the same taste in music as they have, so of course they vote for the music they listen to normally. Maybe it's not neighborly voting, maybe it's just voting for what they think is good music?

Last, I would like to hear your opinion on the Swedish act the Ark, and their future after this competition. They placed 18th, which to me was very unfair. I think they're ready to take on the world. What do you think?

Have a great summer!

Johanna Friis

Dear Johanna,

Let's start with the Ark. I have been a fan of the group long before they decided to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. Their entry, "The Worrying Kind," sounded like every '70s single released on the Bell label in the United Kingdom, rolled into one, with some Roy Wood and T-Rex thrown in.

That made me think the Ark was going to score well with British viewers, perhaps even earning 12 points from the United Kingdom, the maximum score. But Sweden only received seven points from BBC viewers. That tells you something.

Despite the low placing, I don't think the Ark will suffer. The group's music deserves a wide hearing, and the new album, "Prayer for the Weekend," stands on its own, separate from the Eurovision Song Contest.
And speaking of Eurovision, every year brings a handful of great songs, some mediocre tunes, and a few really bad songs. This year was no different, and the quality of the really great songs was as high as ever. Like you, I singled out the Serbian entry, "Molitva," even before I went to Helsinki, so I was very happy that Marija Serifovic prevailed.

There's another thing you can count on every year: despite any neighborly voting, the top two songs usually have broad appeal all throughout the European Broadcasting Union. That was true this year of Serbia and runner-up Ukraine.

In fact, if you look at the scores of the Western European countries, they gave plenty of points to the Eastern European countries.

I think a lot of xenophobia has come into play since this year's Eurovision. As an EBU official pointed out, the Eastern European countries started participating in Eurovision in 1993. None of them claimed victory between 1993-2001, and no one complained. Now that the Eastern European countries are doing better, the Western European countries are upset.

I think splitting the contest into two separate contests will mean the end of Eurovision. I think if a lot of Western countries pull out, that will also spell the end of Eurovision. What might be better is for the Western countries to take the contest more seriously (granted, Sweden does) and to send better songs (again, not talking about Sweden here). That's what the Eastern European countries have done.

As for countries voting for their neighbors, I honestly don't think it's a case of a viewer saying, "I live next door to Lithuania, so I'm going to vote for them." I think it's more a case of music from Lithuania is similar enough to music from neighboring Latvia that Latvians are pre-disposed to liking music from Lithuania (and so on, throughout Europe). This makes it tough on countries without neighbors, such as Malta, but Malta did come in second two years ago.

The EBU has announced that there will be two semi-finals, starting in 2009. That means every country will enter the semi-final and the top 10 from each will go into the final. It is not yet determined if the "big four" countries (England, Spain, France and Germany) will still pre-qualify for the final. Each participating nation contributes to the overall budget of the live broadcast, and since the "big four" contribute the most, it's not financially possible to bring the show in on budget unless all four are participating.


Hi Fred,

Delighted you mentioned Ms. Gudmundsdottir [Bjork] and that she now has a chart span on The Billboard 200 of 13 years, nine months and four weeks. This, of course, is for her solo work. If you count her work with the Sugarcubes, she debuted on the chart dated June 18, 1988, giving her a chart span of 18 years, 11 months.

Dougie Kelly

Dear Dougie,

It's true, and I should have noted how the Sugarcubes' chart history affected Bjork's album span. Thanks for giving Bjork her due!


"Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')" is the fifth Hot 100 chart-topper to use the capital letter "U" in place of the word "you" in its title. The first song to do this was Sinead O'Connor's version of the Prince-penned "Nothing Compares 2 U" in 1990. Then, in 1996, 2-Pac featuring K-Ci and JoJo hit No. 1 with "How Do U Want It." The other two were both by an artist whose name starts with "U," Usher, who hit No. 1 twice in 2001, first with "U Remind Me" and then with "U Got It Bad."

Jeff Lerner
Long Island, N.Y.

Dear Jeff,

So it's a case of U5?

I don't think we've seen the end of this trend. Do u?


Dear Fred,

How come at least some of Bon Jovi's songs weren't eligible to re-enter the Hot 100? Several of them clearly would have had positions in the top 40 or so of the chart after Jon Bon Jovi's "American Idol" week! There were several mostly sales-driven songs that he beat out in sales that were in the 30-50 range of the Hot 100. Did they need to break their peak position from the original chart? There was the one that LaKisha sang that never charted, yet went recurrent.

Mike Lyons
Menomonee Falls, Wisc.
(within walking distance of Joel Whitburn's office!)

Dear Mike,

Does that mean you don't have to pay shipping when you order books from Joel Whitburn?

The Bon Jovi songs you refer to were not eligible to return to the Hot 100 because they were not current songs, and all had charted previously. That includes Lakisha's choice of "This Ain't a Love Song," which peaked at No. 14 in 1995.

Older hits cannot re-enter the Hot 100 unless they are being newly promoted by their labels to radio, such as when Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was featured in the soundtrack of "Wayne's World." That restriction does not apply to Hot Digital Songs, which is why all of those Bon Jovi songs were able to chart after being performed on "American Idol."