I’ve been watching the feedback online regarding the Billboard chart policy changes that went into affect today. If you’re unaware of these changes, you can read this. An excerpt:
“Billboard unveils new methodology today for the long-standing Hot Country Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Latin Songs charts. Each receive a major consumer-influenced face-lift, as digital download sales (tracked by Nielsen SoundScan) and streaming data (tracked by Nielsen BDS from such services as Spotify, Muve, Slacker, Rhapsody, Rdio and Xbox Music, among others) will now be factored into the 50-position rankings, along with existing radio airplay data monitored by Nielsen BDS. The makeovers will enable these charts to match the methodology applied to Billboard’s signature all-genre songs ranking, the Billboard Hot 100.”
While we discussed these changes at length with the music industry, and the feedback from that quarter has been supportive, there is some confusion — and yes, occasional foaming-at-the-mouth outrage — from fan camps who have seen some of their favorite stars drop down the charts. I hear you, fans, and I’m really gratified that our charts are so very meaningful to you. I wanted to take a few minutes to engage on your points, which seem to fall into a couple of baskets. If you’d like we could schedule a Google Hangout to discuss this further. I really love the dialogue.
Basket 1: I really like Brandy, and she just dropped from no. 3 to no. 16 on your Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart
Obviously, this isn’t just about Brandy. And if it is, for you, let me assure you, I really like Brandy too! I had a chance to speak with her at the Billboard Music Awards afterparty in May, and I assure you, I walked away thinking there couldn’t possibly be a more lovely person.
But here’s the way I think about this: the former R&B/Hip-Hop Chart was effectively 100 percent based on radio. And basing the primary chart on radio play only feels out of touch with what’s actually happening with music. The fans have no direct voice with radio. It’s a push format — someone else decides what you’re going to listen to, and with what frequency. Are those of you upset about this rule change suggesting that what fans are streaming on Spotify or buying at iTunes shouldn’t count? Fans have the power today — more than they have ever had in the history of the recorded music business — and these chart changes honor that reality, above all else.
Basket 2: Now the country chart will only ever be topped by Tay Tay
Alternate Basket 2: Now the R&B chart will only ever be topped by Ri Ri
I have empathy for fans of deeper genre cuts that will likely slide down the charts a bit, to make room for the juggernaut digital-track sales of more mainstream stars. This week, for example, Taylor Swift’s “Red” debuts at no. 2 on the Country Songs chart, based largely on the strength of her digital downloads.
Truth? A hit doesn’t just look like one thing anymore. Mumford and Sons are getting some nice Triple A and Alt Rock radio play, but they are setting streaming records on Spotify. That’s a hit. Psy – like Cee-Lo before him — launched a song that was viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube before radio ever touched it. That’s a hit. And if an established country act like Taylor Swift releases a song like “Red” that sounds like a country song, and that becomes the no. 2 selling digital track in the U.S., well that song is a hit, and yes, by our standards, a country hit, also. Radio remains an important part of the equation, but it’s no longer the only part. A song isn’t a genre hit ONLY if that genre’s radio stations decide or are incentivized to play it.
3. But I love Carrie Underwood so much that it makes me hate anything that’s good for Taylor Swift, even if it’s only good for Taylor Swift in the short term and, at some point, will almost certainly be good for Carrie Underwood also.
I suggest a deep breath and some therapy. I like chocolate (vegan) ice cream. It’s never once made me launch a campaign against vanilla. Why can’t we all just get along?
4. Psy as the top rap track?! You are a racist who is trying to gentrify the rap charts.
I’ll spare you my rap cred, and say this: every week, Billboard makes dozens of calls about the various charts a song should be eligible for. Take dance: what makes a track a dance track? Is it the BPM? Is it “electronic sounds”? Is it “I don’t know, man, this just sounds like a dance track”? What is a song that is a ballad but then has an electro chorus? The point is: We make these calls. We’ve been doing it for 50+ years. We’ll make a bunch more next week. We take it very seriously. We work at codifying the process, so that anyone who assumes the job of a genre chart manager can inherit guidelines for making these decisions.
As for Psy, if you Google “Psy” and “rapper” you get millions of hits. No less an authority than Wikipedia identifies him this way: ” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psy_ (rapper)”. So we’re not going out on a limb here. In fact, I’d ask this: how is it anything but racist to exclude Psy from the rap chart?
I’m always happy to engage further. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to take part in a Google Hangout on the topic. If there’s demand, we’ll get one scheduled. Thanks for reading!
Bill Werde is Billboard’s editorial director.