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Ask Billboard: A Whole Lotta ‘Shake’-in’ Going On

Readers share thoughts on YouTube data joining the Hot 100, Baauer's big points lead at No. 1 and the sales of the original 'American Idol.'

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20


Hello Gary,

I’m writing you to express my deepest disappointment about the recent change in the Billboard Hot 100’s chart methodology to include YouTube data.

It’s true that with the rise of social media it is indispensible to have YouTube added to the chart’s calculation, but you have given YouTube nearly complete power to control it. This power comes in the form that every video that has the song in it will be counted for overall streaming and chart points. They shouldn’t, because what’s popular is the video, not the song.

Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” is popular, indeed, but the 100 million YouTube views it’s generated each of the past two weeks are mainly from a 30-second meme, not the song. It’s foolish to think that for that reason that the song is somehow popular.

The Hot 100 has become a puppet of YouTube and it’s really sad that after years of hits, and an impeccable legacy, this is being washed down the toilet by foolish decision-making by the Billboard staff. What will be the difference between the Hot 100 and a  YouTube ranking? Barely none.

I am really hoping you rectify this. Thirty seconds cannot count as a complete stream of a song … because it ain’t.


Rodrigo Zaldivar

Hi Rodrigo,

The decision to add YouTube streaming data (from users only in the U.S.) into the Hot 100’s formula hasn’t been without controversy. But, I think few would argue, as you concede, that YouTube is clearly a key indicator of music popularity now.

Certainly there’s the question of whether a 30-second video (by the thousands, in the case of “Shake”) that features audio of a song should count equally as that song’s complete video. I know that the possibility of weighting user-generated videos less – an extremely valid stance, certainly – remains a point of much discussion among the ultimate decision-makers in Billboard’s chart and edit departments, so surely the topic will be under review and discussion going forward.

Ultimately, Billboard editorial director Bill Werde summed up Billboard’s thinking in a “Letter from the Editor” published in last week’s print issue (dated March 2). That week, “Shake” debuted atop the Hot 100 concurrent with the addition of YouTube data to the chart (and to Hot Country Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, R&B Songs, Rap Songs, Hot Rock Songs and Hot Latin Songs). “The timing of ‘Shake’ is a bit of a gift and a curse,” Werde wrote. “I’m thrilled we have this immediate example of how responsive the Hot 100 is now to hits on any platform. But the staggering, singular furor of activity around the viral phenomenon actually doesn’t represent what will happen in a typical week. Generally speaking, our Hot 100 formula  targets a ratio of sales (35-45%), airplay (30-40%) and streaming (20-30%).” [The current splits for “Shake” are 89% streaming, 11% sales and less than 1% airplay.]

In citing PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” which possibly could’ve topped the Hot 100 with the inclusion of YouTube data but instead peaked at No. 2 last year behind Maroon 5’s “One More Night,” Werde specifically addressed 30-second memes as they relate to measuring fans’ engagement with songs on the Hot 100. I.e., if people take the time to record a video featuring a song, doesn’t that clearly reflect a level of interest in that song, perhaps regardless of the length of the song used? “Some ask why we would include the 30 seconds of ‘Shake’ as a play that should count. There is some technological logic, such as the already existent inclusion of Spotify streams or radio mixshow plays that all can count with much less than the full song. As well, YouTube and other companies are matching the rights on these Baauer plays so that advertising revenue shares can be paid to the rights holders.

“But perhaps most important?” Werde concluded about “Shake,” “It’s a hit! It’s fairly obvious that no other song was more listened to or discussed last week.”

In the future, who’s to say now what other data fields will factor into the Hot 100? While sales and airplay had been the chart’s two components for decades prior  to the addition of streaming, jukebox plays once factored into the equation. As long as music is consumed, the ways in which it is should be under consideration for Hot 100 tabulation.

In a recent charts department back-and-forth, the comment was made that “Happy Birthday” is perhaps the most popular song each week, as it’s sung at countless parties around the world (and in the U.S., per the Hot 100’s scope). There’s just not one recorded version, though, being played at those parties. If there were, and, more importantly, if Nielsen could monitor homes across the country, would it make sense to include those plays in the Hot 100? (Our poor Nielsen colleagues would probably have to bring a present each time, though. That would only be right.)

Essentially, then, could the Hot 100 expand to further platforms? Would it make sense to, include, say, plays of songs at sporting events, where up to 60,000 or more fans hear them? Or, if an act plays a song in concert at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000, would that reach not be worthy of measurement? Those fans paid perhaps hundreds of dollars to hear it. And, how about TV reach? We note when a show like HBO’s “Girls” features a song like Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and how that translates to radio play and sales. But, what about the more than 1 million people who watched the show and heard the song that night. Should (and, how would) that reach be counted? And, how about weekly plays of songs in your iPod? Or, tape … record … or … 8-track collections?

To how far, ultimately, should (or, more logically, could) the Hot 100 extent of measurement expand?

Please feel free to weigh in in the comments section below or by e-mailing askbb@billboard.com.

Ultimately, I’d guess that the Hot 100 of the future will, and should, be more even more inclusive than it is now. The addition of YouTube data, regardless of any tweaks decided going forward, seems like a clearly logical latest step.

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20


@gthot20 Here’s a good question for Chart Beat. Does Harlem Shake have the biggest point lead by any #1 hit? It’s mindboggling.

Garrett @MagnumArtero12

Hi Garrett,

As noted the last two weeks in our Wednesday Hot 100 news stories, Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” has accrued three-and-a-half-times as many overall chart points as runner-up “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Wanz. (Under the Hot 100’s formula, total sales, streams and sales contribute to an overall points sum buy which the chart’s titles are ranked.)

So, it’s actually more logical to compare instances where the Hot 100’s top song has boasted a lead of approximately three times as many points as the No. 2 track, as opposed to a pure points lead. And, we need to stick to the 21 years in which Nielsen BDS airplay (and, now streaming, too) and Nielsen SoundScan sales data has powered the chart, as before the chart’s Nov. 30, 1991, adoption of Nielsen figures, chart methodology simply isn’t comparable. (Before then, radio stations and retailers submitted ranked reports, so there was no way to gauge the true depths of differences between titles.)

Scanning the past two decades, three other cases stand out where the percentage gap between the Hot 100’s top two songs was as large, or larger, as that between “Shake” and “Shop” the past two weeks. And, both, like now, involved monster pop culture smashes at No. 1.

In 1992-93, for multiple weeks of its 14-week command, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” sported a lead of approximately three times as many chart points as the No. 2 songs. The not-so-close challengers in those frames? ’90s R&B flashback alert: Shai’s “If I Ever Fall in Love” and Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker.”

Five years later, Elton John’s tribute to the late Princess Diana, “Candle in the Wind 1997,” backed with “Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” likewise racked a 14-week reign. It blocked Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna…,” which peaked at No. 2 for seven weeks, from the summit by a large spread in that span, including a massive lead of more than six times as many points the week of Oct. 18, 1997. That week, “Candle” sold an incredible 1.2 million physical singles, according to Nielsen SoundScan, as fans memorialized Diana’s passing.

And, 15 years ago this week, Celine Dion bowed atop the Hot 100 with “My Heart Will Go On.” The love theme from “Titanic” seemed like it would … never … let … go … of No. 1, leading the No. 2 song, again by Usher, “Nice & Slow” (which had already led for two weeks by then), with about three times as many points.

So, the current huge points lead that “Harlem Shake” is showing over “Thrift Shop” is rare, but not unprecedented. And, considering John’s lead the week of Oct. 18, 1997, it’s only about half as big a difference as we’ve seen before.

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20


Hey Gary!

With all the recent attention that Kelly Clarkson’s been receiving due to the controversy surrounding her and Clive Davis, as well as her Grammy win for best pop vocal album for “Stronger” (which seems to have been overshadowed), I was wondering how her sales have varied from album to album.

All the best,

Aaron Aceves
Los Angeles, California

Hi Aaron,

For all the details regarding Clarkson and Davis’ public differences of opinion, click here.

And, click here for details on new music she premiered this past week in Nashville.

In the meantime, as the current season of “American Idol” finds Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey whittling down the field to the top contestants, let’s look at the career U.S. sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan, of the show’s original champion in 2002.

Here are Clarkson’s album sales:

2,771,000, “Thankful” (2003)
6,279,000, “Breakaway” (2004)
837,000, “My December” (2007)
966,000, “All I Ever Wanted’ (2009)
1,035,000, “Stronger” (2011)
16,000, “iTunes Session” (EP) (2012)
298,000, “Greatest Hits: Chapter One” (2012)

Also, here are her top-selling digital singles, the 11 of which have hit at least 1 million in sales:

4,195,000, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

2,702,000, “My Life Would Suck Without You”
2,597,000, “Since U Been Gone”
1,850,000, “Breakaway”
1,845,000, “Already Gone”
1,803,000, “Because of You”
1,753,000, “Mr. Know It All”
1,508,000, “Behind These Hazel Eyes”
1,224,000, “Walk Away”
1,179,000, “Never Again”
1,066,000, “Catch My Breath”

Back to her album sales, Clarkson has sold 12,222,000 albums over her career in the U.S. Per many chart-watchers’ favorite comparison (and even with one more studio album and a best-of collection released), she trails Carrie Underwood as the best-selling “Idol” alum.

Underwood’s career U.S. sales sum stands at 14,127,000.