Skip to main content

Ask Billboard: How Does The Hot 100 Work?

Readers check in on how the Hot 100's points system ranks songs, the record run of AWOLNATION's "Sail" and the many animals running rampant in current hits.

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to 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


Jack Adams @jackzakalump

@gthot20 How does the Hot 100’s point system work?

Hi Jack,

With Miley Cyrus at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Wrecking Ball,” a song with some of the greatest buzz for a video in quite a while, it seems like a good time for a refresher on how the Hot 100 is tabulated, doesn’t it?

As we wrote in January when YouTube data was added to the Hot 100’s equation: “Generally speaking, our Hot 100 formula targets a ratio of sales (35-45%), airplay (30-40%) and streaming (20-30%).”

Of course, that’s an overall target for 100 songs each week. That mark can change week-to-week. This week, though, the Hot 100 breaks down in line with the formula’s intent: sales, 39%; airplay, 34%; and, streaming, 27%.

And, week-to-week, some songs show largely along those percentages, while others skew noticeably toward any of the chart’s three metrics.

Let’s look at a few, starting with “Wrecking Ball.”

This week, points for the Hot 100’s leader stem 50% from streaming, 43% from sales and just 7% from radio airplay. No surprise: the song drew a whopping 14.3 million U.S. streams in the chart’s tracking week, according to Nielsen BDS. (The No. 2-streamed song, Katy Perry’s “Roar,” garnered 7.3 million.) “Ball” ranks at No. 3 on Digital Songs with 301,000 downloads sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Conversely, as airplay for “Ball” is just beginning, its low Hot 100 points percentage reflects its No. 31 spot on Radio Songs (via 38 million all-format audience impressions, according to BDS).

Last week, which reflected the first week of streaming following the song’s video premiere, the Hot 100 ratio for “Ball” was even more streaming-driven: 64%, streaming; 34%, sales; 2%, airplay. The cut’s monster 36.5 million U.S. streams in the chart’s tracking period produced the high percentage.

Perry’s new digital single “Dark Horse,” featuring Juicy J, meanwhile, has been released as a teaser track from her album “Prism,” due Oct. 22. It’s not being promoted to radio and has no official videoclip. Thus, as it debuts on the Hot 100 at No. 17, an almost monopolizing 99% of its points are from sales; it sold 194,000 downloads in its opening week, good for a No. 4 start on the Digital Songs chart.

The more established “Roar” (No. 2 on the Hot 100), which has been promoted to radio for close to two months and has been accepted at mainstream and adult top 40 and adult contemporary, lines up much closer to the Hot 100’s average ratio: 43%, sales; 31%, airplay; 26%, streaming. It’s No. 1 on Radio Songs (159 million) and No. 2 on Digital Songs (301,000) and Streaming Songs (7.3 million).

Another hit, like Cyrus’, due mostly to streaming, and even more so? Ylvis’ novelty track “The Fox,” which makes tracks running 25-13 as the Hot 100’s top Streaming Gainer this week. With it at No. 3 on Streaming Songs (7.1 million), 75% of its Hot 100 points are from streams. Almost the rest of its sum is from sales; it debuts at No. 22 on Digital Songs with 60,000 in its first week. The song sports almost no airplay, although that could change now that Warner Bros. has begun promoting it to pop radio.

And, a song driven largely by airplay? Maroon 5’s “Love Somebody,” at No. 26 after peaking at No. 10, shows 67% of its points thanks to radio, with 19% from sales and 13% from streaming. As a fourth single from an album that’s been available for a year, it’s logical that sales and streaming lag behind the song’s activity at radio, with the band a consistent presence at pop and adult formats long after the buzz of an album release. It ranks at No. 11 on Radio Songs and No. 59 on Digital Songs (while ranking just inside the 100 most streamed songs of the week).

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to 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,

In its 55th week on the Hot 100, “Sail” by AWOLNATION climbs into the top 20, reaching a new peak at No. 20. If it continues sailing up the chart and eventually hits No. 1, it will mark the longest climb in the chart’s history to the top. Yet, it’s too early to forecast that.

What is not too early to predict is the probability of it breaking another record. Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” holds the mark for the longest stay on the Hot 100: 76 weeks. It seems like “Sail” might not yet have reached its peak. (Imagine Dragons’ smash single “Radioactive” could also beat Mraz’s record but “Sail” could be a better bet, since it’s still rising.)

Do you think “Sail” will make history as the Hot 100’s longest-charting hit?


Rick Thomas
Frankfort, Kentucky

Hi Rick,

We’ve noted that “Sail” is the first song ever to climb to its peak after a year on the chart in the Hot 100’s 55-year history. But, great observation that “Sail” could be in its way to setting another longevity mark.

First, “Radioactive” appears to be a possibility to pass “I’m Yours.” It ranks at No. 14 in its 56th week. After peaking at No. 3 in July, it’s still receiving significant pop, adult and rock airplay and should continue to grace playlists as a “recurrent” (staying in rotation after its peak, as opposed to being dropped from stations’ libraries). This week, it also sold 65,000 downloads and pulled in 2.9 million streams.

More atypical, clearly, is the journey of “Sail,” which could also be a threat to Mraz’s mark. This week, “Sail” becomes one of just 25 songs ever to spend at least 55 weeks on the Hot 100. Of those, only three don’t boast a top 10 peak: Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” (No. 11; 56 weeks), Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” (No. 16, 55 weeks) and “Sail.”

Considering that “Sail” reaches a weekly best in airplay (21 million, up 15%) and sales (77,000) this week and has been in the Streaming Songs’ top 25 since the week of Feb. 16, putting the song on watch to topple Mraz’s record seems smart. Like “Radioactive,” it’ll need to stay on-air and maintain sales and streaming. Unlike “Radioactive,” the song doesn’t have the major crossover support of adult radio. Still, it will score pop and alternative play going forward.

As for how “Sail” has made its lengthy trek up the Hot 100, check out this week’s Billboard magazine (featuring Katy Perry on the cover). A two-page spread covers the song’s more than-two-year timeline on various charts; it first graced Alternative Songs the week of Feb. 19, 2011. Persistent promotion by the Red Bull record label, AWOLNATION’s vigorous touring and TV synchs have helped the song build its story and its record run up the Hot 100.

Not a bad accomplishment for a moody cut that’s hardly similar to current more obviously melodic pop hits.

“Because the song was so left-of-center, a lot of radio programmers pushed back at first,” says Todd Sievers, managing partner at Co5 Music, which handles promotion for Red Bull.

“But, we won them over.”

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to 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


Hi Gary,

Here’s a humorous one (I hope) regarding “Wrecking Ball” topping the Hot 100 and more.

Although Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs represent the only prior occurrence of the word “ball” bouncing to No. 1, with “Sugar Shack” (1963), there was, you might remember, a hip-hop duo called Wreckx-n-Effect that peaked at No. 2 in 1992. Its signature song directly relates to a certain Miley-related phenomenon: “Rump Shaker.”

Also, it’s wild times on the Hot 100. “Gorilla” warfare, you might say: Back in the day, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars traded spots at No. 1 with “Firework” and “Grenade,” respectively. Now, Katy is finding her powerful feline voice in the jungle with “Roar,” while Bruno is singing about having mating habits like our close biological kin, the “Gorilla” (No. 50).

There are other animals currently nesting in the Hot 100’s top 20: “The Fox,” thanks to Ylvis; “Dark Horse,” from Perry; and, the … um … female dog … mentioned by Britney Spears.

On a different note, Bastille’s “Pompeii” ranks at No. 73. I’m thinking that Pompeii must be one of the most ancient cities ever mentioned in a chart hit.

And, thank you and Keith Caulfield so much for the article about “Same Love” peaking at No. 11 on the Hot 100 but still, of course, being a landmark hit in its subject matter. I guess it’s symbolic of not necessarily needing to be part of the mainstream, i.e., the top 10, to be considered a success.

Oh, and if it had peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100, we would’ve had two out Lamberts having peaked at that position: Adam (“Whataya Want From Me”) and Mary, the featured singer on “Same Love.”

Peace … out,

Pablo Nelson
Berkeley, California

Thanks as always, Pablo, for connecting the dots among current hits as only you can!

As for your musical history lesson, “Pompeii” was founded somewhere between the eighth and sixth centuries BC. Is it the oldest city to populate a chart?

Rome was founded around the same time, although evidence of human occupation dates back approximately 14,000 years. No song with Rome in its title has hit the Hot 100, but “Lay Me Down” topped Alternative Songs for 11 weeks in 2010. It’s by the Dirty Heads featuring Rome.

There’s also an album cut from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Ashes and Roses,” which reached No. 16 on Top Country Albums last year. Piano ballad “Jericho” references the city that arose around 10,000 BC. The city may be the oldest continuously occupied in the world.

Not old enough?

Well, K-pop band Big Bang has become a regular on Billboard’s world music charts. And, while it never charted, Barenaked Ladies sing the theme to CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.”

“Nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started,” BNL remind us.

That’s a long time before Pompeii (which, tragically, faced its wrecking ball in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the more recent – compared to the universe’s birth … – 79 AD).