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Ask Billboard: How Popular Is Country Music?

With school back in session, Ask Billboard heads to the classroom to examine the factors that account for country's standing in current music.

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Hey there Gary,

I am writing my thesis about music in advertising. I am trying to make the point that country music is popular in relation to other genres, such as rock, pop, and hip-hop. I took a look at billboard.com and saw the Hot 100, and I noticed that there are a number of country acts on the chart.


I’m having a hard time coming up with a way to say how popular country truly is. I need to do it via comparison. I don’t know if I should assume that hip-hop is the most popular genre these days, since, in looking at the Hot 100, it seems that that might be the case. Obviously, I can’t just look at the chart once and start making assumptions. Perhaps you already have breakdowns of this type of information.

Am I making any sense? I’ve been reading all day, and I think my brain is mush at this point. And, I need massive chocolate.

Thanks for any insight you can provide,

Dawn Behnken

Penn State University
Master’s candidate, Media Studies

Hi Dawn,

Sounds like you’ve plunged right into the new school year. Summer vacation must feel like a long time ago …

Looking at the number of country songs on the Hot 100 is one way to gauge popularity of the format, since the chart ranks the top 100 songs across all genres each week. This week, 21 country songs appear on the tally, a number that is consistent with recent times. In comparison, 29 songs on the current Hot 100 have charted on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and 14 have reached any of Billboard’s rock airplay charts.

Ultimately, there is simply no one way to measure country’s standing among other formats, so the more statistics and comparisons the better.

In addition to the Hot 100, we could also analyze the Billboard 200. This week, 35 of the 200 charted titles also appear on the Country Albums chart, a 17.5 percentage that’s in line with country’s 21% share of this week’s Hot 100.

Looking through a wider window, we can examine Nielsen SoundScan’s breakdown of album sales by genre year-to-date. This year, through the week ending Sept. 27, 256.5 million albums (digital and physical) albums have been sold. 30.3 million of those are categorized as country, making for a 12% format share for the genre among all albums sold in the U.S. this year. By comparison in that span, rock albums account for 34% of overall album sales, and R&B/hip-hop albums hold a 20% format share.

In terms of radio airplay, country is by far the most popular music format in the U.S. According to Inside Radio, as of August, 2,014 stations were programming country. 1,323 offered rock, including alternative and classic rock, 516 were spinning pop/top 40, and 364 were playing R&B/hip-hop, including adult R&B and R&B oldies. (A notable exception to the country format’s reach, however, is the nation’s top media market, New York, where not one commercial signal programs country to the metro’s 16.9 million available listeners).

Judging by recent pop culture buzz, country music is thriving. Taylor Swift last month became the first country artist ever to win an MTV Video Music Award, and her “You Belong With Me” is the first country crossover to top Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay since the Billboard radio chart began incorporating Nielsen BDS-monitored data in 1990. Last year, her “Love Story” similarly became the first country title to reign on the Pop Songs survey.

I hope this information helps in your research. Please let me know. (If it does, I may start referring to my ‘honorary degree’ from Penn State …)


Hi Gary,

Miley Cyrus‘ “Party in the U.S.A.” rebounds 4-1 on Digital Songs, and Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” remains at No. 1 on Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay. However, the Black Eyed Peas‘ “I Gotta Feeling” continues on its record-breaking course at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

What gives? How can a song that’s not No. 1 on either Hot 100 component chart still lead the big chart?


Buzz Seegert

Hi Buzz,

This week and last week, when Jay-Z and Alicia Keys‘ “Empire State of Mind” topped Digital Songs, mark the first weeks since Jan. 10 that the No. 1 song on the Hot 100 did not concurrently lead either Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay or Digital Songs. On Jan. 10, Beyonce‘s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” spent its fourth and final frame atop the Hot 100, T.I.‘s “Live Your Life” led Radio Songs and Lady Gaga‘s “Just Dance” ruled Digital Songs.

While not commonplace, it’s not extremely rare for three titles to lead the three charts simultaneously. Such parity occurred in eight chart weeks last year, four in 2007, 11 in 2006 and one in 2005, the first year that Digital Songs data began contributing to the Hot 100.

So, how can a song lead the Hot 100 but not be the most-heard or most-purchased in a given week? The Hot 100’s formula combines airplay and sales, as well as a sliver of streaming data. Thus, a title needs only its overall chart points to be the highest, not necessarily any one ingredient. A song’s Hot 100 points total is, simply, equal to the sum of its parts.

This week, the Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” commands the Hot 100 thanks to a No. 2 ranking on Radio Songs (114 million audience impressions) and a No. 3 placement on Digital Songs (139,000 downloads sold).

Those totals are enough to place the song ahead of Hot 100 runner-up “Down” by Jay Sean, which bullets at No. 3 on Radio Songs (108 million in audience) and No. 5 on Digital Songs (134,000 downloads).

Cyrus’ title did sell more than “I Gotta Feeling,” reclaiming No. 1 on Digital Songs (182,000), but its lesser amount of airplay – it ranks at No. 12 (55 million) on Radio Songs – places it at No. 3 on the Hot 100.

Swift’s song maintains its hold at No. 1 on Radio Songs (118 million) but dips 4-6 on the Hot 100 as it descends 9-11 (73,000) on Digital Songs.


Hi Gary,

First of all, thanks for giving us the opportunity to ask questions and for all your efforts in answering them.

I have a couple of questions regarding Juanes’ recent concert in Cuba.

Could you please provide SoundScan information for Juanes, Olga Tanon and Miguel Bose (probably the three best-known participants), and if there was any impact on their album sales this past week?

Again, thank you,

Fernando Jerez
Havana, Cuba

Hi Fernando,

Billboard has provided extensive coverage of the Sept. 20 Paz Sin Fronteras (Peace Without Borders) concert.

As Billboard reported Sept. 21, “Miguel Bose announced the crowd size at 1.15 million – which would be one of every 10 Cubans. It was impossible to independently verify that number, but Juanes’ visit to Cuba was clearly the biggest by an outsider since Pope John Paul II’s 1998 tour.”

The show’s success did translate to modest album sales gains in the U.S. for Juanes, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Following the concert, his top U.S.-seller, 2002’s “Un Dia Normal,” registered its highest sales week since January. His most recent album, 2007’s “La Vida … Es Un Ratico,” this week logged its highest sales sum since June.

Such notable sales gains were not evident for Tanon or Bose in the same tracking period in the U.S.

Overall, according to Nielsen SoundScan, Juanes has sold 1,809,000 albums in the U.S. Tanon has sold 1,257,000, and Bose has shifted 398,000.

More important, of course, than any sales numbers, is the lasting cultural impact of the event.

Said Juanes after the concert, “For me, to see more than a million people experiencing happiness, love and peace is incredibly powerful.

“What happens in politics is people become divided. With music, we are all the same. Music is for everybody.”

LADIES OF THE ’80s, AND ’90s

Hi Gary,

I noticed you’ve been keeping a tally on divas, such as Whitney Houston, Madonna and Janet Jackson, all of whom rose to stardom in the ’80s. I was wondering if you could offer any sales rankings and chart feats of female singers who arrived in the ’90s, such as Brandy, Monica, Mya, and the late Aaliyah. Among them, who’s leading the pack?


Carl Kennedy
Baltimore, Maryland

Hi Carl,

Here are how the divas (divettes?) that you mention rank in career album sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan:

8,621,000, Brandy
8,151,000, Aaliyah
4,809,000, Monica
3,211,000, Mya

On the Billboard Hot 100, Brandy has charted 17 entries, Aaliyah and Monica 14 each and Mya 12. Aaliyah and Mya have notched one No. 1 apiece, Brandy two and Monica three. The latter two sums include Brandy and Monica’s duet “The Boy Is Mine,” which led the Hot 100 for 13 weeks in 1998.


Happy birthday to both Sting (58) and Tiffany (38) today. Aside from birthdays (and singular recording names), the artists share a quirky chart achievement: each has enjoyed a top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a song entitled “All This Time.” Tiffany’s ballad, written by Tim James and Steven McClintock, reached No. 6 in 1989, and Sting’s self-written song of the same name peaked at No. 5 in 1991.

Both artists also have ample reasons to celebrate. Tiffany has found herself generating buzz in the indie film scene of late with Deborah Gibson. (The two even performed on the same bill, with fellow ’80s hitmakers Rick Astley and Samantha Fox, in Quebec in April).

Just in time for the holidays, Sting releases “If on a Winter’s Night,” a collection of folk songs, lullabies and seasonal tracks, Oct. 27.