No TV show ever impacted Billboard‘s charts like Glee.
In fact, few music acts overall have reached the chart heights that Glee did in its six-year run.
The Fox show’s likable cast arrived as wide-eyed chart freshmen and leaves with honors befitting those of a valedictorian.
(Actually, the academic metaphors probably aren’t that appropriate, since we almost never saw the McKinley High students in class …)
Perhaps best of all, Glee forged its historic path thank to a uniquely innovative template.
The Glee cast made its first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 dated June 6, 2009, just after the show’s high-profile May 19 premiere following that season’s American Idol finale. The troupe’s signature song, its cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which would epitomize the Glee characters’ trademark positivity in the face of underdog status throughout the series, launched at No. 4 with sales of 177,000 in its first week, according to Nielsen Music. At 1.4 million, it’s the cast’s best-selling song to-date.
Most famously, the Glee cast broke one of the more vaunted Billboard chart records: its 207 total entries on the Hot 100 are the most of any act in the list’s 56-year history. Lil Wayne ranks second with 125 and Elvis Presley places third with 108 (with his career having predated the Hot 100 by two years). (And, to fully clarify, Billboard credits all Glee singles to the cast, occasionally with featured acts, since that’s how the product has always read, per general Billboard charts department policy.)
Like in high school itself, the cast’s chart success hasn’t come without derision. Among common slushie-splashing anti-Glee views: The cast is largely a covers act … radio doesn’t play Glee songs … and, perhaps most notably, Glee singles often spend only a single week on the Hot 100.
True, 171 of the cast’s 207 Hot 100 hits, or 83 percent, tallied a lone week on the Hot 100. And just three of those 207 entries reached the top 10 (with none of the 207 making the Radio Songs airplay chart).
Of course, that was essentially Fox and Columbia Records’ plan all along: to have four or five songs serve as souvenirs of each week’s episode. Each new hour, and, subsequently, each new chart, was meant to showcase new Glee music, and the process would repeat again the following (profitable) week. (Notably, the cast last charted on the Hot 100 in October 2013, with the show’s ratings in steady decline from its earlier highs.)
It was a blueprint that Glee unveiled and it resulted in unparalleled chart dominance. ABC’s Nashville and Fox’s new Empire have since followed similar release patterns, each with its own triumphs, but neither has scored the historic Hot 100 grades that Glee did.
(Oh, right, those school metaphors …)
Among musical TV shows, going back decades earlier, NBC’s The Monkees deserves a mention: the TV/real-life band translated its onscreen exposure to six Hot 100 top 10s and three No. 1s, including classic originals like the Neil Diamond-penned “I’m a Believer.” (Glee and the Monkees even intersect on “Daydream Believer,” as performed by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss on Glee‘s March 20 finale.)
Meanwhile, that Nashville and Empire haven’t hit the same chart highs is one testament to Glee‘s appeal; another is that those shows might not have existed if not for Glee, which helped renew, and reinforce, the draw of scripted music-based programming in primetime.
As for the cast’s almost total reliance on covers: while its lack of originality may not have won over critics seeking a higher level of unique artistry, that approach, just like the model of releasing multiple songs weekly, powered its chart fortunes. The series relied on beloved, familiar songs, giving it an easy in with consumers. The cast brought an astounding 62 former Hot 100 No. 1s back to the chart, a clear reflection of shrewd commercial choices.
And sales stats that can’t be disputed: the Glee cast has sold 45.2 million downloads. The ensemble’s sales honors extend to the Billboard 200, where it’s logged 14 top 10s, including three No. 1s. The Glee cast’s to-date U.S. album sales stand at 7.9 million.
In all, Glee followed its own plan to chart and sales peaks like no other TV show and, for that matter, few acts in the entire rock era.
(Final school pun alert …)
Upon its final episode, Glee graduates having taught future generations of acts, and labels, a lesson in making chart history. And, like the best high school success stories, the series did so on its own terms.