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Deep Dive

Is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ The New ‘White Christmas’?

Four pre-2010 rock tracks have appeared on Billboard’s Global 200 Excl. U.S. chart — meaning those four tracks were fueled entirely by overseas factors: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Fleetwood Mac’s…

Contemporary rock songs are largely absent from the global charts — which is no surprise, as in a moment dominated by hip-hop and the urbana of Bad Bunny and J. Balvin, they’re absent from the domestic Billboard Hot 100 as well.

But the few that have registered tell interesting stories about the enduring appeal of classic-rock catalog titles, and the potential of transforming relatively more recent releases into those sorts of enduring classics in a global marketplace.

Four pre-2010 rock tracks have appeared on Billboard’s Global 200 Excl. U.S. chart — meaning those four tracks were fueled entirely by overseas factors: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Van Halen’s “Jump” and Linkin Park’s “In the End.”

Both Van Halen and Fleetwood Mac were the subjects of very different global news stories when they charted in October. The former’s 1984 hit “Jump” debuted and peaked at No. 128 on the Global 200 and No. 176 on the Global Excl. U.S. charts dated Oct. 17 in the wake of Eddie Van Halen’s Oct. 6 death. (The Oct. 17 charts tracked the week of Oct. 2-8.) For that same tracking week, “Jump” generated 10.3 million global streams, up 173% from the week prior.

Fleetwood Mac was the beneficiary of a TikTok moment involving its 1977 hit “Dreams” that grew from viral sensation to mainstream media coverage. The song zoomed to No. 12 on the Hot 100 more than four decades after it had topped the chart in 1977. The track also surged internationally. It debuted at No. 51 on the Global 200 and No. 161 on the Global Excl. U.S. charts dated Oct. 10 — and rose to No. 10 and No. 30, respectively. The song has spent 11 weeks so far on both charts. The TikTok coverage also propelled another 1977 Mac track, “The Chain,” up the Global 200. The song debuted at No. 190 on the chart dated Oct. 17, peaked at No. 142 and lasted three weeks.

Andre Torres, head of catalog, artist and label partnerships at Spotify, says it’s part of his job to be on the lookout for viral sensations, so that the digital service provider can translate virality into active streaming consumption by both spotlighting songs on highly trafficked playlists and approaching labels to discuss ways to, as he puts it, “expand the voice of these trends.”

One example of trend amplification that Torres mentions is an anniversary release, not a viral moment. To help mark the 20th anniversary of Linkin Park’s debut, Hybrid Theory, Spotify worked with Warner Music Group (Linkin Park is on Warner Records) to get two of its developing rock acts — Grandson and Fever 333 — to cover Hybrid Theory tracks for the Spotify Singles program in October, the first time the service has commemorated a classic LP’s anniversary in such a way. “We’re really trying to open up opportunities for catalog that may not be a traditional avenue for a DSP,” says Torres. “By giving younger artists the opportunity to show their love for these tracks by covering them,” he explains, Spotify is “introducing a 20-year-old Linkin Park song to a group of younger fans.” Fever 333’s cover of “In the End” generated 1.2 million Spotify streams, though it was the 20th-anniversary reissue of Hybrid Theory itself (in an expanded six-disc set) that drove 11.5 milllion global streams of the original version, an 8% bump.

As for Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the oldest nonholiday song to make the global charts. Fred Jacobs, the president of Jacobs Media, a Detroit-based research and consulting firm that specializes in radio and digital media, and an expert in the classic-rock format, says that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a “perennially strong-testing song” that got a boost from two films decades apart: Wayne’s World in 1992 and the 2018 Queen biopic that took its name from the track. “It’s like ‘White Christmas’ now,” he says. “A multigenerational, timeless hit.”

And that’s true of classic rock in general, says Jeanette Perez, chief experience officer at Fleetwood Mac’s music publisher, Kobalt:When you think about Fleetwood Mac, Queen, The Beatles they take you back to a moment in time; they take your parents back to a moment in time; and they take your grandparents back to a moment in time. I don’t know if there’s any modern-day, current music that’s going to exude that same level of nostalgia.”

Maybe. While it’s true that no rap song released before 2010 has appeared on Billboard’s global charts, YouTube music trends manager Kevin Meenan thinks it may just be a matter of time. He points to 50 Cent’s 2003 smash “In Da Club” joining YouTube’s billion views club in November. “Maybe it’s redefining what a classic is,” he says. “Over the next decade, we might see a lot of old hip-hop songs being rediscovered in the same way that people are discovering Fleetwood Mac now.”

Fleetwood Mac
(L-R) Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and John McVie of the rock group 'Fleetwood Mac' pose for a portrait in circa 1977. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)