Written by Nathan G. Lee
How does Baauer, an obscure electronic music producer, debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 without radio support and stay there for three weeks and running? You certainly wouldn’t recognize him on the street. Heck, you may not have even heard the name before…but you’ve probably heard his viral smash “Harlem Shake” and seen at least twenty YouTube videos where a lone person dances to the song in a crowded room only to have the room erupt when the beat drops. Just in case you’ve been on vacation the past few weeks without an internet connection, somewhere in Amish Pennsylvania perhaps, here’s an example:
Did you happen to notice the view count on that video? There are thousands of variations floating around YouTube with an amassed view count well over one hundred million. And that’s exactly how Baauer launched to the top of the chart – Billboard now uses YouTube streaming data in its Hot 100 algorithm.
Billboard doesn’t release the exact weights of each component in the formula (digital and physical sales, radio airplay, online radio streaming, on-demand audio streaming, and now YouTube streaming) but YouTube is clearly large enough to propel an unknown artist with basically zero radio play and strong, but not stellar digital sales to number one.
This change could potentially alter the Hot 100 landscape and give new relevance to music videos. Record labels want the exposure and prestige that a higher chart position can give to its artists, and historically they have not been above trying to manipulate the system. The rise of “Harlem Shake” through YouTube was an organic occurrence, but you can bet on record labels trying to artificially reproduce that magic. After all, that’s what record labels do. In a sense music videos aren’t just an advertisement for a product anymore, they have become one step closer to being the product.
So, the real question is will this new change to the Hot 100 cause a surge in creativity resulting in awesome music videos, or will the grab for view counts dumb down the medium?
Share your thoughts in the comments!