Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Payola, Chart Rigging or Both? You Be The Judge!

Two longtime pop "divas" also made their latest singles available for download yesterday. Madonna did things close to the normal way, releasing her new song, "4 Minutes" to pop radio last week (where it's already risen to #22 on the Mediabase airplay chart). In the old days, before the era of payola and sales chart manipulation by the record labels, songs were always released to the radio stations and the public for purchase at the same time.

Which leads me to that other diva, the one who's record label has bought several "#1 hits" on Billboard Hot 100 chart via sales chart manipulation over the past several years. That of course would be Mariah Carey. Do any of you remember the songs "Thank God I Found You," or "Heartbreaker" by her? I didn't think so - I'd be shocked if you did actually. What do these songs have in common? Well, neither of them was a hit here in the U.S., the songs reaching #28 and #21 on the U.S. pop airplay charts respectively. What they also have in common is that Mariah's record label bought #1 positions for both on Billboard's Hot 100 chart by suppressing downloads for a very long period after the songs were released to radio. I don't have the exact sales figures, but long story short is that both songs received so many downloads in their first week of availability, that they reached #1 on both the aforementioned chart and on the sales chart. The same thing was also done with her semi-hit singles "My All" (#12) and "Honey" (#10). So, the Billboard Hot 100 record book may say that Mariah has 17 #1 hits. The reality is that only 13 of them can truly be considered #1's.

Fast forward to today. Mariah released her latest single, "Touch My Body" to radio on February 12th. It was not well received by most listeners, consistently finishing amongst the bottom quarter of the songs rated by pop music listeners at www.ratethemusic.com. After a rapid ascent into the top 20 of the airplay charts, the song started losing steam quickly, looking like it would peak in the mid teen's on the pop chart. Songs with the sub 3.40 call-out scores that Mariah's new song have been garnering typically fall quickly on the chart... for some odd reason though, the song though managed to push it's way to it's current position of #8 on the pop airplay chart. There is widespread speculation within both the industry and on various music boards that something funny is happening with this song. Is it a case of payola? It may very well be.

To further matters, Mariah's label delayed the release of the single for download a full SIX weeks after it went to radio!!! In other words, the sales of the song which would have taken place over a seven week period, are now going to be compressed into ONE week! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that means. Yes, Mariah's label by next week at this time will have purchased her 5th "#1 hit" on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In two days, it's already dethroned Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" (which sold almost 220,000 downloads last week - it was released back in December '07) from the #1 spot on the iTunes sales chart. A pretty meaningless accomplishment when you consider that you effectively have had 44 days worth of sales crammed into just TWO! It's high time that Billboard reviewed their chart methodology so that this kind of manipulation will be ended once and for all. The industry will be better for it.

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1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

I have to agree with this assessment of the current situation, John. It's sad that someone of Mariah's stature has to resort to this sort of practice and has been doing so for so long. Maybe you should write to Fred Bronson or someone at Billboard about your Hot 100 chart suggestion. I think it's a good one.

Jacqueline