Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fixing The Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part III

As I mentioned in Part II, Billboard revised their Hot 100 chart formula in the mid-1990's to include all major types of popular music in the airplay end of it, rather than just pop (top 40) radio airplay as it always had been. The very erroneous assumption that all formats of music move sales units equally was made in doing this, an error which to this day Billboard has failed to recognize. This assumption couldn't be further from the truth! Formats such as Rock, Country, Alternative, Urban and Urban AC were figured into the Hot 100 formula instead of just pop stations. And while there may be many of these kinds of stations around, the fact of the matter is that these formats (no matter how much they play their format's hits) DO NOT SELL singles!

Since it's heyday in the early 1980's, the pop radio format has fragmented somewhat. And while Mainstream Pop (top 40) is still the dominant format, the Rhythmic format was birthed out of it in the 1980's, and in 1994, we saw the debut of the Adult Top 40 charts (also known as Hot AC). When you study the sales charts of the top selling singles of today, the popular songs from these three formats tend to dominate them. For all it's popularity, the Country format as a whole does not move singles units. However, Country crossover artists such as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift (who both hit the top 10 of the pop chart last year) tend to sell very well.

As a result of the revised Hot 100 policy, the chart began to slant toward the Rhythmic end of things in the mid-1990's and has continued to do so to this day. Straight ahead pop hits, or pop songs with a rock edge rarely had a chance to hit the top of the chart anymore because formats such as Rhythmic, Urban and Urban AC effectively were not "mass appeal" enough to play a mainstream pop record, no matter how big of a hit it was nationally.

So, as we entered the 2000's, the Billboard Hot 100 continued to be very inaccurate on both the airplay and sales fronts. When digital downloads began to be incorporated into the Hot 100 formula in 2005, there finally was some hope on that end of things. For the first time in about 15 years, you could purchase practically any song you heard on the radio for a reasonable price. Whether it be via iTunes, Walmart, Rhapsody or some other source, the digital download now ruled the singles marketplace.

Unfortunately, Mariah and the evil minds at her new label, Island, figured out a new way to manipulate the sales component of the Hot 100 chart. It was basically the same thing Sony did with the physical singles back in the mid-late 1990's and early 2000's - they repressed sales of a new release until it had racked up enough of an estimated listening audience (airplay) to ensure a #1 hit on the Hot 100 chart. And while in early 2005, Mariah had her huge comeback hit, "We Belong Together" - a song which no one can dispute was a legitimate MASSIVE #1 hit on the Hot 100 and otherwise, a lot of funny stuff happened in the two years after that.

On October 11, 2005, Mariah and her label officially released a song called "Don't Forget About Us" to pop radio. Although a huge hit at several formats, including Pop, Rhythmic, Urban and Urban AC, it "only" managed to reach #2 on the Hot 100 in it's first 9 weeks of official airplay. It would have reached #1 and probably would have had a very long run at the top of that chart if they had released a single for purchase. Island decided to repress the song, and didn't make it available for download until December 13, 2005. Not surprisingly, the song sold A TON of units in the weeks that followed, and ended up spending two weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 chart.

Fast forward to 2008. In the two years that passed, other artists such as Rihanna repress singles to purchase a #1 hit on the Hot 100 chart... Mariah in the meantime has completed a new album entitled E=MC². The lead single, entitled "Touch My Body," is released to radio on February 12th. Since Mariah was coming off a huge 6x Platinum album in The Emancipation of Mimi , it figured that no matter how good or bad the song was, that it would have no problem getting airplay or adds at the formats where her previous hits had been successful. The reception to the song though was VERY lukewarm at pop radio after the initial hype died down. After reaching the top 10 in only five weeks, it was out of the top 10 just six weeks later, peaking at #7. Low callout scores (as with "Honey") doomed this song's chances from the start. Quite frankly, the song just wasn't anywhere close in quality to Mariah's early albums or her comeback hits from the last album. While a #7 song is nothing to sneeze at, most expected Mariah's first single to do better.

Which brings us back to the Hot 100 chart. While Rhythmic, Urban and Urban AC stations played "Touch My Body," it wasn't as huge as any of the three hits off the previous album either. Yes, it reached the top 10 at all of these formats, but not number 1. As a result, it was stalling in the mid-teens on the Hot 100 chart. Island figured they could get Mariah another easy #1 if they repressed downloads. What the label didn't expect was the lukewarm reception to the song on all levels. On March 24, 2008, the label finally released the song as a single to all of the digital outlets. Of course, when you build up demand for a song for six weeks, you would expect that when the song was finally released in it's seventh week on the radio that people would buy it. Think of it as compressing seven weeks of sales into just one. It's not exactly rocket science here... Sure enough, the 48 days of sales compressed into a week were enough to sell 286,000+ units. "Touch My Body" moved from #15 to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking off a legitimate number one song in "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis. Mariah would spend a second week at #1, before being replaced on top by Leona.

Just five weeks after Mariah's shenanigans, Rihanna's label bought her another Hot 100 #1 by repressing downloads of her hit, "Take A Bow." The song entered the top 40 chart on March 23, 2008, but wasn't available for download until six weeks later, on May 6, 2008. Unlike Mariah's song though, this song turned out to be a legitimate hit, reaching #1 on the Pop chart the first two weeks of July, 2008.

NEXT: PART IV - American Idol uncovers a new Hot 100 flaw, and Kid Rock exposes the BIG flaw which the Hot 100 had even before the problems of the past two decades...


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