100 & Single: fun., Gotye, M83, EDM, And The Beginning Of The Hot 100's Spotify Years


fun. feat. Janelle Monáe, "We Are Young"

Six streaming services—MOG, Muve Music, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker and Spotify—are now being tracked by Nielsen Soundscan and getting baked into the Hot 100 by Billboard. (The Hot 100 has already included Yahoo! Radio and AOL Music streams on a small scale for years, but they've had a fairly insignificant effect. The new Hot 100 formula will also include on-demand audio from MySpace and Guvera, video requests on Akoo, and non-demand radio streams from Rhapsody and Slacker. There's no tracking of YouTube, Vevo or Pandora, likely for technical reasons, and no reports on when or if that might happen.)

Looking back on the half-century of Hot 100 history, this week's infusion of streams into the chart isn't as earth-shattering as some previous Billboard formula changes: for example, in November 1991, the switch to the more accurate Soundscan system for sales data and Broadcast Data Systems for radio counts; or, in December 1998, the addition of non-retail, airplay-only tracks; or, in February 2005, the inclusion of iTunes and other digital song sales. The charts that debuted after these Hot 100 rule changes were radically different, with records yo-yo-ing all over the place and new hits materializing out of thin air.

The 2012 changes to the Hot 100 are more modest. "We Are Young" would have been No. 1 under either the old or the new system; in this, its second week on top, it's only more dominant, thanks to the 1.1 million on-demand streams it racked up last week. But the effects of streaming data on the chart go deeper than "Young." According to Billboard , the formula change provides a serious boost to about a dozen other Hot 100 hits.

These stream-boosted hits have a few things in common, broadly speaking—like "We Are Young," they are rockier, quirkier and more male. But more important, they don't sound much like current Top 40 radio... and, it must be said, they're mostly pretty cool.

Let's start with "Somebody That I Used to Know," the rueful ambient-rock hit by Gotye featuring Kimbra that is currently Billboard's No. 1 Alternative hit. A couple of months ago, it was already improbable that this ornate mid-'80s throwback was going to make the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. But there it is, at No. 5 on the Hot 100, up from No. 9 last week; under the old Hot 100 formula, Billboard reports that the song would have only risen to No. 8 this week. "Take Care," the chillout duet by Drake featuring Rihanna and a standout on his album, built on a prominent sample from indie favorites The xx, reaches a new peak of No. 7; under the old rules it would've been outside the Top 10. "Rack City," the minimalist, borderline-austere former Top 10 hit by rapper Tyga, rebounds to No. 15; it would have fallen to No. 18 without streams.

Down below the Top 40, electronic dance music (EDM) does particularly well under the new formula. Avicii's "Levels," the Etta James-sampling dance smash that formed the basis for a recent Flo Rida hit, rebounds to No. 66, instead of failing to No. 80 under the old system. Skrillex reenters the chart at No. 83 with his Grammy-winning, bass-dropping "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites." And "Midnight City," the lead single to my favorite album of 2011, becomes the first Hot 100 hit for dreamy French electropop act M83, debuting at No. 74 thanks to streams.

Add to all this the fact that fun.'s chart-topper brought the critic-beloved Janelle Monáe to the U.S. Top 40 for the first time, and this is arguably the Pazziest, Joppiest, hippest Hot 100 we've seen since around the mid-'90s.


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13 comments
Ricardo
Ricardo

In what way can «We Are Young»'s success also have an OWS subtext to it? You know, the chorus has a certain "we are the 99%, we won't be stopped" vibe to it. Or maybe I'm just overreaching here.

mike_thoms
mike_thoms

Write a song for the kids and you'll have a hit. As someone pointed out, We Are Young is a song that kids in high school as, they approach the end of the year or graduation, will relate to. It's a youth anthem and you never go wrong writing those. 

Sara
Sara

I feel like the vocals on "We Are Young" are more "show choir" than "indie"—maybe I'd even say "emo show choir" (fun. has created a whole new genre!)—like Conor Oberst on Prozac...and uppers. Even though this post is specifically about singles, allow me to step outside of the Hot 100 and say that the fun. album is a million times better than the Gotye album, which is packed with some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard (and I'm American...and I have a LOT of shitty albums in my library).

BP
BP

Good article. You're smart to avoid predictions of tectonic pop shifts since by their nature they come out of nowhere and are suddenly everywhere. My own possibly cynical take on We Are Young's success is that it's due to the weather, our unseasonably warm spring plus its lyrics and anthemic/repetitive chorus guarantee it'll be played at every prom in the country next month and every night spent driving aimlessly around town until then. Midnight City's pretty cool though.

hater8
hater8

I'll leave it to you to decide whether this is an unimpeachably good thing—personally, my love of most of the above songs is tempered by my wariness at a return to male-oriented radio hits."I really love this song, but... a dude recorded it, possibly even a straight white dude, so I'm going to pan it."

Hipster trash!

maura
maura

Your assignment: Define the word "hipster" without sounding like you're personally offended by what you're responding to. (Spoiler: I bet you won't be able to!)

hater8
hater8

Hipster: An insidery, cliquish sort who writes about the pop charts because he has to eat, but shields himself by expressing wariness that the pop charts may actually reflect the musical tastes of the 99.999% of Americans who have no freakin' clue what Pazz or Jopp are, or why they need their own section.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

If you'd read even one more column by me—there are a couple dozen on this blog alone—or took three seconds to Google my name (which, unlike you, I'm broadcasting) you'd know I have even less disdain for pop music than you do. Or try clicking the link to my Pazz & Jop ballad (embedded in the story above) to see my votes for such deeply hipsterish acts as Adele and Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha. But that wouldn't jibe with your "he's a hater" thesis, would it?

maura
maura

Hahahahahahahaahaahahahahahahahahahahahahaha oh you poor dear

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

I fail to see how my admitting I love these songs but saying I don't want the charts to be all one thing—or, for that matter, writing about the pop charts passionately in the first place—makes me a hipster, "hater." It is possible to hold two contradictory but complementary thoughts in one's head. But thank you for contributing.

Katherine
Katherine

It's really interesting to go over to Australian sites, where people are so sick of Gotye it shows up in comments all the time, and compare to the States.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Not to state the obvious, but: I've been defending Adele for a year from my friends who are bored by her, but even I am ready for her not to be on the radio at this point.

Also, the Aussies still have a more florid, and perhaps more expansive, definition of pop than we do. To them, Gotye is probably Catchy McSellout; to us, he might as well be Neu!

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