Pop Music

Poptimystic: Black Eyed Peas on top. Again.

We're not sure if it was the Grammy performance, the insane music video, the blockbuster tour, or just a crushing lack of creativity on the part of the American public, but the Peas are on top of the Hot 100 once again. Goody.

It's their third number one single off The E.N.D, which turns out to be aptly named (the acronym is Energy Never Dies) because it will not die. But, in a world where the music industry is in chaos and the old methods are all five steps behind reality, how much stock can we place in things like the Hot 100?

Billboard is lousy with charts: The Hot 100 and Billboard 200 (which ranks albums) are the two biggest, but there are a ridiculous number of weekly rankings done by the magazine. Many of them are hidden behind a subscription pay wall, but over 70 are available for free.

Most of those are backslapping genre breakdowns (Regional Mexican Songs, anyone?) and opportunities for corporate sponsorship (How about AOL's Top Videos? [incidentally, it's T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" this week, which means.... nothing]).

The most interesting ones tend to be the charts that basically amount to subsets of the Hot 100, which is made up of airplay, sales and online streaming.

Interestingly, the Peas aren't on top of any of the relevant smaller charts. The overall airplay chart, called Radio Songs, is still owned by Ke$ha and her irrepressible "TiK ToK." Ditto the Pop Songs chart, which tracks just Top 40 radio, aka the most stagnant and hegemonic corner of the music industry. Ke$ha, by the way, is apparently wicked smart, acing her SATs and auditing college courses as a high schooler. Plus, she was savvy enough to refuse credit on her back-up vocal in "Right Round." For what it's worth.

The next component of the Hot 100, sales, is compiled in the Digital Songs chart. Since you can't even buy the hard copy of 90 percent of singles, no one does, except people who don't factor into popularity contests like Billboard; digital sales are more or less the same thing as overall sales.

Sales turn over much, much more quickly than airplay both because it's more democratic (each listener controls what he or she buys, but not what's on the radio) and because you only have to buy a song once.

This week, "We Are The World" sits on top. It's fortunate that Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones can convince you that buying the thing amounts to saving Haiti because no one is buying that garbage otherwise. "Imma Be" is second on the Digital Songs chart, and "Hey, Soul Sister" by Train is third. It seems unlikely that a band like Train could succeed in a world where you have to go to the store to buy music. Good for them, we guess.

The final part of the Hot 100 is compiled from digital streaming. The numbers here are much lower than the other two because the majority of people either aren't savvy enough for it or don't consume music in a place where they can stream it. Also, they don't factor YouTube, which would be hard to do, but is also, by far, the most common place where people listen to music online.

Billboard doesn't track streaming in one chart (one free chart, anyway), but it does rank streaming in some form by four individual outfits: iLike, Lala, Yahoo and AOL. The iLike chart is by "most added," but the rest are by actual listens. This week, the breakdown goes like this: iLike - "Bad Romance," Lala - "I Gotta Feeling," Yahoo - "Fireflies," and AOL - "Two is Better Than One," which is by a band called Boys Like Girls and features Taylor Swift (aha!). So ... yeah. Not exactly trendsetting.

So the Hot 100 is actually pretty comprehensive. At least, it hits all the readily trackable ways for legally obtaining music. For obvious reasons, it's hard to say how much of what people listen to falls into the pail of the Hot 100, but we're going to guess it's not nearly enough to make the chart definitive.

The bottom line here is that the Hot 100 can be used for a variety of things and Billboard, as a whole, can tell you some interesting trivia about what a certain type of person is listening to. But the days when you could call the Hot 100's number one the number one song in America are well behind us.

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Kiernan Maletsky is Westword's music editor. His writing has appeared in alt-weeklies around the country as well as Miley Cyrus's mom's Twitter feed.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky