There’s currently a war raging between Billboard and a huge number of country fans. It has to do with the changes Billboard has made to the way their charts are calculated. Before these changes were implemented, the country charts were solely based on country radio airplay. Now, they’re based on country radio airplay, radio airplay on all other formats including pop, streams from sites such as Spotify and digital downloads. Now, I am all for the inclusion of downloads in today’s charts as I think they’re a hugely important part of the modern music marketplace, however an issue that many country fans are having is the impact that both that and the inclusion of plays on pop radio will have on the nature of the country charts.
For example, when the changes took place, a song that had been rejected by country radio, Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ went straight to number 1, with another song of hers that wasn’t even a single, merely an online promo release, ‘Red’, straight to number 2. No matter what you think of Taylor Swift and her music, I think it would be hard to argue that ‘WANEGBT’ is a country song, and I have spoken to many a Taylor Swift fan who agrees. I would not say that ‘Red’ is particularly country either but that is more a matter of opinion, the fact that it isn’t even a single and is part of Taylor Swift’s pop domination over the country charts is angering fans.
So what? You ask. She’s selling records and getting airplay over all formats, what’s the problem? Well, the problem is, that it lowers the commercial impact of a lot of other country music, that may be more true to its roots than songs doing well on other formats. Put it this way. Record labels only really care about sales and chart figures. If an artist isn’t doing well on the charts, then they may be more inclined not to promote them as well, not to spend as much money on their album, or even to drop them from the label altogether, as we’ve seen happen in the past. It therefore puts pressure on artists to conform to a more watered down ‘pop’ sound, in order to appeal to a mass market online and to get played on pop radio. Thus a couple of years down the line, to get a hit an artist must play music that appeals to pop fans, just so they can stay signed and working. So in this way, what’s the point of having a country chart? What’s the point in having a separate country genre, with awards, festivals, press etc? If it’s only going to sound like pop or other genres in order to stay successful, what’s the point in having country as a concept? There is none.
So while I think downloads or at least some kind of sales should be taken into account to give more of indication of what fans actually want as opposed to what is mediated down to them through radio, this system is very flawed. Due to Taylor Swift’s promo strategy that she implements every album cycle, releasing a new song every week in the lead-up, all other artists around those couple of months will be completely eclipsed, as is happening now. This is nothing to do with how you feel about Taylor Swift, but more a reaction against an artist monopoly, and one that doesn’t really have country music’s best interests at heart. True, Carrie Underwood’s ‘Blown Away’ has just taken the number 1 spot, but might I remind people that although her album is a good one, this song is a rather pop release compared to some of her other material, and she has a history of crossover music that pop radio will be playing to death.
Personally, I think radio airplay on other formats should be taken out of the equation. If someone gets a lot of pop radio airplay, this should be shown through the Billboard Hot 100, which are the pop charts, after all. This is no point in diversity in music if that diversity is not celebrated and instead part of attempts to unify everything. Because really, that’s what this is.
There is a petition circulating to ask Billboard to reverse or revaluate the changes. If you would like, you can sign it here. The changes also apply to R&B, Rock and Rap music so if you know people who would be affected or upset by the changes in their specific genres, please pass this along.
If you’re unsure as to how the system used to work, Taste of Country have a handy guide.
For the sake of country music.