'Harlem Shake' hits number one, ushers in new world of YouTube-fueled charts

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Image Credit: Maxime Quoilin

After a five-week run with the number one song in the country, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” has finally abdicated its throne — thanks partly to a whole new chart formula.

As of this week, Billboard‘s Hot 100 now includes YouTube streams in its chart calculations, which means the king of the hill this week is Baauer’s nonstop meme instigator “Harlem Shake.”

Previously, the Hot 100 had used radio airplay, sales, and various forms of streaming through services like Spotify and Rhapsody to tabulate what the biggest song in the country was. Including YouTube numbers makes perfect sense, since in a way the online video service is the biggest streaming service available.

The extra numbers will undoubtedly mean a big boost for songs that do well with sales and streaming but can’t quite break into radio. “Harlem Shake,” for example, did an impressive 262,000 downloads last week, but is barely on satellite or terrestrial radio. It only scored a handful of impressions on radio, but its 103 million spins on YouTube easily confirm the track’s ubiquity.

The new tabulations have reconfigured the chart success of other songs that have been bigger than their old chart positions would have suggested. Rihanna’s “Stay,” languishing at number 57 last week, is now the number three song in the country thanks to her oft-spun video for the song that premiered last week. Same goes for Drake’s “Started From the Bottom,” which jumped from 63 to 10 following the unveiling of the track’s video. It even gave a second boost to PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” since apparently some people are still watching that video. (Had this system been in place last fall, PSY would have undoubtedly spent several weeks at number one instead of struggling at number two.)

Expect former top dog Macklemore (now at number two this week) to get an extended life thanks to the YouTube numbers, since the video for “Thrift Shop” remains one of the Internet’s most-spun clips.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to “Harlem Shake” once the sugar-rush wears off. Its movement in the coming weeks could suggest a brand new idiom for the Hot 100, and may make it look a lot more like the weekly box office chart. Considering the new power of YouTube views, artists and labels looking to crash the upper registers of the chart would do well to coordinate the debut of new videos—especially those that have the potential to go viral.

It’s also likely to put more emphasis on official lyric videos, which often premiere with the unveiling of the single itself (official videos tend to lag behind a few weeks). Ultimately, the Hot 100 will be more reflective of what people are actually listening to, as opposed to what was satisfying its radio-centric criteria.

The recent trend at the top of the chart has been long reigns for individual songs, thanks mostly to the monolithic nature of radio. But YouTube views could create a lot of one-shots at the top of the chart, making room for a lot more novelty tunes, international breakouts, and meme-ready dances.

Before this shift, the success of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” seemed like an outlier—now, it feels like the future.

Read More on EW.com:
‘Harlem Shake’ hits No. 1 on iTunes following viral explosion
‘Daily Show’ does the Harlem Shake, ditch edition — VIDEO
Family fun ‘Harlem Shake’ style

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