Who says no black artists scored No. 1s in 2013?
For the first time in the Billboard Hot 100’s 55-year history, no black act as the lead artist took a song to No. 1 in 2013.
Yesterday, New York public radio station WNYC published a piece on its website about the interesting development. I want to dive a little bit deeper.
Part of the issue is semantics. WNYC chose to not include featured artists in the list, which, if they had, the stats would have instantly made it a non-story. For example, Eminem’s “The Monster,” featuring Rihanna reached the top of the chart in mid-December. Similarly, Wanz hit No. 1 with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as the featured artist on “Thrift Shop,” as did Ray Dalton with “The Heist” duo on “Can’t Hold Us,” and, of course, “Blurred Lines” from Robin Thicke featuring Pharell and T.I. spent a whole season at No. 1.
Even if WYNC chose not to include featured artists (and I can somewhat see its rationale), it’s a strange distinction to make, especially since Billboard counts a feature on a record in that artist’s tally of chart toppers. For example, “The Monster” is Rihanna’s 13th No. 1.
Speaking of Rihanna, she made WYNC’s whole story possible when she failed to reach No. 1 with “Stay,” which peaked at No. 3. It marked the first time in three years she missed having not only one Hot 100 chart topper, but several: She took two songs to No. 1 in 2012 and 2011 and three in 2009.
Playing by WYNC’s rules, three black acts hit the top in 2012 and 2011, and five in 2010. For 2009, when Top 40 radio was much more rhythmic leaning than it is now, it was 10. But again, some of this is wording: because “Empire State of Mind” is listed as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, as opposed to Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys, that counts as two black artists.
The bigger question is if the methodology by which the Hot 100 is calculated now had an effect. Last year, The Hot 100 added YouTube streaming into the mix. Chartwatchers saw the immediate impact of the move when Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” vaulted to No. 1, despite relatively little radio airplay. Same with Ylvis’s “What Does The Fox Say.” The three components that go into determining chart position are radio airplay, digital sales and streaming (Billboard--or, to be more precise, Nielsen-- already counted a number of streaming outlets, but adding megamonster YouTube did have an effect).
To give a little bit of a more well-rounded picture, five black artists registered Top 10 hits in 2013 as lead artists, compared with seven in 2012, and 14 in 2011.
The milestone is worth noting, but I don’t think it’s alarming or a signal of same great shift other than that we are in a cycle where mid-tempo pop songs are dominating radio. Some other pop sub-genre will swing into vogue in a year or two. That’s how it always happens.
What do you think?