Music

Will “The Ultimate Chart” Change The Way We Quantify The Ubiquity Of Eminem, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, And Justin Bieber?

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A common complaint about music charts in the post-sales age is that, with their reliance on SoundScan data and airplay numbers, they miss other avenues for popular consumption, from YouTube streams to–shh!–free downloads. BigChampagne, which started off as a service charting the popularity of illicitly traded files on Napster and has since grown to measure media consumption of all stripes, has picked up this gauntlet, charting listening and fandom habits among U.S. music consumers in a project they’ve modestly dubbed The Ultimate Chart.

The first two charts to emerge from this project tally popular singles and artists based on data from streaming-media sites (Vevo, MySpace, MTV), sales outlets, radio playlist data, and social-media outposts like Twitter and Facebook. In its first iteration, the singles chart looks an awful lot like the Hot 100 it’s supposedly mounting a challenge against: Eminem and Katy Perry are in the top two slots, respectively, though their positions are flipped. This is not too surprising, since the two charts have a fair amount of data overlap. Billboard‘s Glenn Peoples broke down the formula that helped Katy Perry’s unkillable “California Gurls,” the Hot 100’s reigning No. 1 song, stall out at No. 2 on the new chart:

Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” for example, is currently at No. 2 and has an Ultimate Score of 69 (out of 100). The song’s score is based on four numbers (each out of 100): sales (57), broadcast (51), watching and listening (25), and fans, friends and followers (63)…. Ultimate scores are indexed to the score of the No. 1 title, which this week is Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie.” It scores a 100 based mostly on strong sales (100) in spite of weak broadcast (21) and watching and listening (12) scores.

The only real shocker in the Top 10, which for the most part contains current radio staples like B.o.B.’s Hayley Williams-assisted “Airplanes”? The combined power of Shakira and the World Cup. “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” the dubiously sourced official song of the just-completed soccer tournament, is all the way up at No. 3 on this new chart; meanwhile, over on the Hot 100, it’s at No. 39. Apparently it’s doing very well in the “watching and listening” segment of the Ultimate Chart’s four-quadrant calculus, despite not having very good sales or that much airplay. (Could the Ultimate Chart have saved Shakira’s deliriously weird disco-libido romp She Wolf from oblivion when that record unfairly landed with a thud on these shores last year? We’ll never know.)

What’s also notable about the chart’s first issue is the staying power of certain songs. The Hot 100 clears out downward-trending songs that’ve been on the chart for longer than 20 weeks and dipped below No. 50, which thanks to the chart’s reliance on radio airplay is something of an inevitability for all but the most lite-FM-friendly tracks. Not so for the Ultimate Chart, where both on-demand streams and fan fervency play a part in determining chart position: Mop-topped Canadian heartthrob Justin Bieber’s candy-sweet “Baby,” for example, is at No. 5, despite aging off the Hot 100 months ago. And Lady Gaga’s larger than life “Bad Romance,” which faced a similar fate, is No. 16. Both these songs recently made headlines for vying for the most-viewed-video-of-all-time honor on YouTube, and the algorithm to determine the most popular topics on the microblogging service Twitter was expressly reworked for the purposes of getting Bieber off the list, so it probably isn’t too much of a stretch to assume that both score high on the “fans, friends, and followers” side of things. (Gaga has seven tracks on the 100-place chart, and Bieber six; they’re Nos. 2 and 3 on the artist chart, which is led by Eminem.)

Those hoping that a chart incorporating online data would somehow uncover new, indie-centric patterns in mass taste can chase this chart’s bitter pill with some news: BigChampagne is currently working on an “independent-oriented” chart, according to Digital Music News. It will chart action from the likes of indie distributors TuneCore and Topspin, as well as the cash-burning NewsCorp unit MySpace Music, which still has a lot of juice as far as being a place where artists of all stripes can stream songs for free.

Is the Ultimate Chart going to “revolutionize” the industry, as its backers claim? It’s probably the beginning of a solution, but it’s by no means perfect in a time when music consumption is both all over the map and under the radar. BigChampagne CEO Eric Garland told Fast Company that data on unpaid downloads might make its way into the chart’s formula, but a company rep later backtracked from that idea, saying that those sorts of transactions would live in their own separate domain. Still, the slippery nature of those acquisitions will probably make them fairly difficult to chart with 100 percent accuracy — unless an army of intrepid interns can somehow figure out the best way to track the download statistics on every contraband-containing Mediafire link just before it’s nuked by a DMCA complaint.

Ultimate Chart Top 10 (as of midnight July 21)
1. “Love The Way You Lie,” Eminem feat. Rihanna
2. “California Gurls,” Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
3. “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” Shakira
4. “Not Afraid,” Eminem
5. “Baby,” Justin Bieber
6. “Dynamite,” Taio Cruz
7. “Airplanes,” B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams
8. “I Like It,” Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull
9. “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga
10. “Billionaire,” Travis McCoy feat. Bruno Mars

Hot 100 Top 10 (week of July 24)
1. “California Gurls,” Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
2. “Love The Way You Lie,” Eminem feat. Rihanna
3. “Airplanes,” B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams
4. “OMG,” Usher feat. will.i.am
5. “Billionaire,” Travis McCoy feat. Bruno Mars
6. “Dynamite,” Taio Cruz
7. “Cooler Than Me,” Mike Posner
8. “I Like It,” Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull
9. “Find Your Love,” Drake
10. “Ridin’ Solo,” Jason Derulo