CLASSIC: Florida Georgia Line’s Billboard record is not meaningless

I think sometimes as enthusiasts of the music we get confused regarding the purpose of Billboard.  These charts exist to promote the music industry of today, from whatever point in history “today” is.  They’re not concerned with historical relevance or consistency, or even the quality of the songs.

There is a fascinating post over at Saving Country Music that suggests the milestone 22 week #1 reign of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is actually NOT significant because other crossover hits from the previous few years would’ve matched or beat that 22 week mark, had the methodology at Billboard changed earlier.

I absolutely loved reading the article, and appreciate the work that went into researching it, but it seems the writer is more bothered that the chart record was broken by Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” specifically than anything else.  Yes the chart history would look a lot different if today’s new methodology were in place five or six years ago, but it wasn’t.

It would be nice to have had today’s methodology available back in the 1950s and 60s, too, but we can’t rebuild that history now.

Also: the chart is intended to reflect the success of country songs, period.  If the crossover ones are more popular — which, by definition, they would be — we should be grateful that they’re now reflecting what we already know.  We can’t live in a fantasy world where the country chart says (insert traditional single here) is #1 for how-many weeks when our non-country friends are running up to us, talking about how they love that country song “Cruise” so much.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not writing now to defend or represent the quality of “Cruise.”

People who hate country music know “Save a Horse (Ride A Cowboy).”  They think it’s this huge country hit.  Country music fans heard it on the radio for a couple weeks until it stalled at #11 back in 2004 — yet it sold 2 million copies.  It got bigger after it’s chart run.  Under the new methodology it would’ve re-entered the chart and gone who knows how high.  I’ve never liked the song, but putting my head in the sand didn’t make it not popular.  And today, as much as I ignore Luke Bryan, the music is still popular and still identified as country.

The charts of the past should in fact be revised to more accurately reflect the massive success of the songs listed in the article, not to mention “Breathe,” “You’re Still the One,” “Amazed” and “Achy Breaky Heart,” just to name a few examples.  Again, none of these are among the genre’s best songs, but they were (a) identified as country, (b) enormously popular, and (c) far more successful than either the Hot 100 or Hot Country Songs charts ever gave them credit.

But just like with “Before He Cheats” and “If I Die Young,” Billboard isn’t in business to revise history now.  It’s here to identify popular music today, to the best of its technical ability.

The real struggle, of course is this: how can the new methodology be used to benefit a fan of traditional country music?  Think of all the remixed or fan versions of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” that contributed to that song’s chart success, via YouTube plays.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the future — thanks to continuing advances in technology and the increasing distance between traditional and “new” country fans —  that the superbly crafted traditional sounds we love were remixed for the crossover market and … voila: we’re all happy with the version we’ve found, and the charts reflect that with a single hit song title.

It’s a bit sacrilegious, I know, but if we care about the popularity of the traditional sound, it may be the best chance we have.  I’ve found Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy appropriately inspirational.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on August 7, 2013)