Billboard and music charts: the problem with popularity
by Kim Soberano | March 07, 2019
Image: Vinz Eusala
Billboard, an American entertainment media brand, announced its expansion to the Philippines in June of 2017 claiming to have been the first to rank the country’s music consumption. Having adapted to the changing music landscape in the past years, it claimed to be much more accurate than local TV music channels and radio stations.
When it came to the Philippines, it wanted to position itself as Filipino music fans’ go-to place for news and information; however, less than a year later, it suddenly stopped releasing updates on its social media pages, without any announcements of why and what is to come. Its last post is dated January 15, 2018.
Billboard Philippines may not have stayed long enough for it to have made an impact in the country, but then again, what impact can a simple music chart really make?
Lists and charts help us make sense of the world around us. They are meant to put all random information in order, so that we may understand ourselves better. Billboards’ efforts are admirable in that it tries to keep up with the trends to measure as accurately as it can what people listen to.
This is evident when they decided to add YouTube in their metrics right after Harlem Shake gained much attention after having been accessed on mostly that platform.
However, listening to music is not limited to what is measurable. It also involves emotional, social, and even cultural aspects that cannot be reflected in numbers and charted on one linear list. What Billboard offers then is merely a measurement of what is popular among music and not necessarily of what is good, but people often think the two are synonymous— and this is where the problem lies.
Assuming it were to follow the same methodology of charting as in the United States, then premium audio streams would be given the most weight out of all means of listening to music – with video being the next in importance, then audio programmed, and radio last. Initially, this might seem understandable if we consider that listeners on premium audio streaming willingly go out of their way to pay for music they could have accessed for free. Fair enough, right?
In the grander scheme of things, maybe not.
How much of the Philippine population really uses premium audio streaming applications? Those who do would often come from socio-economic classes ABC1 – the upper classes that make up less than half of all Filipinos. If Billboard Philippines were to develop the same credibility and reputation as the one in the United States, it would be the standard for all things music.
It would be the basis of radio stations and music channels in choosing the songs they would air for them to stay relevant.
However, the greater majority of the Philippine population -- those who listen through the radio, which is given the least weight in Billboard’s metrics -- do not have the luxury of time and technology to venture out and discover new music. They would simply take whatever music they are first exposed to. In this perspective, more than informing the Filipinos about what they can listen to, Billboard Philippines might tell them what to listen to instead.
This raises up the question: If the poorer Filipinos were not simply conditioned to ride on the trends of music and developed a bias for what music is “good” and what is not, would they be better able exercise their freedom in choosing the music they listen to, and develop their own notion of what good music is?”
When the music industry becomes a popularity contest it also becomes difficult for emerging local artists to enter the competition. New artists may make good music, yet not make it to the charts. Because people care about what Billboard and the charts have to say and allow them to shape what they think of music, they might easily dismiss new artists and their songs.
The fact that newbies do not make the charts might send listeners the message that these artists are not relevant and are not worth hearing.
When new entrants have less opportunities to join in the competition, the same old artists get to take turns in leading the charts. In effect, the absence of new competition develops a culture of complacency among popular music artists so that they lack the drive to improve their music.
On the other hand, when artists are able to challenge each other to make better, and not just popular music, then they are able to contribute to the progress of the music industry.
Billboard Philippines did not exist long enough for it to have made much of an impact, but looking at its status in other countries, Billboard and charts in general may drive listeners far from discovering what really is good music, and musicians far from making good music.
A look into the loopholes of the music entertainment industry may seem like a first-world concern for a third-world country, but the problem of popularity is also reflective of the much bigger and more relevant problems that affect many people’s everyday lives.
Filipinos know well what it is like to have popularity run the country, and we know well that it is not always for the good. Materialized during elections, this results in incompetent leaders chosen according to how well-known their names are rather than by their credentials and skills.
Each vote may seem too small to make a difference, but collectively these produce powerful results whose effects trickle back down to each citizen.
To an extent, the same can be said for an activity as mundane as listening to music.
Kim Soberano is a self-proclaimed small girl with big ideas. She is currently a graduating Media and Entertainment Management student from the University of Asia and the Pacific in the Philippines.