The Gamification of Music: History of the Billboard Charts

What’s all this talk about fans “gaming” the Billboard Charts? In recent months, music critics have argued that BTS’ “Butter” is not the biggest song in America, despite sitting at No 1 on the Hot 100 for 9 weeks, pointing fingers at BTS’ ARMY fanbase for manipulating their position by buying and streaming the song. The history of the billboard charts uncovers just how much it has turned into the gamification of music.

If it sounds hypocritical, it is. Since the creation of the Billboard Charts in 1958, record labels and industry insiders have been using tactics to inflate artists’ numbers and inturn boost their position on the charts. 

Once irrelevant to the average music fan, the charts have now come to the forefront of music conversations, largely due to Lil Nas X’s unprecedented 19-week streak with “Old Town Road” in 2019. The No 1 streak was sparked after the controversial decision from Billboard to not include the song on the country charts, but continued with the help of multiple artists features and music videos.

However, Lil Nas X and other artists have never been questioned about the validity of their No 1 hits. So why is it that only a boy band from South Korea is accused of manipulation? 

In this episode, we’re joined by music journalist Bryan Rolli to take a look at the history of the charts, inflation tactics, and whether or not the charts actually have any cultural significance. 

You can read Bryan’s work on Forbes and follow him on Twitter for more. 

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Want to talk more? Find us: @name3songs | @sara_feigin | @jenna_million

Past episodes of Name 3 Songs we think you’ll enjoy: Kpop, Capitalism and the Illusion of the American Dream with the KPopcast & Fangirls: Secret Marketing Geniuses with Sydney Stein

Sources for The Gamification of Music: History of the Billboard Charts

Billboard’s charts used to be our barometer for music success. Are they meaningless in the streaming age? (The Washington Post, Travis M. Andrews, 2018)

Why Have There Been So Many No. 1 Debuts This Year [2020] on the Hot 100? (Billboard, Andrew Unterberger, 2020)

19 Weeks of ‘Old Town Road’: A Week-by-Week Look Back at Lil Nas X’s Historic Run at No. 1 on the Hot 100 (Billboard, Andrew Unterberger, 2019)

BTS And Their Fan Army Are Rendering The Pop Charts Useless (Stereogum, Tom Breihan, 2021)

BTS Aren’t Ruining The Billboard Charts. They Were Already Broken. (Forbes, Bryan Rolli, 2021)

Lil Nas X Talks Fame, Going Viral, and More in His First Cover Story (Teen Vogue, Lakin Starling, 2019)

Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ Was a Country Hit. Then Country Changed Its Mind (Rolling Stone, Elias Leight, 2019)

BTS Didn’t ‘Cheat’ Their Way To No. 1 On The Hot 100. They Just Beat Other Artists At Their Own Game. (Forbes, Bryan Rolli, 2020)

Billboard’s New Merch And Ticket Bundle Rules Will Devastate A Lot Of Pop Artists. Not BTS. (Forbes, Bryan Rolli, 2020)

Billboard’s charts used to be our barometer for music success. Are they meaningless in the streaming age? (The Washington Post, Travis M. Andrews, 2018)

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