Sorry Billboard, Drake is probably not the biggest artist ever

Views wasn’t that bad.
Views wasn’t that bad.
Image: Ryan Emberley
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The Billboard Hot 100 is the US music industry’s most influential chart. Since 1958, it’s been used to rank the most popular songs in the country, across all genres. That’s why it was a big deal when, on July 9, Billboard announced that Drake had claimed seven simultaneous slots in the Hot 100’s top 10 songs, beating a five-song record previously held by The Beatles.

Except the music magazine neglected to mention an important caveat: Just that day, Billboard had changed the way it weights song streams.

Artists with the most solo Billboard Hot 100 songs in a single week

As music consumption changes, so do the methods by which Billboard determines a song’s popularity (“Most Played in Jukeboxes,” for example, used to be a factor). In May, Billboard announced one such change to the way it weights stream plays. As of July 9, paid subscription streams—Tidal, Apple Music, Google Play, etc.—would be weighed the heaviest, at a full point value per play, while ad-supported streams such as YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify would count for two-thirds of a point. Programmed streams such as Pandora and Napster would count for a half point value per play. The values would then be combined with radio airplay and sales numbers to determine a final ranking, with streaming as the most dominant factor.

It goes without saying that when the Beatles sat atop the Hot 100 over 50 years ago, their rankings did not include streams. It’s thus impossible to know how popular their albums’ non-singles were, or whether streaming plays might have sent more of them into the Hot 100. So while Drake is undeniably huge, historical Hot 100 comparisons are only nominally effective for evaluating artists’ popularity.

Billboard’s changing algorithms may have also impacted the quantity and diversity of artists represented on the Hot 100. Today, we’re at a historic low—the Drakes, Ariana Grandes, and Travis Scotts of the world are dominating the charts like never before.