Is it time to scrap the singles charts? It’s increasingly difficult to know what purpose they serve in a world where almost nobody buys singles any more. What are they actually supposed to measure? And how do they measure it?
In America this week, pop stars have been falling out and throwing aspersions about gaming the Billboard Hot 100. It began when grown-up boy wonder Justin Bieber and angelic diva Ariana Grande released a drippy old-fashioned duet, Stuck With U, which has a sweet lockdown video and sends all its proceeds to a first-responders charity. The saintly duo were then forced to deny allegations from the foul-mouthed ex-con rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine that they bought their way to the no 1 spot, and thereby cheated him of his first chart-topper.
It’s hard to know whose side to take. This is a bit like the Joker accusing Batwoman and Robin of foul play. 6ix9ine (Daniel Hernandez to his mother) had just been released early from prison due to the risks posed in there by Covid-19. He was serving two years for racketeering, armed robbery and conspiracy to murder, which is the kind of publicity that money can’t buy in certain sections of the hip-hop world.
And his comeback single, entitled Gooba for no reason that I can fathom, involves a lot of rude, shouty nonsense about sex and crime. Sample lyric: “As-salama-lama alaykum, you big hater / You nothin’ but a hater, hater, clout chaser / You’re mad, I’m back / Big mad, he’s mad, she’s mad, big sad / Ha-ha, don’t care, stay mad / Ah-hah, ah-hah, ah-hah.” He also boasts that he’s “been hot way before coronavirus”, just to keep it up-to-date.
The early indications had led 6ix9ine’s team to believe this was his moment, as his salacious and abrasive comeback video notched up over 200 million views on YouTube. Meanwhile, Bieber and Grande registered just 44 million, crooning “Yes, it’s true, I’m happy to be stuck with you” over images of them cuddling puppies and taking socially distanced strolls in parks.
But when this week’s Billboard US single charts were released, the drippy charity song had won. Cue the criminal rapper spewing accusations on Instagram that he wuz robbed. “It’s all manipulated, it’s all fabricated. I want the world to know that Billboard is a lie. You can buy No.1’s.” Bieber got all sniffy, saying the late release of sales figures pushing them to the top was “called strategy”, and Grande proclaimed that the loyalty of her fans showed they were “ride or die m—–f—–s”, rather than gullible young consumers buying up to four copies at a time to notch multiple sales while staying within chart rules.