Billboard music charts show more meme than music

By Managing Editor

It’s not unusual for former hit songs to resurface on popular music charts generations after their musical peaks.

Madonna’s 1989 hit “Like a Prayer,” for instance, skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes Top Songs chart following the veteran pop star’s 2012 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance.

Queen and David Bowie’s collaboration “Under Pressure” repeaked at No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 following the untimely death of pop-rock icon Bowie.

Under the right circumstances, it makes total sense that a classic throwback track would gain some modern-day spins.

However, a recently viral meme that gave second wind to an old Simon & Garfunkel track from the ’60s suggests these circumstances are not always legitimate and highlights what could be a major flaw in Billboard’s current system of tracking popular music.

 “Sad Affleck,” a video featuring a disheartened Ben Affleck sulking in silence as he learns of the overwhelmingly terrible reviews of his latest film, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” was posted March 24 to the YouTube account Sabconth. In it, the frame slowly pans into a close-up of Affleck’s somber facial expression while Simon & Garfunkel’s melodramatic “The Sound of Silence” plays in the background.

As of press time, the viral video has already gained nearly 22 million views since being posted, propelling the track into the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart about a half-century after its initial release.

Not to say that “The Sound of Silence” is not worthy of such recognition. It is a Simon & Garfunkel classic that even topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart back in its prime. However, given the meme’s viral nature, it is clear that this second wave of recognition for Simon & Garfunkel’s artistry does not come from an adoring place.

In February 2013, Billboard dramatically updated its Hot 100 ranking system to incorporate data on YouTube views of clips containing an artist’s music.

The policy change reflected the rising popularity of music videos and their influence on the general public’s listening habits, but it also elevated some undeserving songs to “hit” status.

The updated Hot 100 formula has allowed truly popular and deserving songs, like Rihanna’s music video-assisted hit “Stay” to excel on the Billboard charts. But it has also given rise to some less-deserving songs like EDM producer Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” which people appreciated as nothing more than a comedic dance craze rather than a well-produced and meaningful song.

Billboard has implemented a series of updates in recent years to stay up-to-date with current music industry trends. The magazine decided in 2013 to include streaming statistics from major on-demand music outlets to count toward songs’ Hot 100 positions. Later in 2014, Billboard’s album chart was also updated to include streaming statistics in its ranking system.

While these updates have been generally welcomed by industry professionals, instances like Simon & Garfunkel’s sudden resurgence resulting from a viral meme demonstrate a need for further reform. Billboard’s charts should reflect the most popular songs at a given moment, not whichever memes people seem to enjoy most.