How 'Harlem Shake' became a No. 1 song

The tune has few lyrics and is a radio dud. But a new change by Billboard means that viral hits will now get more industry attention.

By Kim Peterson Feb 25, 2013 4:19PM
Video still of costumed men dancing to 'Harlem Shake' (Courtesy of song "Harlem Shake" has almost no lyrics and is largely forgettable. It's a terrible song for radio, with repetitive instrumentals and, inexplicably, deep animal growls. But last week, it debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart.

Expect to see more of these quirky novelty songs topping the charts. That's because Billboard magazine has begun counting video plays on Google's (GOOG) YouTube service in its formula for determining its Hot 100 chart.

Last week, various versions of Baauer's "Harlem Shake" video had been viewed 103 million times, The Los Angeles Times reported. The song has turned into a global phenomenon, with countless people making their own video versions of the "Harlem Shake" dance. (See here, here and here for examples.)

Billboard used to track mostly physical sales and digital download sales in its ranking of top songs. But that formula was becoming irrelevant in an age when Psy's "Gangnam Style" and the expletive-laden version of Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" bypass traditional sales and shoot to the top of YouTube's playlist.

How will this move change the future of music? Singer Josh Groban seems less then thrilled, writing "Smh" (for shaking my head) on Twitter about Billboard's change.

At the very least, this means that novelty songs like "Gangnam Style" will get more credibility and legitimacy in the traditional music business. And for unknown artists who would otherwise have zero chance of a hit album, all it takes now is a goofy, explosive online video to get the world to take notice.

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