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Billboard chart, Nielsen ratings do the 'Harlem Shake'

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Here's a sentence I thought I'd only type as I saw the fourth horseman ride by: The "Harlem Shake" has reached No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart.

Effective this week, the Billboard Hot 100 chart now incorporates YouTube views in the data used to determine chart position.

The new policy means that the viral-video hit "Harlem Shake" -- a song originally by Brooklyn producer Baauer but now in countless parody versions online -- debuted atop this week's Hot 100 at No. 1. That's only the 21st time a song that was not previously on the chart suddenly appeared on top, according to Billboard.

"The very definition of what it means to have a hit is ever-changing these days," Billboard's Bill Werde said in a statement. "The Billboard charts are the ultimate measure of success in music, and they constantly evolve to reflect these new music experiences."

The official "Harlem Shake" is a three-minute song, itself now counting views in the millions. But the 30-second oddity that kicked off a new meme is this version, now viewed more than 15 million times:

It's got a ways to go to catch up to PSY's billion-plus views of "Gangnam Style."

Expect a similar shake-up in TV ratings this fall, when Nielsen begins factoring what we watch over broadband, via consoles like Xbox and Playstation and "over-the-top services," into its revenue-determining television viewership rankings.

These are overall hopeful moves by entertainment industries that often resist and delay acknowledgment of new media.

The Billboard charts just began incorporating sales data in the mid-'90s. For decades previously, the charts were determined strictly by radio airplay. Since the very existence of commercial radio is foreign to many young music consumers, the charts -- which, as the Nielsens do for TV, determine revenue projections for many artists -- can be crucial to the discovery and development of new talent.

Now with data reflecting what people are actually listening to, even if it's on their laptops, the ranked landscape is liable to change dramatically in the coming weeks. Already on the new chart, Rihanna's "Stay" -- juiced by her arresting performance of the ballad at last week's Grammys, and the kind of slow song radio likely shies away from -- jumped from No. 57 to No. 3 on the Hot 100. Likewise, Drake's "Started from the Bottom" went from No. 63 to No. 10.

The downside to this direct-democracy taste-making, of course, is that the common denominator tends to sink a bit. "Harlem Shake," "Gangnam Style," "Friday" -- expect more shiny-thing distractions and less actual art, at least in the most public conversations and rankings.


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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