By now we have all seen or at least heard about Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" music video. The former Disney star appears nude, cries and swings from a wrecking ball. There is more to it, but that sums it up in a sentence (I do like the song). The video broke Vevo's one-day record. It is also selling very well and may hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 (or did or didn't depending on when you are reading this).
While the "controversial" music video have been around since the beginning of the music video era, these videos are now become even more influential. Since Billboard decided to factor the music video view into its overall formula, unexpected songs have ended up doing very well.
The first song to receive success with this formula was the song "Harlem Shake" by Baauer. His song debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, confusion (at least in my mind) began to occur. While the video totals were astronomical, it appeared that it was being based mainly on 30-second clips made by the fans or the public not on the actual song's music video. This is not Baauer's fault and the craze did nothing but great things for him. Still, Billboard should have been a little clearer on how this new process was going to work.
Flash-forward a few months later when Lady Gaga was called out by Billboard's Bill Werde for tweeting links to her fans so they could watch her new music video 150-times in a row (among other things). While what Lady Gaga did wasn't right (though I am a fan of the song and the video), it did shed a light again on the new role that the music video. Some of the questions on the process were answered by Werde in the above article, but the public still seems to be a little confused (at least I am) on the role the music video now plays.
The thing is YouTube/Vevo is free (It is also not the only music video watching service). Users can watch their favorite artists' music videos over-and-over again. They may not even be watching the entire music video. While most are, a view can be accumulated by simply clicking on video and letting it load. To my knowledge, the views are not being counted by watching the entire music video (However I could be wrong).
Artists want their music to do well. They have the right to self-promote their music and whatever else they want their fans to know or buy. However, skewing the charts in their favor by having their rapid fan bases watch their music video hundreds of times should only be a small fraction of the formula.
To be fair, there have been other "skewing" methods out there and they have been going on even longer. Some Radio DJs play music by popular artists, regardless if the song is actually popular (the "money on the record" scenario). Consumers can also buy multiple copies of the song or album in question. This is not Billboards fault and I am sure there are methods in place to try to stop this.
So if (or when) Miley Cyrus's song hits #1, I would not be surprised if even more music videos attempt to "shock" us in order to gain success. Ms. Cyrus is not the first pop star to do this through the visual form of music videos, but she is one of the first to benefit from the newer Billboard formula. Whatever her vision was for the video, she knew it would make headlines and gain massive attention (and it did).
I can't blame her for using this to her advantage or Billboard for incorporating the music video into their charting system. They (Billboard) should. But, it appears there is a miscommunication between the artist, the fans, and Billboard on how music video views count towards the overall picture. Billboard does not have to give away its formula on how it charts the music. That could be disastrous. However, it needs to revisit the idea of allowing music video views. While the music video adds visualization to the song, it should be a small (meaning not equal to radio, streaming or actual sales) part of the overall charting process. In the end, it should be about the actual song, right?