Bruno Mars, Rihanna, “Harlem Shake” just changed pop music

Bruno Mars sings Locked Out of Heaven


You guys, there are six billion things happening on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.

For one thing, YouTube views are being incorporated into chart rankings for the very first time, which means they contribute to a song’s position along with radio airplay, streaming airplay, and digital sales.

And thanks to that, Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” debuts at number 1. And that’s not only because it sold almost 200,000 copies, but also because it was viewed on YouTube 103 million times in the last seven days. That number includes every version of the damn “Harlem Shake” video meme, and that says a lot about how popular this song is right now.

Personally, I think it’s great that YouTube is finally impacting the charts, because for a lot of people, YouTube is the primary pathway to music. I’m assuming Billboard has worked out a way to discount people who just repeat a video all day long to drive it up the charts. I hope they have. Because otherwise, this really helps the chart reflect the reality of popular music. This week, it really does seem appropriate for “Harlem Shake” to be number one

Also interesting: Baauer has never charted on the Hot 100 before, which means he went to number one in the very first week that anyone has ever heard of him. That’s never happened before. Lauryn Hill debuted at number with her first single back in 1998, but by then, she’d been killing us softly (two times, two times) for years. Until 7 days ago, there were probably only 19 people in the entire world who even knew Baauer existed. (I’ll bet Azealia Banks is mad about his success. Hahahahahaha.)

But that’s not all! This week, Rihanna’s “Stay” leaps into the top ten at number 3, while Bruno Mars jumps from 9 to 8 with “When I Was Your Man.” Which means there are two honest-to-god ballads in the top ten at the same time. It has been years since that happened, and to me, this dual success says the pop music pendulum has totally shifted back to slow songs. If you’ll remember, the mid-aughts produced, like, three ballad hits total. Then Adele came along in 2011 with “Someone Like You,” and people suddenly remembered that spare, haunting music could be amazing. That cleared the way for Mars’ “It Will Rain,” Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” and just two weeks ago, Pink’s “Try” to make the top ten. Meanwhile, songs like “Jar of Hearts” were hanging out in the top twenty.

But to me, this seems like the true watershed week. If we can love multiple ballads at the same time, then we should expect a lot more of them to be successful this year. That’s good news for Pink and Nate Ruess’ newly official single “Just Give Me a Reason,” which I named the best song of 2012, and it’s even better news for people who need songs to dance to at the prom, songs to dedicate to their loved ones on late-night radio, and songs to cry to while they’re throwing away an ex’s old t-shirts.

Or put another way: Pop music is just more interesting when we can Harlem shake it in the morning, kick it with Swedish House Mafia in the afternoon, and croon with Rihanna till the breaka-breaka dawn. By making room for all these sounds at once, we are building a more exciting musical landscape for ourselves, and that’s good for everyone.

Mark Blankenship hopes this ballad thing means someone covers “Eternal Flame,” because that is the best song. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.