Monday, December 05, 2011

Judging Hits In The Digital Age - The Avril Lavigne Case Study

How do you judge a hit these days? It sounds like a stupid question. You just go to iTunes or check your country's latest official chart. Right? I'd argue it's not that easy. The extinction of physical singles has resulted in a downloading free-for-all. You can now grab a couple of album tracks from Coldplay's new cure for insomnia as well as your favourite Christmas carol and that song Reece covered on X Factor. No complaints here. I do exactly same thing but are any of those chart-eligible mp3s representative of week's hottest singles? I'd argue no. When you throw in the unavoidable bias for artists with young or militant gay fans (ie. the people who are actually willing to spend $2.19 on a stupid computer file), the whole thing becomes even more skewered. The situation is worse in America where radio play and views on social media platforms like YouTube enter the mix. Does anyone really understand how the Billboard Charts are calculated? For starters, who is Ace Hood and why are all the country songs stalled between 60 and 80 on the Hot 100? But I digress.

The inspiration for this post was actually the success - at least to my mind - of Avril Lavigne's "Wish You Were Here". I instantly adored the Max Martin/Shellback-produced ballad when I first listened to "Goodbye Lullaby" way back in February and have grown to love it more with each passing month. However, even I thought the Canadian diva was wasting her time when she decided to release it as a single in September. The album had been dead for months and the once all-conquering pop-rocker appeared to be one of those unfortunate artists who are cursed with an ageing fanbase that can't be bothered with, or simply don't understand, the wonderful of legal downloading. Janet, Madonna and Mariah all feel her pain!

But then something strange happened. "Wish You Were Here" crawled its way up the pop airplay chart despite being added to approximately half the number of channels as current radio titans like Rihanna and Katy Perry. That encouraged Avril to sing on a couple of late-night talkshows and the emotional anthem started climbing the US iTunes chart and recently debuted at 99 on the Hot 100. Those achievements combined with the understated video's 50 million+ views on YouTube (more than recent clips from Beyoncé, Britney and Lady Gaga) make the song a raging success in my book. If she benefited from a tenth of the blog coverage of those divas and was given a fair shot at radio, I'm sure she would be celebrating another top 10 hit. It will be interesting to see if Avril's latest can keep on going or has already done its dash. Either way, "Wish You Were Here" has connected with people in a way that I don't believe is accurately reflected by its lacklustre charts position. Check out the clip below and download it from iTunes if it pushes your buttons. Be festive and help a bitch out!


tommie said...

Well, I guess there's different type of hits - there's the obvious ones that sell tonnes of copies and tops the charts.

There's the slow-burning ones that never achieve massive exposure at once, but spends forever on the charts, eventually racking up decent sales.

There's the songs that seemingly goes absolutely nowhere, but keeps the album it's coming from selling (a recent example of this is Will Young's Come On that peaked outside the UK top 80, but has kept the album in the top 30).

Etc etc.

I wouldn't call Avril's song a hit (at least yet) though.

Cyber said...

It gets even more complicated when you factor in stuff like Gaga selling BTW album for a dollar and recently Katy Perry flogging The One That Got Away for 69cents on US iTunes.

Also the fact that there seems that a song can cost about $1.50 to $2.20 complicates things futher.