PSY’s “Gangnam Style” is a major pop phenomenon and one of the biggest hits to ever start off as a viral video. It’s hit Number One in several countries including the U.K., but hasn’t reached the top of the charts in the United States because it’s been parked at Number Two behind Maroon 5’s quasi-reggae single “One More Night” for the past month.
If your exposure to pop music mainly comes from the internet, this may seem inconceivable. “Gangnam Style” has become a nearly inescapable meme, and PSY’s online omnipresence has carried over to high-profile appearances on American television. Maroon 5’s song, by contrast, hasn’t inspired much fan creativity, and in the context of other Maroon 5 hits, it’s not quite as famous as “Moves Like Jagger” or “This Love.” If you never listen to pop radio, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard it. But it’s huge on the radio, and just as “Gangnam Style” is proof that the internet now has a major influence on what can become a major pop song, Maroon 5’s chart dominance illustrates that radio play still makes a big difference in 2012. Still, that influence is quickly waning.
Well, maybe not thaaaat big a difference. Billboard determines chart placement based on a variety of factors including radio airplay, digital sales, YouTube views, and on-demand play on services like Spotify and Rdio, and the race between the two songs has been a photo finish for three weeks running. Though “Gangnam Style” has been consistently ahead of “One More Night” in terms of on-demand and YouTube plays, it’s only just started making an impression on radio, and made the jump to Number 16 on Billboard’s radio play chart last week. Even still, Maroon 5’s lead in this area is dramatic, and the band has a long history as a staple act on pop radio. “One More Night” is the band’s third Number One in the recent past — “Moves Like Jagger” was on top for seven weeks around this time last year, and “Payphone” was there for six weeks beginning in July.
While Maroon 5’s slim victory on the charts can be seen as a win for a old radio-centric model of pop, it’s really a better indication that radio’s influence is on the decline, and the democratic force of the web increasingly has the power to push outlier artists to the top of the charts — Fun., Gotye, and Carly Rae Jepsen have all hit Number One this year thanks in large part to going viral online. While it’s true that
Maroon 5 is a clear example of the record industry establishment’s promotional power — it’s a song that plays by the rules of pop radio by an act that’s been around the block a few times, with a singer with a major presence on television — if an unpredictable viral smash like “Gangnam Style” can come so close to eclipsing it in the marketplace despite having every advantage, it might not be long before the anarchy of the internet upends every market-tested pop product assumed to be a sure thing.