Here’s a topic for you – how far are you willing to go to make sure Duran Duran stays on the charts?
Let me back up a bit. Back in May, album pre-sales were announced for Future Past. We all bought what we wanted, and as each new single arrived, I’m sure there were additional flurries of pre-purchases made. Then on October 22, the glorious day arrived. Future Past was released, and along with all of those pre-sales, more albums were undoubtedly purchased. Newly offered signed copies, copies signed by only one of the four members (gotta buy them all, right?), and of course, if you didn’t already have the deluxe CD and wanted to hear all of the songs, you had the opportunity to turn around and buy one of the digital deluxe versions, too. Then, there was the streaming on top of that, and suddenly Duran Duran were in a neck-and-neck fight with Elton John for the top spot. Hey, ending up as #3 in the UK forty years after their debut isn’t bad for a band that NME once said didn’t even deserve their success.
Of course, that was the first week. What happens next though, also matters. This is the part I often wonder about. I mean, it is one thing to end up in the Top Ten for week one, but will it have staying power? Will it continue to wander about in the mix, or will it make a quick decline? Well, at least for week two, it remains to be hanging on in the Top Twenty, at #20.
Let’s just be honest with ourselves here. In the past, we’ve seen this same scenario. Paper Gods did remarkably well in the first week, but after all of those cumulative pre-sales, streams and purchases during that first week, the hype died off, and so did the album, largely because none of the singles really did much on the charts. There was nothing to keep the album sales going – I mean, once you buy an album, unless you’re a major fan, how many copies do you really need?!? And of course, as we all know – much of the public today buys and streams individual songs, not albums. So unless there’s a hit or something that gets a tremendous amount of play somewhere – what can be done?
Granted, I’m not really sure how much of this genuinely matters to Duran Duran in 2021. I would imagine they’re self-aware enough to realize they’ve been at this for over forty years at this point. They’ve made their money, done their tours, and proved their point. Even so, I’d suspect that somebody at DDHQ, or definitely their label, still cares about charts and sales. It’s a matter of business, if nothing else. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – they’re not doing this for charity. Art is important, but so is paying the bills. To do both is tantamount to success and being able to continue on.
With those thoughts in the back of your mind, today I read an article about fandom. In full disclosure, I had googled “music fandom” because I knew I needed to write about fandom today and needed something to draw from. I found an article about how music fandom has gone from talking with friends to online war. The article was interesting, but one subtopic in particular made me stop and think.
The BTS Army is not just a fandom, but a legion of incredibly dedicated followers who work hard to make sure the group stays on the charts. They’ve gone the extra mile, taking it upon themselves to become fully educated of the rules that Billboard uses to govern chart tabulations. In fact, one of their most dedicated put together a list of tips for the rest of the Army to follow, citing things such as not bundle buying (many times only the first purchase counts), or putting songs in playlists rather than just putting one song on continual play (it could be a bot), or not putting the stream on mute, suggesting instead that the Army just use earbuds if they’re going to stream 24/7.
I had to sit back and let that sink in. This is how “old school” I am. I mean, here I am thinking that these charts are tabulated on the up and up. That if Elton or Adele, Ariana, Gaga or even BTS are sitting at #1, whether it’s a song or an entire album, that it is because the public loves it that much. I certainly never considered the possibility that Swifties out there are doing their duty as fans by plugging in some headphones, and hitting one of their playlists…or many of them, with a particular song or several on them, and having them play on a loop! It never even occurred to me to just hook up some earbuds to my laptop and start streaming Future Past all day…much less twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. This, my friends, is why we’re not winning this game.
Rest assured, at this point, it IS a game. Back in my day, before buying a rocking chair and finding a good place to sit and yell at the neighborhood kids on my porch (okay, I don’t even have a porch, much less a rocking chair, but I think you get the point), I felt like the charts were at least fair. That’s probably my naivety speaking, so be it. I was foolish enough to buy into the rules. If you bought the album, it was counted. If the song played on the radio, it counted. In order to get the song played, you’d call the station and beg. Very simple. I understood the rules and knew the game. People had to actually like the song, or the album to be motivated to buy it, and then get it played. Nowadays, apparently it doesn’t even matter. There are legions of people who have nothing better to do than stream music so that bands and artists they like end up at the top. Doesn’t matter if they listen or not, it counts. I suppose in that sense, one could have called the radio stations, begged for the song to be played and not have listened when it did – but you still had to be motivated to even try. This idea of streaming playlists or albums twenty four hours a day just seems, well, quite a bit contrived!
Sure, I could have been doing that same thing all along. We all could have, and maybe we even should have. Maybe some of you have been doing just that! I know I never thought of it. Perhaps that says a lot about me and my age. I don’t know, but if that’s what it takes to keep Duran Duran on the charts – well, it just feels so damn fake, why even bother? It’s a game that I’m not even sure I want to play.