Last October, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” just missed topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart because of an unusual technicality: The viral clip was initially released exclusively on Apple Music, whose video-streaming data was not shared with Billboard. Now, Drake’s label, Republic Records, is relying on another unusual technicality to skew the numbers regarding the Toronto star’s new LP, Views — this time in Drake’s favo(u)r. Per Republic:
The album, including digital tracks and streaming album equivalents, has crossed the 1 million mark in U.S. sales and nearly 1.2 million globally, and is expected to bow at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 in North America.
OK so let’s break up that sentence real quick, because it includes two unrelated clauses that are cleverly fused to make it seem as though there is some correlation:
1. The album, including digital tracks and streaming album equivalents, has crossed the 1 million mark in U.S. sales and nearly 1.2 million globally.
2. [The album] is expected to bow at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 in North America.
Let’s start with the latter of those two statements: Views probably (maybe?) will debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, because Drake is a popular artist, because Views has been given a crazily elaborate and wildly expensive promotional push, and because the album’s chief competitor — Beyoncé’s Lemonade — will inevitably drop off from its own first-week numbers of 653,000 equivalent album units. So, assuming Drake does manage to beat Bey, then congrats to Drake! Well done.
Now let’s get to the bullshit.
The only reason Views “has crossed the 1 million mark in U.S. sales and nearly 1.2 million globally” is because of the final song on the album; a late inclusion called “Hotline Bling.” As you might recall, back in February, the RIAA changed its certification methodology to account for “streaming and download consumption patterns.” Per the RIAA’s new rules, “1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale.”
On just Spotify alone, recently released singles “One Dance” and “Pop Style” have amassed 67 million and 18 million global plays, respectively. Upon Views’ release, any of those plays that occurred in the United States will apply not only to those songs’ qualifications towards RIAA digital single certifications, but towards the album certification as well. By the RIAA’s new methodology, that amounts to potentially tens of thousands of applicable and attributable sales the second Views drops, though notably it won’t factor into its placement on Billboard’s album charts.
Furthermore, the inclusion of 2015 single “Hotline Bling” as a bonus track could send Views’ RIAA numbers skyrocketing. With well over 400 million Spotify streams worldwide and close to 700 million official YouTube plays globally on Drake’s Vevo channel, this aging hit could be the infusion that sends Views well on its way to multi-platinum status before year’s end.
Got that? It’s not that the sales numbers being bandied about by Republic are technically inaccurate; it’s that the May 2016 numbers are artificially inflated by a song released in July 2015, which didn’t even become a hit until its video was released in October 2015.
But “Summer Sixteen” wasn’t included on the final Views tracklist. So then … what was the “lead single” off Views? Let’s see what Wikipedia says…
“Hotline Bling” is a song by Canadian rapper Drake, which serves as the lead single from his fourth studio album Views. The song itself is only credited as a bonus track on Views, however the song is present on all editions of the album.
Of course all this assumes Republic is using the RIAA’s formula for determining album sales. The company didn’t reveal its data’s source. It could be that they’re instead using the Nielsen formula for calculating album sales, which “utilize[s] accepted industry benchmarks for digital and streaming data, equating 10 digital track sales from an album to one equivalent album sale, and 1,500 song streams from an album to one equivalent album sale. All of the major on-demand audio subscription services are considered, including Spotify, Beats Music, Google Play and Xbox Music.” (Notably excluding YouTube.)
Or there’s yet another option: It’s possible Republic is combining the Nielsen formula with the RIAA formula … in which case there’s absolutely no way of knowing how many people actually purchased or listened to Views during its first week of availability.
In any of these scenarios, though, the numbers being reported by Republic are wildly distorted.
So yeah, maybe Views will debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, but the idea that it sold 1.2 million copies in its first week (coincidentally the same number as 1989!) while limited to Apple Music subscribers and iTunes downloads is laughable — and the fact that it’s being presented to the public in this way is pretty gross.
And if it happens that Beyoncé’s numbers don’t fall off, and Drake once again fails to hit #1? Well that’ll make for some pretty sweet Lemonade … and a damn sour Apple.