Game over. All efforts to stave off the irrelevancy of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in the face of installing a pop star in the history books as the owner of the most successful single in the genre’s history ultimately failed.
This week, the song “Meant To Be” by pop star Bebe Rexha with Florida Georgia Line officially spent its 35th week atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, making it the longest-charting #1 hit in the chart’s nearly 70-year history. It passed Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad” to earn the distinction, but what you won’t see mentioned amid all the fanfare and hoopla over the accomplishment is the dubious way the designation was earned.
“Meant To Be” is not some monster summer hit that’s ever-present and ubiquitous throughout culture, ear-worming its way into the hearts of America and defining country music for the current era. Instead, it earned its historic run at #1 due to a couple of dubious distinctions. The first is the current rules for the Hot Country Songs chart first implemented in 2012 that give spins on pop and adult contemporary radio credit on the country charts. Though “Meant To Be” has long since disappeared or been backlisted in the majority of country radio station’s playlists, and is not being listened to en masse by country fans, it continues to grade incredibly well due to spins across non-country radio platforms.
When the new chart rules were installed in 2012, concerns from multiple genres were registered for how the charts were being tabulated due to the hypothetical scenario we’re seeing unfold at this very moment, where a non-genre song or artist could monopolize a genre-specific chart. Billboard was deaf on the issue then, and remains deaf on the issue now, not even mentioning in their puff piece on the new Bebe Rexha record that it was the 2012 chart rules that aided and abetted the accomplishment.
Beyond Billboard’s skewed rules—which subjugates all songs and artists before the 2012 rules changes to competing on a completely unfair playing field—Bebe Rexha and “Meant To Be” have benefited very specifically from shady placement on massive playlists, including Red Music’s country playlists on YouTube, as well as premier Spotify placement.
But “Meant To Be” doesn’t even pass the smell test. The song itself is innocuous pop, but unlike “Body Like a Backroad,” or the previous modern-day champion atop the Hot Country Songs chart—Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise”—“Meant To Be” doesn’t mark any significant sonic shift in country music, it isn’t resonating in a way that would be considered influential in the genre, and it’s not even memorable to most listeners. “Cruise” helped launch Bro-Country, and “Body Like a Backroad” brought EDM-style “country” music to the forefront. “Meant To Be” is just a generic pop song regarded in passing.
And possibly most concerning is there is no stopping here. Right now there are no legitimate candidates for who or what might dethrone Bebe Rexha and “Meant To Be” at the top of the charts. Some fingered Florida Georgia Line’s new single “Simple” as a possible candidate to be the next #1, but it slipped two spots this week on the Hot Country Songs from #4 to #6. Without the benefit of pop spins, streams, and downloads, it may be difficult to impossible to stop “Meant To Be” in the near term. It could have many more weeks and months at #1 before descending, making the record more difficult to break or rectify in the future.
And the issue with “Meant To Be” is not just one of pop vs. country. With so few spots on country radio being given to women artists, a song like “Meant To Be” further erodes opportunities to country women who’ve shown loyalty to the genre, and don’t send their own songs to pop radio.
But the time for bellyaching might be over. Clearly Billboard is deaf and blind to the impact of this issue, almost flaunting their nonchalant attitude towards the fair concern levied by fans and media alike about this clear and present issue, unwilling to enact reasonable tweaks to the system to make sure ridiculous aberrations like a pop star with a mild, non culturally-impacting pop song doesn’t dominate the country charts for well over half a calendar year and counting.
What Billboard has done is rendered what is supposed to be the industry’s premier song index for the country genre completely laughable and irrelevant. Henceforth, country fans, artists, and industry should only pay attention to the pre-2012 Hot Country Songs chart, and only rely on the Country Airplay chart as a reasonable metric of the resonance and staying power of a particular track, and obviously only in the radio environment (which has it’s own pitfalls and problems).
The inevitable has now happened. And now all that’s left to be determined is how long the charade of Bebe Rexha’s “Meant To Be” #1 will continue forth, shading out actual country artists, with each week offering further embarrassment to Billboard, and further validation to the fair concerns for the flaws in their system.