Radiohead goes Top 40 US (???)

PLEASE SEE THE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.

Ah, the Billboard Hot 100. The most dependable list of overplayed, overproduced R&B and pop drivel you could ever ask for. If you ever find yourself thinking, “you know, current pop music isn’t really so bad” (and I don’t know why you would, but stay with me here), you need only click over to billboard.com to have your optimism quickly and mercilessly pummeled.

Today’s headline: “Mariah’s ‘Body’ Remains Atop Hot 100,” gleefully reminding us that she has moved past Elvis and now has the second-most #1 US hits ever (now only behind some old English band with a misspelled name). Reading on, more depressing (but unsurprising) news: “Madonna’s ’4 Minutes’ holds at No. 3 after selling 217,000 digital downloads”; “Flo Rida’s ‘Low’ featuring T-Pain is No. 10 for a second week”; “The Hot 100′s top debut is Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ at No. 37″.

Wait a fucking minute.

No, that’s not a joke. Radiohead has their first Top 40 hit single since “Creep,” and that’s without getting any mainstream radio airplay or face time on MTV. There they are, just a few spots under the Jonas Brothers and a few above Taylor Swift. Congratulations to the Oxford boys and all, but seriously, what the fuck happened?

Clearly the main culprit is iTunes, which is now the biggest music retailer in the US and pretty much the only truly significant distributor of singles these days. But a bunch of web geeks all buying the “Nude” single on iTunes, months after the whole of In Rainbows was made available for free download by the band itself? Seems pretty unlikely, right?

A quick check of iTMS’ current top songs confirms my suspicion: Madonna, Mariah, Jordin Sparks, Chris Brown, et al. Four Taylor Siwft songs in the top 100, in fact, but no “Nude” — no Radiohead at all.

To figure out this puzzle you have to do a search on Radiohead. Bring up the page displaying all their available music on iTunes, and you’ll see In Rainbows, Nude (Single), Nude (Bass Stem) – Single, Nude (Drum Stem) – Single, Nude (String FX Etc. Stem) – Single, Nude (Guitar Stem) – Single, and Nude (Voice Stem) – Single. Under “Top Songs,” iTunes shows the five most popular downloads, and as you might have guessed it looks like a goddamn nudist colony.

Earlier this month, Radiohead’s label announced a contest in which you could remix “Nude” and post your track to radioheadremix.com (the prize: fleeting internet fame). You could purchase each of the “stems,” or individual instument tracks, from iTunes — for the full single price of a buck apiece. Now, there couldn’t possibly be enough people remixing Nude to account for a Top 40 hit, right? But what if each stem counts as a download for the single? That would explain why “Nude” doesn’t show up in iTMS’ chart — it’s not the quantity of people buying the song, it’s that each person who does is buying it five times. Then tack on however many downloads of the full track itself, and you’ve got yourself a hit!

I can’t prove this, of course, but it looks like Radiohead has cheated their way onto the Hot 100.

Does that make it any less sweet to see them on there, though?

Update: I want to put out a small fire before it starts. Wired has quoted me on this (very flattering for my modest blog), but they seem to have misunderstood my point about Nude showing up under “Top Songs” in iTunes. I am referring specifically to the Top Radiohead Songs on the artist page. The fact that all the stems dominate here shows that there is a level of popularity for each, but not enough to push them into the Top 100 songs on iTunes overall. This is why I draw the conclusion that the stems are being individually counted as single sales. I am NOT implying any kind of conspiracy on the part of Apple, Radiohead, or anyone else. I just think it’s kind of a tricky way to get a song charting, and not necessarily even a dishonest one.

3 Responses to “Radiohead goes Top 40 US (???)”

  1. Apple may have pulled ‘Nude’ from iTunes Chart | Radiohead At Ease [In Rainbows] Says:

    [...] Richard Bradley thinks he knows the answer. “In a nutshell, [Radiohead] kind of scammed people into buying the single five times over.” His theory is that iTunes’ sales numbers for “Nude” were misleading because Apple included sales of the song as well as the individual stems for guitar, drums, bass, voice and strings/effects in the same sales figure. And he attributes the song’s appearance on the Billboard chart to how well it had been selling in the iTunes music store. [...]

  2. Stereogum Says:

    Radiohead Hit Billboard Top 40, Get Remixed Some More…

    Remember that “Nude” remix contest we posted about last week? Holy Fuck was winning at the time. Now we have a different holy fuck. Part of the remix plans involved purchasing “stems” or song components (e.g. voice, guitar, strings, drums)……

  3. Why would Apple Itunes pull down album track Nude from Radiohead ? | SniffOut.org Says:

    [...] Why would Apple Itunes pull down album track Nude from Radiohead ? Radiohead’s "Nude" made the Billboard Hot 100 this week at no. 37 — their first appearance on the chart since "High & Dry" in 1996. I had been wondering why Radiohead picked iTunes to release the remix stems, rather than using their own website as they had with other aspects of In Rainbows‘ digital release. Richard Bradley thinks he knows the answer. [...]