Billboard has a genre problem

Decade-End Charts: numbers don’t lie, unfortunately

Over the last few weeks, Billboard has been rolling out their Decade-End Charts. While most publications have been publishing articles on which artists they subjectively believe to have owned the decade, Billboard uses factual evidence through numbers and statistics to crown the musicians on their list. While numbers don’t lie, they may be… miscategorized?

Billboard released lists of overall hottest songs, albums, and artists of the decade, regardless of genre. The song of the decade went to “Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, while the album of the decade went to Adele for 21. The top artists will only be announced months from now at the Billboard Music Awards.

Other than the overall top lists, Billboard also classically broke down their lists into genres. While we may have known that Billboard has had trouble classifying songs under their appropriate genres since the controversy surrounding Lil Nas X’s smash hit “Old Town Road,” they do not seem to have learned from their mistakes. Specifically, Billboard’s rock and hip hop/R&B lists seem to be raising some questions as to how one classifies genre, especially songs that blend more than one.

When we think of 2010s hip hop and R&B, there must be some pretty obvious winners: Drake, Kanye West, Travis Scott, and Post Malone are just a few of the rappers that have defined the decade and consistently topped the charts. Yet, Billboard affirms that you’d be wrong to assume that any of these artists made the top three hottest hip hop songs of the decade. Instead, that honour goes to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for “Thrift Shop,” Bruno Mars for “That’s What I Like,” and Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell for “Blurred Lines.”

This list is a clear insult to actual hip hop and R&B. After all, these songs are clearly pop songs.

While that used to simply mean “popular music,” pop has definitely become a genre of its own, and Billboard even acknowledges that. We all know what pop music sounds like: the three songs I just listed. Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, not hip hop. And, if he were still releasing music today, Michael Jackson should not be ranked at the top of Billboard’s hip hop charts.

Perhaps the confusion lies in categorizing R&B, pop, and hip hop under the same list. It would make more sense to view Michael Jackson as some form of R&B, but hip hop is a stretch. Or, perhaps the confusion lies in why Billboard seems to classify every black artist as an R&B/hip hop artist, regardless of actual genre.

There are also complaints to be made about the decade-end rock category, but perhaps that is more an issue of personal taste versus being miscategorized. While notable bands, who have all released new music in the last decade – like the Strokes, the Killers, and the Rolling Stones – are all missing from the list, it is instead Imagine Dragons that holds the top three hottest rock songs of the decade. Who has ever said the words “put on that new Imagine Dragons album?”

If you were worried about the state of rock music before, you’re surely panicking now.

And, if you ever debated who the best rapper alive is, Billboard says it’s Bruno Mars.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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