How “Harlem Shake” Topped the Hot 100

February 22, 2013 | Andy Cush

Once upon a time in the long long ago, record sales and terrestrial radio play were the only things that mattered for charting the performance of a particular single–if a song sold well and got radio play (and the two usually go hand-in-hand), it charted. If it didn’t, it didn’t.

Then came the internet, and file sharing, and iTunes, internet radio, and streaming services, and slowly but surely, the Billboard charts have adapted to each of those innovations (besides file sharing of the illegal variety). Now, just as Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” rode the relatively new digital download market to chart supremacy in 2006, Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” rose to the top of the Hot 100 this week due to a new facet of Billboard’s tracking, as the organization has finally accepted the internet’s biggest de facto music service: YouTube.

It’s unclear whether the viral popularity of “Harlem Shake” –which happened almost exclusively via those meme-y 30-second YouTube clips–caused Billboard to take notice, or if the timing of the change is simple coincidence. Either way, the track became the 21st song ever to make its Hot 100 debut at number one, knocking Macklemore’s maddening “Thrift Shop” from the top spot.

Other bred-on-the-internet smash singles of recent memory– “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style” spring to mind–eventually made their way over to the radio and started charting. “Harlem Shake,” for whatever reason, hasn’t really done that yet (my guess is that it’s an instrumental). Now, with Billboard’s newly YouTube-friendly statistics, the track’s inevitable world domination can continue, whether radio hips to it or not.

Up-and-coming musicians, here’s some free marketing advice: just invent a cool meme that somehow incorporates your song, get it shared a few times, and watch the big bucks start flowing.