Justin Bieber’s signature 2010 hit “Baby” which features Ludacris has become the highest-certified single in history, after the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) decision to add streaming data.
To be precise, the RIAA has incorporated on-demand streaming numbers into its Gold and Platinum certifications for digital singles.
The previous holder of the number one position was Elton John’s 1973 double-A masterpiece co-written with Bernie Taupin, “Candle in the Wind/ Something About The Way You Look Tonight.”
A classic, “Candle in the Wind” was famously rewritten and re-recorded in 1997 and performed at the funeral of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. But, by then it had already earned an 11-times platinum certification.
Bieber’s “Baby” which has 3.9 million track sales to its name, over 857 million views on Vevo (those will be rising as you read), is now 12-times platinum.
The RIAA’s decision is a bold and timely one.
For better or for worse and there are arguments for and against, the business of how the record industry does business has moved on from the golden eras of the early 50’s to mid 70’s, before dipping and re-galvanizing post Michael Jackson’s Thriller release in 1982.
The simple act of consumers paying for a physical copy of a record, latterly CD, has morphed into fragmented streams and a multitude of platforms whereby consumers can hear and purchase the music of their choice.
The addition of streaming services that millions, if not billions, of music lovers are now using, to gold or platinum certifications is as Billboard describes “an accurate representation of the world consumers live in today.”
The user operated but also corporate operated online video platform YouTube is the “new radio” for a whole new generation of kids, young adults and adults and the RIAA is simply moving in-step with the way things are.
In addition, taking a look at the criteria the organization is using, it’s clear they haven’t opened the doors to a lawless state. For track certifications, the RIAA only counts streams from services that pay record labels.
These include, video services YouTube and Vevo and audio services MOG, Xbox Music, Slacker, Muve Music, Rhapsody and Spotify.
Before South Korean rapper PSY and the advent of “Gangnam Style,” Bieber’s “Baby” was the most watched video on YouTube. Now “Baby” resides at number two to the K-Pop hit which has since reached over 1.6 billion views. Ironically, PSY shares a manager with Bieber in Scooter Braun.
Billboard provides a listing of the rest of the positions. The names won’t come as a surprise to anyone. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Eminem and Rihanna on “Love the Way You Lie” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s (also managed by Braun) “Call Me Maybe.”
The add-on of streaming data means there are now 11 Gold, 18 Platinum and 27 multi-platinum new Digital Single Awards. Essentially those artists and record that are already certificated move up if their streaming numbers warrant it.
Lana Del Rey “Video Games” is one such record to receive one of the six new Gold certifications. New Platinums include Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
RIAA Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman says the organization worked for a year on procedures for calculating the new data they intended to incorporate. One type of service that didn’t make the cut were so-called ‘push’ services.
In simple terms, “pull” is exampled in a subscription service like Spotifiy where the user can actively make a purchase. In contrast, a non-interactive Internet radio service like Pandora is seen as a “push” category because the user doesn’t have to demonstrate the same level of active “intent.”
Certain types of Video-On-Demand streams are also excluded. For example, User-Generated Content (UGC) streams don’t count, only the official video.
There will probably be many who disagree with that decision, remixers for one, especially if their versions boost overall sales of the original. But one imagines the RIAA decided they had to draw a line somewhere.
Essentially, the RIAA counts streams that are created by the artist themselves and not copycats or off-shoots that are based on the original. In that, it differs from Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart which does count both official and UGC videos.
The mathematical standard the RIAA used to calculate streaming numbers for the purpose of certification is its own created conversion rate: 100 on-demand streams = 1 download.
Billboard notes that for the foreseeable the new landscape will mean more not less certifications for artists and songs, but says that will likely balance out in time. The record industry now enters — if not quite a braver — then a newer, more accurate world with the addition of accepted streams.
For “Baby’s” main writers Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, The-Dream, Christina Milian, and Ludacris (interlude rap) and Bieber who is likely a ‘grace’ writer on the song, it’s a stunning achievement.
At the time, Bieber’s “Baby,” which was the lead single from his 2010 My World 2.0 album, perfectly encapsulated a 15-year-old at the beginning of his career. Now, poised to perform at this Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards, in which he has received multiple nods, the 19-year-old is also shortlisted alongside Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, for a Milestone Award.
With today’s news, in one sense he’s already won it.