Redefining the “Hit” Song

Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks” climbed its way into heavy rotation on mainstream radio to earn a place on the collective soundtrack for Summer 2011. It’s a catchy pop tune with an easy, head nodding beat and a refrain that makes for a fun sing-along. The single topped out at #2 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in July 2011 and went platinum many times over.

“Pumped up Kicks” has been off the Billboard 200 chart for months, but something surprising surfaced five weeks ago with the debut of the Billboard On-Demand chart. Pulled from listening data supplied by top subscription services like Rhapsody, On-Demand is the only chart that measures what music fans are actively listening to right now. And it turns out music fans are still spinning “Pumped up Kicks” often enough to land it in the top 20 alongside new releases from the likes of Adele, Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj.

Streaming services give music fans the ability to listen whatever song tickles their fancy whenever they’d like.  A chart like Billboard On-Demand gives a clear look at what artists and songs are resonating with music consumers. It’s not just an accounting of how many times radio stations have played a song at listeners, how many CDs were shipped or mp3s downloaded. It’s actual requested plays made by fans themselves.

With such a huge percentage of contemporary recorded music now available on-demand, maybe it’s time to redefine what makes a song a “hit.” Maybe it’s no longer just the ability to hang out in the Top 40 for several weeks or even to go platinum. Maybe it’s actually the ability to enter the music zeitgeist, to be that tune that well over a year after release so many people are still hankering to hear.