Happy birthday, Billboard's Nielsen BDS-based Pop Songs chart! Two decades in, the ranking continues to track the trends at, and reveal the realities of, U.S. mainstream top 40 radio.
The chart's 20th anniversary - it launched the week of Oct. 3, 1992 - also coincides with an unprecedented pure pop boom, as mainstream top 40 radio is playing more pure pop than ever before. And, as station ratings soar, such a focus on the format's musical middle ground is reinforcing that the format works best when deemphasizing such extremes as rock and rap.
A year-by-year analysis of Billboard's Pop Songs chart reveals that pure pop - i.e., melodic, often synth-driven, uptempo fare from the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry - has made up at least 60% of the survey's total top 10 hits each year from 2008 through 2012 (from January through July annually). Last year, the style accounted for a whopping 79% of the list's top 10s - the highest percentage in the chart's history - as 30 of the 38 top 10s during that period fit a pop classification.
What's behind the pure pop boom? It's no coincidence that 2008 marked the arrival of two of the format's reigning stars: Perry and Gaga. Rihanna, meanwhile, continued to solidify her star status as an almost constant chart staple, adding touches of R&B and reggae to her overall pop focus. Add the continued domination or resurgences in that span of such acts as Christina Aguilera, Clarkson, Maroon 5 (which, in recent years, has segued from rock to a more pop lean), P!nk and Britney Spears, and it's clear that pop became tops at mainstream top 40 radio.
In turn, ratings have reflected that audiences' appetites for pop are robust.