by Victoria Wasylak
Photo courtesy of Lady Gaga's Facebook Page
According to Twitter, soccer moms are the newest demographic that Lady Gaga has touched upon. That’s not the effect of her recent work with Tony Bennett, but the work of her crafty fans—whom she calls Little Monsters—who want to boost the singer’s new single “Perfect Illusion.” Prior to the release of her new single, one fan plotted on a forum for fans to change their Twitter profiles to look like middle-aged moms tweeting at radio stations on behalf of their Gaga-obsessed children and grandchildren. “Trick the radio hosts into thinking that the GP [general population] loves it” the fan wrote, and the memo stuck with other Little Monsters. Thus, radio stations receive tweets like “My family is so excited about this. My two daughters are eager for new Ga Ga music. Much Love” because fans are sneakily trying to increase the single’s airplay and boost the single’s chart reception as a result. Little Monsters were especially anxious about the song’s reception—which debuted at #15 on Billboard charts—because it marked Gaga’s first single in three years.
Greg Alexandropoulos, a music business graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, broke down the process of how requests can affect song’s Billboard chart position. At its core, a song’s charting on the Billboard Hot 100 is based on the Nielsen Broadcast Data System (BDS Radio) and impressions that a song makes on the respective charts. Radio airplay, digital streams and album sales all count as “impressions,” a technical term for a song’s activity. Billboard formulates a song’s position on the Hot 100 via a ratio that combines 35 percent-45 percent of sales, 30 percent-40 percent of airplay, and 20 percent-30 percent of streams. While the percentages shift every week, airplay remains a significant portion of the algorithm, which Little Monsters hoped to tap into via requests from their fake profiles. By requesting the song from faux-mom twitter profiles, fans conspired to make radio stations believe that pop fans of all ages loved the song, and also boost the song’s Hot 100 position with increased airplay.
There are complications to the Monsters’ plot, however. Smaller stations, like college radio and independent stations, have no effect on how a song charts. Alexandropoulos noted how the Little Monsters’ strategy will play out with reporting stations.
“Indie stations don’t count—it’s only big names. Simply put, the more plays you get on big name ’reporting’ stations, the higher you chart,” he said. “Gaga fans are street-teaming the DJs—making it look like everyone loves [the single] so the radio keeps playing [the single],” Alexandropoulos said. “Not only will it climb the charts because reporting stations will keep playing it, but the royalty money increases because of plays.”
Former DJ for alt-rock station WFNX Steven Perez noted how sending requests to a local station still might go unnoticed. Because of syndication, many major radio companies with stations across America might play a certain song the same amount of times at every station, regardless of the requests made by locals. In this case, that means that “Perfect Illusion” might be played only five times per day by a certain radio chain’s national stations, even if fans in Boston and Detroit are requesting the song non-stop.
“I check the BDS charts to see what other stations are playing versus what I think is a hot record,” Perez said. “The art of regional hits is a bit lost as many stations are now programmed nationally. So whatever is played in one city is played the same number of times in another.”
But even requests can only go so far, and only actual plays on reporting stations can actually have an impact on the Billboard charts.
“Requests are tracked as requests,” Perez said. “They don't necessarily lead to spins. Often bands will have their fans jam the phone lines. This practice is obvious and no one is falling for it.”
Neither are many radio stations. While a largely comical move, the jig is up for the Little Monsters’ plans to push Gaga’s single, seeing that many radio stations have already realized the real identity behind the Twitter requests. KISS 96.1 of Pittsburgh, the station that debuted the track, tweeted “You don’t need to send the fake soccer mom tweets, @ladygaga fans, you already KNOW we got you! #PerfectIllusion” For now, though, the single remains at the top of the “Mainstream Top 40 Most Added.”