Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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New Sensation: The Pop Music Fantasy League

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 7, 2010

Sorry for the extended break here at Intensities–obviously we needed something of a winter vacation after finally wrapping the 10 Years, 100 Songs project (estimated at probably close to 150,000 words written in all, something like 600 book pages–and you thought it was exhausting just to read), and then also New Years and an inter-borrough move sapped me of the remainder of my free time / will. We’re back now, though, with some plans ambitious and less ambitious for the future–hopefully including a 2010 follow-up to last year’s One Year, 100 Pop Cultures project if I can get up enough ideas and list-making werewithall to complete the project in a semi-timely fashion. Also expect some NBA stuff, one or two pre-Oscar movie sweeps, and possibly even the long-awaited return of DJ Stoopendous, weather-permitting.

But first–the pop culture innovation I am most excited about heading into the 2010s. (The teens? The tennies? Ugh, a whole other decade of this shit.) Several years ago, when I was still way, way more into pop music than I was into pro sports, I wrote a likely-cringeworthy article laying out several ways I wished that the pop music industry operated more like pro sports. One of the six items listed, of course, was in terms of Fantasy Leagues–a world that I had little relation to at the time, but great appreciation for, what with the stats, the intrigue, the trash-talk and the general geekiness. I dreamed that fans of the music world could do the same for their medium of choice, by predicting album sales or MetaCritic scores or some other number-based rubric by which one could qualitatively assess success in the realm of popular music. Well, we ain’t gotta dream no more–in the waning weeks of 2009, myself and six other friends of the blog assembled to conduct a livedraft in what is, to my knowledge (and I’m certainly not going to check to discover otherwise), the first ever Pop Music Fantasy League.

So how did we accomplish this? Well, my initial thoughts of album charts and critical metrics for the statistical basis were on the right track, but flawed–artists don’t release enough albums a year for that to have worked with any kind of regular excitement. The singles charts, on the other hand, are a veritable goldmine of intrigue, with a handful of artists appearing on as many as a dozen or more Top 100 hits in a year, and with week-to-week positioning being constantly in flux. With Billboard now offering their entire Hot 100 for perusal online (one of the best things to happen in the 2009 calendar year, before which only the top 50 was visible), now up to a hundred singles can be in play for statistical tracking on any given Thursday afternoon, and more if you count genre charts and the like. It’s a plenty-wide pool to draw from, and unlike any of the major fantasy sports, it lasts all 12 months of the year.

But how to score it, you ask? Well, we basically take the song’s peak placement within the 2009 calendar year, and use the 101-x formula to determine how many points it’s worth–a #100 is one point, a #99 is two, and so forth, up until the top ten, in which things get weighted more dramatically (a #1 is worth 200 points, for instance, and a #2 is 150) to reward particularly high placement. The seven of us each drafted 12 artists to comprise our main rosters for the year, and also get six waiver claims to pick up artists with unforseeable success over the course of the calendar year. Featured artists get half-credit for singles they appear on (so a featured credit on a #1 single is worth 100 points instead of 200), but solo artists don’t get credit for any singles they appear on as part of a larger group, or vice versa (so owning Fergie gets you no points for a Black Eyed Peas charter, or the other way around). Then we also include the kicker of your artist fetching an extra 50 bonus points for topping (and ONLY topping–#2 gets nothing) any of four major genre charts–R&B/Hip-Hop, Dance, Rock or Country.

One of the really cool things about the draft for this–and it was easily as intense as any sports-related fantasy draft I’ve taken part in these past few years, with one girl in our group nearly having a nervous breakdown as a result–was how even though there was no real precedent for us to use for reference in terms of a drafting pool (no Matthew Berrys of the Pop Music world yet, as far as I know), we all sort of gravitated towards the same artists towards the top of our lists. And, with just a couple of exceptions (and one very notable exception that I’ll get to in a minute), they basically looked like a logical list of the most popular pop stars in music today. Here’s what the first three rounds (21 picks in all) looked like:

1. Glee Cast
2. Lady Gaga
3. Lil’ Wayne
4. Alicia Keys
5. Rihanna
6. Ludacris
7. Jay-Z
8. Jamie Foxx
9. Usher
10. Chris Brown
11. Drake
12. Kanye West
13. Miley Cyrus
14. Eminem
15. T-Pain
16. Taylor Swift
17. T.I.
18. Beyonce
19. Timbaland
20. Akon
21. Adam Lambert

Looks about right, doesn’t it? Well, except for that #1, anyway–my selection, which was met with the kind of begrudging agreement that would’ve greeted an Adrian Peterson or LeBron James pick at the top of their respective drafts. Remarkably enough, when using the Billboard charts as the sole measuring rubric, no other artist even comes close to the Glee Cast for pop success. They charted an astonishing 25 singles last year on the Hot 100, and though most of them weren’t particularly high–only their “Don’t Stop Believin” cover hit the top ten, and the next-highest charter was the #28-peaking “Somebody to Love”–the sheer number of them, despite the show debuting as late as May, made them an easy consensus number-one pick, and the kind of pick for which we might need to adjust the rules to counteract in future years. (Of course, now watch the show tank in its second season and only chart three singles in the 70s and 80s.)

Weird as it is, it’s little deviations from the norm like the Glee Cast’s awesome power in this league that’s given the league its character so far. It ensured that everyone had to do at least a little bit of research before draft day, lest they pick artists who are sneakily chart-unviable, have no planned upcoming material, or have faded in popualrity in recent years. (Bucking this trend entirely, however, was longtime IITS compatriot Victor Lee, who simply showed up with a list of artists releasing albums in 2010 and is now hoping for a big pop breakout from Vampire Weekend and a huge rebound year for Toni Braxton for his team to have any real shot at competing.)

The overlap between the sports fans and pop music enthusiasts in this country is a small demographic, certainly, but it is a fervent one, and personally, I don’t see why this idea can’t take off beyond our small little New York-based group. Hell, you don’t even have to be a sports fan–some of the people in our league aren’t, certainly, and they’re as pumped for it as anyone. You just need a love for pop music and an insatiable need for stastical validation. And just by virtue of being a reader of this blog…I mean, you’d join one of these things, wouldn’t you?

(Expect sporadic updates throughout the year. At least until it becomes as boring as talking about a regular fantasy league.)

7 Responses to “New Sensation: The Pop Music Fantasy League”

  1. Byron said

    Awesome concept, and one that’ll make pop chart geekery all the better this year. Would love to see the full draft order, as this kind of activity is right up my alley.

    Either there’s an error in the reporting here, or you guys drafted Ludacris twice (6 and 17). Not that he hasn’t (all but) earned it; who doesn’t want to build a franchise around a guy who can carry a Jesse McCartney 3rd-single?

    Also, I’m not sold on Jamie Foxx as a top-ten pick. Sure, he could give a potential edge on R&B points, but he’s likely to see limited game time whereas the likes of Akon and T-Pain (while probably past their respective primes) are unlikely to be interrupting their featured-artist schedules for movie roles any time soon.

    And as a rules question: Do the songs have to enter the chart in 2010, or can you score points on holdovers from the previous year? And if the latter, how late did it go before someone took Ke$ha for the near-guaranteed early points?

  2. Byron said

    (By holdovers, I of course mean songs scoring on chart positions in this year that were charting last year rather than songs somehow scoring for what they did last year. That would just be silly.)

  3. intensities said

    Ah, right you are. It was T.I. that was the #17 pic, not Luda a second time. And yes, I’m also not sold on Jamie Foxx as a top-ten pick–that was another one of Victor’s finer moments in the draft.

    The song’s don’t have to enter the chart in 2010, but they do have to peak then. Ke$ha cost herself at least a couple of rounds in the draft (still ended up going #32) when “TiK ToK” hit #1 in the last week before we started tracking, thus making it irrelevant to our scoring system.

  4. stephen said

    so, let’s say one wanted to replicate this idea ™, how exactly is the score counting going to be done, practically speaking. is one of you going to trawl through the pop charts every week & update points, and if so wouldn’t that take a long time? or is there some super easy excel-billboard-logarithm that will dole points out automatically? i ask as i’ve always found this idea interesting in theory, but seemingly impossible in practice (well, with the amount of free time i have, at least).

  5. intensities said

    I’m impressed that you actually went for the legit C&P on the “tm.”

    Yes, that would be the way to do it–possible there’s a working algorithm but I’m not nearly smart enough to figure one out. But it doesn’t take nearly as long as you think, because you only have to tabulate the singles that hit a new peak in a given week (and then only the singles by artists who have been drafted), which is only a fraction of the top 100 (so far about a dozen per). I’ve tabulated two weeks’ worth thusfar and it’s taken me less than a half-hour combined to do so. Possibly it’ll get crazier as the charts heat up over the year, but I doubt it’ll change too much.

  6. Byron said

    You know, there may be a degree of validity to the ‘album release this year’ strategy; even the aforementioned Ke$ha snagged a #7 single (and, to my displeasure, potentially prolonged 3Oh.3’s career in the process) when the full-length hit iTunes.

    Of course, it’s probably best to pick for a balance of proven star power (which should sustain interest over time) and potential high-profile releases (junk bonds, which may pay well early but default when the hype dies down); in any case, given the risks involved, I would not recommend any investor purchase pop music-backed derivative securities.

  7. DeVille said

    I would totally buy a 600-page book version of the 10 Years, 100 Songs project. Just saying.

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