In October 2021, a number of conservative commentators and websites boasted about the popularity of a song called “Let’s Go Brandon” (a euphemism for “F*ck Joe Biden“), claiming that it had “skyrocketed” to the top of the iTunes charts. Others exaggerated the popularity of this song by falsely claiming that it was the No. 1 song in America, or the number one song on Apple Music.
The song “Let’s Go Brandon” is not the No. 1 song in America, and it’s not the No. 1 song on Apple Music. One “Let’s Go Brandon” song (a few artists have released songs with this title) did reach the top of the iTunes chart for digital song sales.
But what exactly does that mean? How popular is this song? And what’s the current No. 1 song in America?
Digital Music Sales Have Been Dropping for Years
On Oct. 16, 2021, Fox News reported that Loza Alexander’s “Let’s Go Brandon” song had reached the top of the iTunes chart. Alexander’s song held this position for awhile, and was eventually replaced by another “Let’s Go Brandon” song by Bryson Gray. While this is certainly an accomplishment any musician should be proud of, some people appeared a bit confused as to what “No. 1 on iTunes” actually meant, and started claiming that “Let’s Go Brandon was the “No. 1 song” in America.
This confusion appears to be based on the fact that digital music sales are no longer the best indication of a song’s popularity. With the rise of streaming services such as Spotify, and Apple’s own Apple Music service, digital music sales have been on a steady decline for nearly a decade.. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, sales of digital singles fell from about 1.4 billion sales in 2012 to 257 million in 2020. That’s more than an 80% decrease.
The No. 1 Song in America?
The Billboard 100 keeps track of the most popular music in the country by calculating the number of streams, sales, and radio plays. As of this writing on October 29, 2021, the most popular song in America is Adele’s “Easy on Me.” According to Billboard, Adele’s “Easy on Me” had 65 million radio airplay audience impressions, 53.9 million U.S. streams, and sold 74,000 downloads during its first week of tracking.
While it’s not No. 1 in America, Loza Alexander’s “Let’s Go Brandon” song did make an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100. The song made its debut at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped two other Billboard charts for “Rap Digital Song Sales” and “R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Sales.” According to Billboard, the song had “1.2 million U.S. streams, and 35,200 downloads sold” during its first week. Comparatively speaking, “Let’s Go Brandon” had about 50 million less streams and 40,000 less downloads than the No. 1 song in America.
The No. 1 Song on Apple Music?
Some social media users (and journalists) also appeared to be confused by the fact that Apple Music and iTunes are two different services. If a song is at the top of iTunes, that doesn’t mean that it’s the top of Apple Music.
iTunes is a media library and digital store where people can purchase songs and albums. Apple Music is a streaming service where people pay a subscription to listen to all of the songs in Apple Music’s catalog. As noted above, a significantly more number of people listen to music via a subscription streaming service than purchasing and downloading individual songs.
The song with the most streams on Apple Music is, again, Adele’s “Easy on Me.” As of this writing, there are no versions of “Let’s Go Brandon” in Apple Music’s top 100 songs.
“Another ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ Rap Tops Apple Music Chart.” Washington Examiner, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/another-lets-go-brandon-rap-tops-apple-music-chart.
“‘Let’s Go Brandon’ Rapper Bryson Gray Boots Adele out of No. 1 Spot with Banned Anti-Biden Song.” New York Post, 27 Oct. 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/10/27/lets-go-brandon-rapper-bryson-grays-banned-anti-biden-song-is-no-1/.
Covert, Adrian. “A Decade of ITunes Singles Killed the Music Industry.” CNNMoney, 25 Apr. 2013, https://money.cnn.com/2013/04/25/technology/itunes-music-decline/index.html.
“Digital on the Decline: Apple Is Ditching ITunes, but Do Music Lovers Care?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2019/06/18/apple-itunes-music-lovers-wont-miss/stories/201906140022. Accessed 29 Oct. 2021.
Karp, Hannah. “Apple ITunes Sees Big Drop in Music Sales.” Wall Street Journal, 24 Oct. 2014. www.wsj.com, https://online.wsj.com/articles/itunes-music-sales-down-more-than-13-this-year-1414166672.
Keizer, Gregg. “The End of ITunes Music Sales Is Inevitable.” Computerworld, 13 May 2016, https://www.computerworld.com/article/3070416/the-end-of-itunes-music-sales-is-inevitable.html.
Kim, Eugene. “The Reason Apple Needs a Music Streaming Service Explained in One Chart.” Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/apple-itunes-music-download-revenue-declining-2015-6. Accessed 29 Oct. 2021.
Lee, Michael. “‘Let’s Go Brandon!’ Goes from Social Media Meme to the Top of the ITunes Charts.” Fox News, 16 Oct. 2021, https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/anti-biden-lets-go-brandon-song-tops-itunes-hip-hop-chart.
“‘Let’s Go Brandon’ Becomes Number One Song on ITunes Hip-Hop Chart -.” McKinnon Broadcasting, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.kusi.com/lets-go-brandon-becomes-number-one-song-on-itunes-hip-hop-chart/.
Newman, Jack. “Rapper’s Anti-Biden Song Knocks Adele off Top of ITunes Chart.” Mail Online, 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10139953/Rapper-Bryson-Grays-anti-Biden-song-Lets-Brandon-knocks-Adele-iTunes-chart.html.
Newton, Casey. “Music Sales Decline for the First Time since the ITunes Store Opened.” The Verge, 3 Jan. 2014, https://www.theverge.com/2014/1/3/5271528/music-sales-decline-for-the-first-time-since-the-itunes-store-opened.
“The Hot 100 Chart.” Billboard, https://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100. Accessed 29 Oct. 2021.
“U.S. Sales Database.” RIAA, https://www.riaa.com/u-s-sales-database/. Accessed 29 Oct. 2021.