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The Spotify Viral Chart: A New Metric for a New Age

An Old Definition of “Success”

For nearly a hundred years the music industry has been measuring success in units. This made a lot of sense when the only way to enjoy music was to buy one of those units in a physical format. But now, music fans can enjoy music in so many different ways: from streaming and online radio to watching online videos and digital downloading. Looking exclusively at “units” is an antiquated method of defining success, and doesn’t provide the full picture of how a song, artist, or album is performing in the current and ever-changing landscape of the music industry.

It’s clear that we need a way to capture all the various ways people are consuming music, instead of only relying on how many people purchased the song and nothing more. To accomplish this, a metric would need to take how many people are listening to the song into account, but it would also need to incorporate what they’re doing after they discover it for the first time. Do they add it to a playlist?  Do they keep playing it?  Do they share it with their friends? In the Age of Data we have the opportunity to more effectively define what makes a track “successful”.


Spotify’s First Step

To begin to solve this problem, we created the Spotify Viral-50 over a year ago. While the Spotify Top-50 simply shows the most-streamed songs on Spotify in a particular week, we wanted to create a metric that takes both streaming and user sharing into account. Like your favorite viral video or Top Tweet, success on this chart is driven by a passion that leads to fans sharing music that they want others to discover.   

Beyond showing “what everyone’s listening to”, Spotify’s Viral Chart tells interesting stories and uncovers some amazing gems in ways that traditional charts don’t.


Capturing the Zeitgeist

Frequently, songs that find success on the Viral Chart are featured on TV shows, commercials, and at award shows and other high-profile events. These songs often show up on the weekly Viral-50 immediately after being featured. There are many examples of this phenomena in the past year: 

Everything Is AWESOME!!!“, the theme song for the wildly popular The Lego® Movie, was #1 on the Chart the week the film was released.

Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song” went to #1 on the Viral Chart during the holiday week and immediately fell off the chart the following week:

Streams of “The Thanksgiving Song” Nov. 22- Dec. 4, 2013

The great George Jones passed away in 2013, and two of his tracks appeared in the Top 5 of the Spotify Viral Chart the week after his passing, and Ylvis’s viral hit “The Fox” spent several weeks on the chart before it became a bona fide worldwide smash.


The Buzziest of the Buzzy

Highly-touted single releases from the world’s most popular artists also perform well on the Viral-50, often before they rise to the top of the Spotify-50. While it was all but assumed that Katy Perry’s “Roar” would reach the top of the Spotify-50 last fall, it took a little while to top that chart as word of the new track spread around the world. However, it hit #1 on the Viral-50 immediately after it was released; the fact that fans were listening to the track and sharing it with everyone they know showed the massive buzz this track instantly experienced. This also indicated that it would shortly take over the Spotify-50, and a few weeks later that’s exactly what happened.

The chart can also show excitement about an upcoming release for an artist with an established and dedicated fanbase. Ed Sheeran’s new album x was already highly anticipated, but to build up the frenzy even further Sheeran made seven tracks available prior to release, one for each day of the week leading up to the official release date. Each of these singles triggered an automatic notification to the 1.8 million users following him on Spotify and five of them charted on the UK Viral-50. The results of this strategy speak for themselves: x was the most-streamed album ever on Spotify in a single week, with 23.7 million streams globally. It also debuted at #1 in twelve countries, including the US and the UK.

Young the Giant released their second album Mind Over Matter in January. To gradually build awareness and anticipation for the new release, they released several singles in advance of the record. Two of these singles went to number one on the Viral-50 and they all reached the Top 5, clearly showing that anticipation for the album was building. With each successive release, existing fans got more excited about the album and more new people discovered the band. All of this led to a huge debut for the band: they reached the Top-100 most-playlisted artists on Spotify and debuted in the Top-10 on the Billboard-200 (their previous album peaked at #42). 

Phantogram followed a similar track: they released six singles ahead of their album Voices, which was released in February. All of the singles did well on the Viral-50 (including a #1), proving again that anticipation was high. Early streaming numbers agree: the band enjoyed a 122% increase in streams on the day of the album release, and seem to have found a brand new audience with this breakout album.


How The Viral Chart Signals a Break

That’s all great if you’re featured in a Super Bowl commercial or if you’re a major artist with seven #1s under your belt. But what about everyone else?

We believe the most exciting power of the chart is its ability to showcase unknown artists organically. Anyone can have a hit on Spotify. The Viral-50 is a far less exclusive club than the top charts, with mega stars like Katy Perry often sitting alongside a debut record from a niche genre or an unknown artist. Since its launch in April 2013, 49 separate artists have hit #1 on the US Viral-50, as compared to just 15 in the US Spotify-50 over the same time frame:


#1 Hits on the US Spotify Viral Chart, Apr. 28, 2013 – Jul 8, 2014

Mainstream Release (on release date)
Emerging Release (on release date)
Zeitgeist / Sync

Arcade Fire – ‘Reflektor’

Alt-J – ‘Hunger of the Pine’

Adam Sandler – ‘The Thanksgiving Song’

Avicii – ‘Wake Me Up’

Broken Bells – ‘Holding on for Life’

Chrome Sparks – ‘Marijuana’ (viral video)

Celine Dion – ‘Loved Me Back to Life’

Cherub – ‘Strip to This’

Fiona Apple – ‘Pure Imagination’ (Chipotle Campaign)

Daft Punk – ‘Get Lucky’

Chromeo – ‘Jealous (I Ain’t With It)’

Lana Del Rey – ‘Once Upon a Dream’ (Maleficent soundtrack)

Eminem – ‘Berzerk’

Five Finger Death Punch – ‘Lift Me Up’

Lana Del Rey – ‘Young and Beautiful’ (The Great Gatsby soundtrack)

Foster the People – ‘Coming of Age’

FKA twigs – ‘Two Weeks’

The Lumineers – ‘This Must Be The Place’ (Talking Heads cover / Tour & Viral hit))

Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’

Grouplove – ‘Ways to Go’

Marcus Mumford / Oscar Isaac – ‘Fare Thee Well’ (Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack)

John Mayer – ‘Paper Doll’

HAIM – ‘The Wire’

Mike Oldfield – ‘Nuclear’ (video game trailer release)

John Mayer – ‘XO’ (Beyonce cover)

Lorde – ‘Royals’

SOKO – ‘We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow’ (featured in First Kiss viral video)

Katy Perry – ‘Roar’

Major Lazer – ‘Bubble Butt’

Tegan & Sara ft. The Lonely Island – ‘Everything Is AWESOME!!!’ (The Lego® Movie soundtrack)

Kings of Leon – ‘Supersoaker’

Meghan Trainor – ‘All About That Bass’

The Chain Gang of 1974 – ‘Sleepwalking’ (GTA 5 soundtrack

Lady Gaga – ‘Do What U Want’

Of Mice & Men – ‘You’re Not Alone’

The Chainsmokers – ‘#SELFIE’

Lana Del Rey – ‘West Coast’

Phantogram – ‘Fall in Love’

X-Ambassadors – ‘Jungle’ (World Cup commercial)

Lily Allen – ‘Hard Out Here’

Ray LaMontagne – ‘Supernova’

Zach Sobiech – ‘Clouds’ (Youtube sensation)

Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake – ‘Love Never Felt So Good’

Seven Lions – ‘Don’t Leave’


Pitbull ft. Ke$ha – ‘Timber’

Sia – ‘Elastic Heart’


Rick Ross – ‘The Devil is a Lie’

St. Lucia – ‘Elevate’


Zedd – ‘Find You’

Tycho – ‘Awake’


Tycho – ‘Montana’


The Glitch Mob – ‘Can’t Kill Us’


Young the Giant – ‘It’s About Time’


Young the Giant – ‘Mind Over Matter’


As shown in this breakdown on Spotify Viral #1s since April 2013, developing and indie artists have as good a chance as mega-stars to hit #1 on the Spotify Viral Chart.

The best example of an artist finding organic success on Spotify is Lorde. She rose to ubiquity quicker than most pop stars, but the rise of “Royals” is so interesting because of the way it became popular and how we were able to watch the evolution play out on the Viral-50.


An annotated view of “Royals” first four months on Spotify.

Royals” wasn’t an instant hit (à la “Get Lucky” or “Roar”); it was released in March 2013 to relatively little fanfare. The track was added to just a few playlists, but, more importantly, nearly everyone who heard the song felt compelled to share it with their friends. They discovered the track thanks to the playlists and profiles they follow on Spotify’s robust social network, and Spotify made it easy for them to share their new favorite song with everyone they know.

This evolution was reflected on the chart: Lorde spent 14 consecutive weeks in the Viral-50 after it was added to those early playlists (starting on April 2, 2013, above). Even after “Royals” started to take over the Spotify-50 in Summer 2013, the track stayed on the chart because people were sharing it so much.

It was at this point that the rest of the world took notice. According to Mediabase, Lorde got seven radio spins in all of America in March 2013, zero in April, and didn’t get added to multiple stations until May 4, 2013. “Royals” had already been played 453,000 times by Spotify users in the US at this point, and 1.1 million times globally.

The track cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in July 2013, topped the chart three months later and won a GRAMMY for Record of the Year. In addition, Lorde enjoyed a #2 album release when Pure Heroine was released in September 2013. But it all started on Spotify.

The Viral-50 uncovered another hit in A Great Big World’s “Say Something”. The initial boost for this song came from Christina Aguilera’s support and a memorable performance on The Voice. But plenty of songs have been performed on The Voice, experienced a bump in streams, and then the story ended there. Not this one:


“Say Something” Spotify Streams, Sept. 22, 2013 – Jan. 19, 2014

The song actually debuted on the Viral-50 in September 2013, when it was featured in the finale of So You Think You Can Dance. But then it fell off the chart until the band performed the song again on The Voice in November when it jumped into the Top-5 again, this time to stay.

After five consecutive weeks in the Top-5, it became clear that this song was destined to become a hit. The song had struck a nerve with our users. A month later, “Say Something” hit #1 on the Spotify-50 and cracked the Billboard Hot-100 as well.

Other recently-popular new artists that broke through on our Viral Chart include Hozier, Clean Bandit, and Kiesza. All three went on to storm the Spotify-50 in various countries.


Visualizing The Effect

At Spotify, we’re really passionate about empowering artists with data to help them visualize their career trajectories and expand their fan base in the era of social media. Spotify’s integration with Next Big Sound to deliver artist analytics is a huge step in this direction.

The Spotify Top 50 & Viral 50 for every country can be found by visiting http://charts.spotify.com, and a full recap of the week’s activity on the charts can be found on our blog.  Of course, we also want you to enjoy the music, so please follow and share the chart as a playlist here. We make all our chart rankings available through our embeddable widgets as well as our public APIs, and we plan to continue to evolve our charts to expand how we measure success in this new age.  We have some exciting new features and a design overhaul coming to our charts website in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

But most of all, we’re excited that the Spotify Viral Chart gives the world’s most passionate music fans an opportunity to showcase their favorite music before everyone else catches up.

So which song will you share next? 



Follow @SpotifyArtists on Twitter and sign up to the Artist Services Newsletter for regular updates on best practice, product updates, financial information and other useful information for artists and their teams. 

  • EES

    THank You very much Spotify for this intersting article – I HOPE Mr. Sean Parker also picks one of my songs for an playlist one day – as Spotify was such an great invention for many independent artist to finally get heard – but right now it feels like the Major Labels are controlling these playlist again – and that kind of closes all the great doors of opportunities that the internet has opened for us independent artist a few years ago. But there is always HOPE!