"Glee" throws lifeline to music industry

Mon Dec 13, 2010 1:44am EST
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By Ann Donahue

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - To measure the impact of "Glee" on pop music in 2010, just remember this: The misfits of McKinley High now have a place in the history books above the Fab Four.

In October, recordings by the show's cast overtook the Beatles in terms of the number of songs placed on the Billboard Hot 100. As of December, "Glee" now has 102 songs on the chart -- and with at least a season-and-a-half to go that has already been guaranteed by Fox, it's a safe bet that the cast recordings will give Elvis Presley a run for the top spot in the record books with 108 singles. The show has become a single-selling machine the likes of which Ed Sullivan could only dream about.

And much like "The Ed Sullivan Show," "Glee" has become the go-to platform for contemporary superstar acts with new songs to hawk. This wasn't necessarily the case when the show debuted in May 2009. The best-selling digital single for the program's first season was a version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" that tallied 1 million total sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Now, halfway through year two, the season's top seller is a rendition of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," with 286,000 copies sold to date -- and it bested "Believin'" in first-week sales by 214,000 to 177,000.

The contrast in styles between the two songs -- one a decades-old standard with recurring pop culture resonance, the other a track that hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in August -- exemplifies the show's push toward offering more current pop hits faster to its track-happy core 18-49 viewing demographic.

"In many ways, 'Glee' was built on classic hits," the show's music supervisor PJ Bloom says. "We needed cultural staples to grab a broad audience -- and it worked."

The trend toward top 40 fare certainly helps the show in terms of relevance -- tween viewers who are baffled by a reference to "A Chorus Line" feel like one of the cool kids when they can sing along to Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." According to Fox, "Glee" is the No. 1 show in the 18-49 demographic among women, and the show's push toward pop is a targeted move to keep these viewers happy.

"Now that 'Glee' is 'Glee,'" Bloom says, "we have the latitude to explore newer songs on their way to becoming hits and the ability to add to the hitmaking machinery."

Other of-the-moment songs featured on "Glee" since its second-season debut in September include Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" and Cee Lo Green's cleaned-up "Forget You."   Continued...

<p>Lea Michele of "Glee" perfroms at the American Theatre Wing's 64th annual Tony Awards ceremony in New York, June 13, 2010. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn</p>