The unforgettable song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has occupied a permanent space in pop culture for months on end. Once you hear the tune, there is no leaving it behind. All day long, Bruno’s alleged transgressions against his family and friends will bounce around your brain. But I don’t mind the song’s constant presence in my life because it is fantastic. The legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda artfully blends Latin pop and hip-hop to create an insanely catchy song everyone can enjoy by singing and bopping along.
Originating in the Disney film “Encanto,” released in theaters on Nov. 24, 2021, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” began its ascent up Billboard’s charts in late December. And on Jan. 31, 2022, surpassing the No. 5 ranking of Frozen’s “Let it Go,” “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” finally reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. In doing so, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” became the second song from a Disney animated film to accomplish this feat (the first of which being Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle’s rendition of “A Whole New World”).
But as much as I love “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and am happy for its success, I can’t help but wonder if earning a number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 today can be compared with earning a spot when a song’s success was measured primarily through its sales. Does topping the Billboard Hot 100 today hold the same significance as it did before the domination of music streaming?
I am tempted to say no. First of all, unlike with sales, having millions of streams on a song does not necessarily indicate that there are millions of fans who admire the music. I was first introduced to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” through Instagram Reels. Reel after reel, various parts of the song would play as people either dressed up as characters, danced along to the choreography, or pointed out hidden details and meanings.
After being just told not to talk about Bruno for what felt like the 100th time, I had to understand the reasoning behind this rule and decided to stream the entire song on YouTube. My stream, generated from a social media-inspired curiosity rather than a genuine appreciation for the song, was used in the calculations that moved “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” to the top of the Hot 100. Though inconsequential on its own, when my stream was coupled with other streams originating from similar circumstances, I would venture to say that a significant amount of data was added to Billboard’s calculations.
There is no way to tell whether “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” streams came from sincere fans or curious onlookers. While there is also no way to tell the difference between sales generated from admiration versus curiosity, I believe that the involvement of money makes song sales stronger indicators of praise than song streams. For if a person is willing to pay for a song, they probably already, or have a strong feeling they will, like the music they are about to purchase.
For songs of today, such as “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” which garnered 34.9 million streams as opposed to 12,300 downloads in the week leading up to its Billboard victory, it’s hard to differentiate between mere popularity and actual appreciation. Therefore, the tied rankings between “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle’s “A Whole New World” do not necessarily represent equivalent esteem. Between the 1992 release of “Aladdin” and the 2021 release of “Encanto,” the Billboard Hot 100 has become less indicative of public favor.
In addition to representing a blur between curiosity and acclaim, topping the Billboard Hot 100 has become a less impressive accomplishment. Before streaming, when a single was purchased, one tick was added to the song’s cumulative sales total. Regardless of how many times the consumer played the song, their purchase only counted once in Billboard’s calculations. The music streaming system, however, is unable to operate in this manner.
Though Billboard does not value one stream the same as one sale, every stream a single person produces influences the success of a song. This means that every time someone replayed “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” it rose higher in the charts. I wonder how many of the 34.9 million streams of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” accumulated between Jan. 21 and Jan. 27, 2022, resulted from replays. “Encanto” is a children’s movie after all. I can only imagine how many kids are forcing their parents to play the song on a constant loop.
But children are certainly not the only culprits in streaming “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” repeatedly. Since my first time listening to the song about two weeks ago, I have rewatched the official music video about 20 times. As I said before, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” worms its way into your head and compels you to play it back again and again.
I say all of this to emphasize how much easier it is for a song to accumulate streams over sales. Since it costs little to nothing to open a streaming service and press play, more people are willing to do so, and often more than once. Consequently, the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 seems less significant today than it was when “A Whole New World” held the title.
For the song to reach the top, it had to be both popular enough for people to hear and likable enough to convince a large sum of consumers to spend their money. The songs of today only need to convince consumers to search the track’s name and press play.
Be this as it may, I maintain that “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is a fantastic song. It’s catchy, upbeat, lyrically interesting and fun. I highly recommend listening to the song if you haven’t already. I just find it interesting to think about how the advent of music streaming has changed how we measure a song’s success and, thus, the “prestige” of Billboard’s Hot 100 rankings. As I write these final lines, I simply can’t help but wonder: If music streaming did not exist, would we still be talking about Bruno?