Chinese-Canadian rapper Kris Wu dominated the top of the charts on iTunes recently, beating pop-singer Ariana Grande with seven songs in the Top 10. On Sina Weibo, Wu’s proud fans are celebrating how their idol broke yet another sales record.
It turns out that the majority of those who have downloaded Wu’s songs are Chinese fans who made multiple purchases per person just to support their idol, thereby tricking iTunes algorithms into bumping the songs into the top tier.
Wu’s controversial iTunes domination is, sadly, yet another example of China’s “fan economy” disrupting the music industry. This fan economy has created a veritable mirage in the past few years leading others into believing that the Chinese music industry is booming.
Chinese idol singers are also dominating China’s social media, where it is common for a single social media post by an average idol to receive hundreds of thousands of likes. It is in fact very easy to see just how inflated and manipulated these numbers are.
One rabid fan will buy dozens of their idols’ albums just to help them achieve a ranking on the music charts. They register multiple accounts on social media sites and repost tweets dozens of times per day, so that their idol can appear on “trending” lists.
Like a virtual army, they are mobilized and united. As they do this, they receive a gratifying and satisfying sense of participation and control in the success of their idol. Sadly, China’s fan economy is no substitute for the dearth of good music in today’s China, which has failed to impress ordinary listeners.
This is in stark contrast to the late 1990s and early 2000s, considered the golden age of Chinese pop music, when iconic singers like Jacky Cheung, Eason Chan and Jay Chow were blasting from everyone’s radios.
We all knew, appreciated and loved each singer mainly by their songs, not by their tweets – which didn’t exist back then – or fake sales rankings.
When fans become so powerful that they can single-handedly manipulate sales statistics, the music industry as a whole become corrupted. Meanwhile, true musicians with actual talent find it impossible to get their songs heard simply because they lack delicate looks or large followings on social media. And for that, we the audience are the biggest losers.