K-Pop and iTunes have a lot more in common than funny names. They are complicit in the gaming of the pop charts.
A new album from Korean boy band Got7 isn’t officially released until December 2nd. But today it sprung out and went straight to number 1 on iTunes. How is that possible? iTunes only counts advance orders toward the first day of release. Nevertheless, K Pop albums– largely unknown to American audiences and not often played on the radio– are holding down the top positions on the iTunes top 100 album chart.
That’s because K-Pop fans metaphorically “stuff the ballot box.” They pile on sales over and over in the first week of a new release to push it to number 1. They do the same thing with singles. The result is that the K-Pop records take over all the top positions on the charts for a week or less. Then they quickly recede as the fan clubs stop ordering. The records fade because they have no “legs.”
Last week, BTS– the NSync of K-Pop, released an English language album called “BE.” It shot to the top of the charts. Sales of CDs and downloads were 136,000. Total sales including streaming came to 220,000. That put them at number 1.
A week later, “BE” has sold just 5,000 CDs and downloads on Friday and Saturday. The total is 10,000. This latest BTS party is basically over. Now it’s Got7’s turn and other lesser groups like Kai and Enhyphen, whose 6 track EPs are getting the phanthom push this week.
It doesn’t seem exactly fair to acts like Miley Cyrus and Bad Bunny, each of whom released new albums on Friday playing by the regular rules. They will hope to build their albums’ popularity over time, radio play and so on. When you don’t have throngs of superfans buying multiple copies to game the system, those acts will score between 70K and 100K copies for their opening weeks.
Miley Cyrus’s “Plastic Hearts,” by the way, is a solid grade A pop album with plenty of singles on it. The only questionable track is her Dua Lipa duet, called “Prisoner,” which sounds suspiciously like Olivia Newton John’s “Physical.”