Just this week, another Korean boy band EXO generated 1.1 million pre-sales in Korea with their new album.
Korean girl group BLACKPINK and their audience mobilized to break every YouTube stream record other than Taylor Swift's earlier this year. They have released only two EPs -- this is just the beginning.
While these Korean acts are gaining traction, the Chinese ones are starting to test the current status quo. Last week, top manager Scooter Braun and one of his star clients, Ariana Grande, were embroiled in an online mess regarding the Chinese superstar Kris Wu and his debut album Antares. With only a million in monthly listeners on Spotify and no music video over 30M views, Kris unexpectedly had 7 of the top 10 singles overall on Apple’s iTunes Charts, surpassing Grande's 'thank u, next' to the dismay of her Arianators.
Foreign fan bases, especially those in Asia, have started to eye Western metrics and rankings as opportunities to validate their favorite artists on the global level. Imagine the efforts to dwarf a song smashing records left and right. These fans don't buy albums just for their own listening pleasure: achieving the highest possible ranking for their favorite artists is their expressed goal as they purchase, stream and download their idols to the top. Massive coordinated grassroot efforts encourage purchasing several copies per person - this is the culture within China. In fact, QQ Music of Tencent Music Entertainment, the streaming platform with the most users in China, proudly displays the fan metrics showing who has bought the most albums for an artist. For the biggest stars, a superfan with tens of thousands copies of the same album usually occupies the #1 spot.
This wasn't even the first time this year that iTunes' charts have raised fans’ eyebrows. Ironically, earlier this year, another Chinese pop superstar Cai Xukun bumped Grande and her “God is a Woman” from the top spot on iTunes in another similar incident of fan stampeding, garnering claims from her fans of foul play. But it didn't catch the same attention: a simple Google search doesn't yield one article about it.
This relentless determination within Asian fan culture is unlike anything in the West, and when their habits trickle past their countries' borders, the automatic assumption defaults to counterfeit results. These charts matter to fan bases, the industry, and artists alike. Grande immediately posted about them as soon as she hit her first No. 1 with “thank u, next.”
Ultimately, some of the Antares sales figures were omitted from the U.S. tally. This decision could have huge long-term ramifications as the global music industry works to transform China's music economy to a paying one. This will discourage fans from paying US album prices, if their hard-earned dollars turn out to have no effect. Does the industry really want to stifle what will be a Top 5 music market in the world?
Fred Hwang is an executive at music-management company TH3RD BRAIN.