By the weekend, Sony had not only issued a press release marking the milestone but also released a print ad in which it listed previous record holders. Notably, the ad showed YouTube’s Play button logo but did not state the words “YouTube.”
Badshah acknowledged that he used paid promotions to draw more attention to the video, but denied they were “fake views.”
The rapper-singer took to Instagram on Friday, posting a story in which he said: “what some people call fake views are not fake views. They are google ad words. Its a way of promoting your video, we bought ad words all around the world so that people could see the video all around the world.”
He added that this was a common practice internationally. “You think artists abroad dont get paid promotions?” he wrote. “Are you so naive? I dont want to be the one with the highest views, but someone has to be. I tried and i did it. Get over it.”
Nevertheless, some commenters on YouTube remained unconvinced that the record had been broken. A substantial number of them, many from Indian BTS ARMY members, pointed out the video’s low ratio of likes to views and joked that Badshah should have “bought” likes along with views.
Billboard has repeatedly reached out to YouTube for confirmation of Badshah’s one-day record but the video platform has thus far declined to comment.
Notably, "Paagal", which premiered on July 10, does not appear anywhere on YouTube's 100-position Global Top Music Videos chart for the week from July 5–11. Coincidentally, another Badshah track, "Sheher Ki Ladki" (City Girl) from his forthcoming acting debut in the Hindi comedy Khandaani Shafakhaana (Family Clinic), debuted at No.12 on the chart with a watch count of 20 million for the week.
In his Instagram story, the rapper-singer also addressed criticism that the lyrics in “Paagal” are vulgar. “Do you even know what daddy yankee raps about in despacito, worlds highest viewed song, that you dont mind shaking your assess to in the clubs,” he wrote.
Badshah, who has been signed with Sony since 2012, is arguably India’s best-known hip-hop act. He gained mainstream popularity through his contributions to several Hindi film hits. He’s the rapper most Bollywood composers call when they need somebody to rhyme a verse and add a hip-hop edge to a dance-pop tune.
With over 561 million views at the time of publication, his most-viewed song on YouTube so far is “Kala Chashma” (“Black Sunglasses”) from the 2016 Hindi movie Baar Baar Dekho (Look Again and Again).
The reggaeton-influenced “Paagal,” which includes an English verse, is Sony Music India’s biggest push at breaking Badshah -- who raps and sings in Hindi and Punjabi -- in international markets. Filmed in Los Angeles, the video for the song, which has a distinctly Latin feel, was directed by Marlon Peña and choreographed by Greg Chapkis. Both Peña and Chapkis worked on Daddy Yankee and Snow’s “Con Calma,” which has been streamed over a billion times on YouTube and was the most-viewed video on the platform in the first six months of 2019. “Paagal” also features Playboy model Rose Romero, who has previously been in videos for J Balvin and Daddy Yankee.
Shridhar Subramaniam, the president for Sony Music India and Middle East, told Billboard that the “video-first campaign” behind “Paagal” was part of the company’s “mission” to put “an Indian artist on the global map, somebody who is not so heavily linked to the Bollywood game, somebody who stands on his own rights.” To that end, the label put together a pre-release strategy that involved working with YouTube’s global editorial teams and TikTok influencers across India, Subramaniam said. He did not mention the purchase of Google AdWords in helping the song gain views around the globe.
Badshah told Billboard he was particularly pleased that the YouTube record was broken with one of his own compositions. Not counting a commercial for Pepsi, “Paagal” is his first non-film material since he put out his debut solo album ONE (Original Never Ends) in August 2018. “This is extra special,” Badshah said. “I always wanted an independent song to do such numbers.”
Even if “Paagal” broke the one-day record, the song looks unlikely to add to its list of honors. The view count has slowed down and unlike the videos for “Boy With Luv” and Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie’s “ME!” (which currently holds the official YouTube 24-hour record for a solo artist), “Paagal” did not come close to doubling its tally by the end of the first week. “Boy With Luv” added a further 87.4 million views to its debut week total (162 million), and “ME!” an additional 63.8 million streams during its first seven days (129 million). Seven days after its premiere, “Paagal” had yet to reach 100 million views.
Nevertheless, the controversy around “Paagal” is another marker of YouTube’s importance to the Indian music industry and vice versa. In April, CEO Susan Wojcicki said that “with more than 265 million MAUs, as per ComScore, India has overtaken the U.S. to become YouTube’s biggest market.” Indian acts, such as Bollywood playback singers (the vocalists who lend their voices for actors to lip sync to in movies) Alka Yagnik, Arijit Singh, Kumar Sanu, Neha Kakkar and Udit Narayan, regularly feature in the top 10 of the service’s Global Top Artists weekly charts.