Korea Moves to Stop Real-Time Chart Manipulation

Courtesy of Woollim Entertainment
Lovelyz

Though it will have little influence on international K-pop releases, a big change is coming to South Korea on Feb. 27. Starting next week, Korean music services will change their ranking systems in an attempt to reduce chart manipulation while still maintaining real-time charts.

The new real-time ranking system -- which will affect Korean music sites Melon, Bugs, Genie, Mnet, Soribada, Naver Music and Monkey3 -- will only reflect performance of digital songs released between the hours of noon and 6 p.m. (local Korean time). Anything that premieres outside of the six-hour block will only appear at 1 p.m. the following day, a major shift away from the current industrywide midnight release schedule.

According to Yonhap News, the switch comes after Korea’s culture ministry sent a request to chart-organizing committee Korea Music Content Industry Association (KMCIA) in December. The government department urged the KMCIA to take into consideration a variety of issues caused by the around-the-clock chart rankings that enabled artists with large fan followings to flood the charts at off-peak hours.

By shifting the charts half a day to a more public-friendly hour, the KMCIA hopes to reduce what is perceived as real-time chart manipulation by K-pop acts.

Currently, South Korean music charts’ reflection of real-time listening have made it easy for musical acts to debut high on the charts while most of Korea’s populace is asleep. Releasing singles at midnight enabled acts with sizeable fanbases to mobilize and dominate the charts immediately upon release, even if the song wouldn’t necessarily reach such heights during general listening hours. The resulting chart ranks not only boost popularity of new releases, but also give the musical act bragging rights even if they only appeared high on the charts for a few early a.m. hours.

While a new single from popular acts will often top charts regardless of release timing, the change is threatening enough that fans took to social media and protested the reform on the basis that it was biased against K-pop idols. The protesters were concerned that the KMCIA was belittling K-pop singers and favoring non-idol singers, and poising their fans as a separate audience than the general public.  

While it’ll take time to see if K-pop’s popularity on Korean music charts is going to be affected by the changes, some entertainment companies are already responding. K-pop girl group Lovelyz -- who gained international attention for their a cappella rendition of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" back in 2015 -- recently pushed the release of their new album R U Ready? from the 27th to the 26th, the last day it will be possible to keep to the industry’s typical midnight premiere schedule.