BE:FIRST, a Japanese group led by musician and music producer SKY-HI, is enjoying tremendous success on the U.S. Billboard charts.
The Hot Trending Songs global charts track Twitter posts by artists’ fans and other Twitter users around the world. BE:FIRST’s debut single “Gifted.” — which was released on Nov. 3 — took the No. 1 spot with a commanding lead, a rarity for a Japanese artist. Even now, a month after the single’s release, it still enjoys a high place on the charts. Posts from BESTY, BE:FIRST’s supporters, are generating constant buzz on Twitter. There are also fan accounts who share daily chart updates.
As reported in numerous news articles, “Gifted.” took the No. 1 position on the Nov. 10 Billboard Japan Hot 100 chart, dominating the digital metrics of downloads, streaming, and video views, and also the airplay metric. It also has the third highest ever number of weekly streams by an artist. As the charts show, BE:FIRST is a debut artist that is breaking record after record, the likes of which have not been seen for years in the Japanese music industry.
Even in Japan, it’s no longer a rarity for songs with high numbers of streams and YouTube views to take high positions in the Hot 100. Japanese market rankings are no longer the exclusive domain of CD sales, instead reflecting the increasingly diverse ways in which people enjoy and consume music. The music market has evolved into one in which new artists who excel in certain areas and artists with the power to create smash hits online and on social media can rise through the charts. Original new standards are also being applied, such as revising the metrics for counting plays of songs linked to user-generated content. For artists and labels that are aiming for high chart positions, it would be fair to say that Japanese chart strategies are gradually drawing closer to Western chart strategies.
Western charts are evolving even faster than Japanese charts. They are constantly adding new metrics and changing conversion standards. The goal is to keep in step with the growing diversity in how music is consumed. Of course, there are major differences in the music industries of Japan and the West in terms of the quality and quantity of data that chart companies and the industries themselves receive from streaming platforms. The play data and consumption data reflected in the charts differs accordingly. This changing of the rules used by music charts has become seen in the industry as common sense in recent years. Charts seek to show data that reflects the mutual relationships between consumers and music around the world. This is true not only for Billboard but also for the charts of subscription services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music.
Against the backdrop of this changing global music scene, Billboard has launched the Hot Trending Songs charts. BE:FIRST continues to feature on these new global charts. What’s behind its ability to keep its momentum in the global charts? What does this mean for Japanese artists and Japanese music?
Hot Trending Songs charts are new global music charts created by Billboard based on data provided by Twitter. They monitor songs mentioned in Twitter posts in real-time and use this data to create rankings. One chart is updated every 24 hours and the other is updated weekly, covering the period from Friday to the following Thursday (U.S. time). The most important aspect of the charts, which were launched in October 2021, is that they cover Twitter posts, so the data they use is gathered from around the globe.
Various types of posts can affect the chart rankings. Fans can make posts that contain the full names of songs, not abbreviations. Posts can contain song names in hashtags. Looking on Twitter, fans’ activities are easy to visualize — fan accounts update chart information every day and provide tips on how they should post in order to push artists up the charts as well as creating hashtags making it easier for fans to cooperate.
As the name “Trending” makes clear, these are global charts that show, in real time, which songs are buzzing the most on Twitter worldwide. However, unlike charts that count plays or sales, these charts visualize the activity of artists’ fandoms, the existence of fans that are constantly posting about songs, and the strength of fan communities.
Let’s look back at the history of “Gifted.” on the Hot Trending Songs charts.
It first appeared on the 24-hour chart on Nov. 13, taking the No. 4 spot. From Nov. 14 onward, it stayed on the charts in the No. 6 and 7 positions. Then, on Nov. 20, it knocked BTS’ “Butter” out of its long-held No. 1 spot. On Nov. 22 it was ranked first as well.
News about its appearance on the chart, starting from the No. 4 position, was shared on Twitter. This news created a stir among fans, which helped keep it in the rankings. Then, when it took the No. 1 position on Nov. 22, SKY-HI tweeted his surprise, and even more artists and promoters tweeted about the Hot Trending Songs charts. This, in turn, generated even more buzz.
Part of it may be the serendipitous timing of BE:FIRST’s debut, shortly after the new Billboard charts were created. However, remember that these charts are based on song data from around the world. “Gifted.” has maintained its momentum while going head-to-head against global hits like BTS’s “Butter” and LISA’s “LALISA,” and while facing off against songs from global artists, like ATEEZ’s “Turbulence,” Mew Suppasit’s “Spaceman,” SB19’s “Bazinga,” and Dimash’s “Fly Away.”
BE:FIRST is the sole Japanese artist to appear in the charts’ rankings and keep its high placement.
As you may have noticed, Asian artists are strongly represented in the charts. One song that particularly stands out is “Bazinga,” a single from SB19, a P-hop group from the Philippines, which took the No. 1 position in the weekly ranking. SB19 is the product of a local talent development program in the Philippines, run by Korea’s ShowBT Group. “Bazinga” (included on the Pagsibol EP) was released in July of this year, and the music video was premiered via YouTube on Oct. 29, generating tremendous interest. On Dec. 11, it took the No. 1 position on both the daily and weekly charts. It received over 280,000 mentions on Twitter within a 24-hour period and over 3 million over the course of the week. Despite the major differences in plays and sales between “Bazinga” and “Butter,” SB19 and BTS have been neck-and-neck in the charts for weeks. SB19’s situation provides plenty of food for thought about the importance and persistence of fandoms in the growth of global artists.
For BE:FIRST and SKY-HI, who are aiming to take on the global market, success in the Hot Trending Songs charts may have provided new insights into how to bring their songs to the world stage. Of course, Japanese artists can access the global music market through music streaming and social media. However, it feels like it has become even harder to increase and maintain the power of their songs. The artists and songs that enjoy widespread, long-lasting support won’t be ones that generate a sudden but short-lived whirlwind of interest, but those that actively and continuously connect with diverse global fan bases. BE:FIRST’s placement in the Hot Trending Songs charts has reaffirmed belief that relationships with fans are absolutely essential for Japanese artists to grow and achieve success on the global stage. At the same time, the chart placement of “Gifted.” has provided the Japanese music industry with an opportunity to think about how to best tackle the global charts.
All eyes are focused on what strategies BE:FIRST will use next for the Hot Trending Songs charts. The standards for the global success of Japanese artists are diversifying, but there are several Billboard charts that they could take on, such as the Emerging Artists, Song Breaker and Billboard Global Excl. U.S. charts. We’ll see if BE:FIRST fan communities develop in other countries as well. Partnerships between artists and fans have become part of modern music strategies, and it supports the growth and development of artists. Over the past few years, the music industry has demonstrated that fandoms that span national and cultural borders are vital to the development of global artists. BE:FIRST might be the first Japanese artist to succeed at applying this music trend. It has shown us that Japanese artists are entering a new phase of worldwide expansion.
This article by Jay Kogami first appeared on Billboard Japan.