Hacking the audio charts: Will Justin Bieber’s Yummy move inspire copycats?

At a time where influencers and celebrities are attempting to create a more transparent and honest image, American artist and world famous singer Justin Bieber has turned the tables around asking fans to hack the system on platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and YouTube by playing his songs on loop.

The objective of this? to push his recent single Yummy to the top in the US.

According to several media outlets, Bieber reposted a step by step guide for fans on his official Instagram account. The media outlets such as Forbes, The Verge and Hypebeast among others, said the guide was created by a fan(@outlyning) and included tips and tricks to ensure Yummy hits the number one spot in music charts. While the guide has been removed at the time of writing, Marketing did a quick check and found screenshots of it online.

In the post below, a netizen published screenshots of the guide that encouraged fans to create a playlist on Spotify with Yummy on repeat, leave it on play while asleep, as well as to purchase the single “multiple” times through Bieber’s website and on iTunes.

Meanwhile, he also released the song Yummy on 5 January 2020 and shared a TikTok video to promote it. In six seconds, Bieber played a snippet of the song to thrill fans. On his Instagram account, Bieber also religiously reposted several posts by fans enjoying and “grooving” to the music.

Despite questionable tactics, Bieber attained his end goal. On his Instagram page, Bieber thanked fans as Yummy ranked first on both the digital song sales chart and the R&B songs chart, and clinched the second spot on Billboard Hot 100 list.

At a time where influencers on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are constantly questioned about issues such as authenticity and click farms, Marketing reached out to Spotify and iTunes to understand how it plans to deter artists from rigging the system. The two have not yet responded to Marketing’s queries.

Meanwhile, industry experts Marketing spoke to said “celebrities mobilising fans for their own gain” has been going on for a long time, and not something that is unique to 2020. Miguel Bernas, lead consultant at Timber Wolf Media said while this is prevalent, it is not “really” out of bounds. In his view, the onus in such instances not on Spotify (or any other streaming platform) but dependent on the artist.

“At the end of the day if a popular artist wanted to mobilise fans, what could a platform such as Spotify really do? How can they tell if a stream was organic or artist-triggered? There would be no way to distinguish one from the other,” he said.

However, what would be alarming is when fans use click farms or bots. “I imagine it would be in Spotify’s interest to purge fake accounts the same way Facebook and Twitter regularly do. After all, having artificially inflated streams does not really help  Spotify,” he added.

In a separate conversation with Marketing, Graham Brown, chief storyteller, Pikkai & Co said due to the emergence of such cases, Facebook and Spotify are already questioning whether traditional metrics are the way to go, because it can be gamed. “The era of eyeballs and ears are less effective, but what is the alternative?” he added.

Brown explained that in recent times , people are increasingly paying lesser attention to charts, and opt for recommended charts instead. This then enhances the whole algorithm that is not based on likes and followers, but more through word of mouth.

“Spotify’s number one problem is discovery. For example, Spotify has no way to comment and interrupt a song, but other music platforms have recommendations and engagement options inbuilt into them. Spotify’s approach is curated content but doesn’t allow audience interaction,” he said.

Brands all around the world turn to celebrities and influencers to promote and advertise products. However, closer to home, a report by AI-powered analytics tool HypeAuditor revealed that over 47% of influencers in Singapore faked their Instagram growth. According to the report, influencers used artificial methods such as buying followers, likes and comments as well as using follow/unfollow and comment pods. The report concluded that overall, the vast majority of influencers have tried some flawed methods for Instagram growth at least once.

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