Throughout the digital age, artists have learned to game the system in an effort to move their careers ahead. It’s easy to buy fake YouTube views, Twitter followers, Facebook friends and followers, playlist rankings, and just about anything else where the number seems to validate the artist’s popularity. It’s gotten to the point where labels don’t even care much about numbers anymore until they get so large that its virtually impossible to fake because of the potential amount of cash involved. Spotify plays haven’t been immune either, as artists have found new and clever ways to upping their stream totals, but there’s a new source of fake plays and it’s not coming from artists. This time its the fans.
Superfans are now getting into the fake stream business in an effort to offer some unsolicited help to their favorite artist, according to BuzzFeed. Apparently the fans of the K-Pop band BTS were determined to make a recent release go to number 1, and some even employed a widespread strategy to pull it off.
Here’s what they did. Fans in the US created accounts on various music streaming services in order to play BTS’s music, and then distributed the account logins to fans in other countries via Twitter, email, or Slack. The superfans then streamed BTS’s music continuously, sometimes even using multiple devices at once. Many of the fans went as far as to use a virtual private network (VPN), which reroutes a user’s traffic through several different servers across the world, in order to fake their locations.
One BTS fan group even said it distributed more than 1,000 Spotify logins to make it appear as though more people in the US were streaming BTS music in order to increase the Spotify chart chart position, which in turn would also influence Billboard’s charts as well.
If you think this is isolated to just BTS, that’s not the case. Harry Styles fans did much the same thing in 2017.
Here’s the thing though – if the fans are actually listening to songs, is that actually fake? It just goes to show that the digital metrics that we live with today might not actually be measuring true popularity after all. Back in the days of physical sales, fans rarely bought more than 1 copy of a product, so sales truly measured the popularity of the product. If one fan can listen to a song for hundreds, even thousands of times, what exactly does that measure?
Maybe we don’t have a handle on digital metrics these days after all.