Our guest writer, Gabbii is no stranger to UK ARMY, as an admin for BANGTAN UK they have been an ARMY since pre-debut, and have also graduated UCLan BA (Hons) in Asian Pacific Studies & Japanese, covering interests of East-Asian popular culture, film, and fandom phenomena.

"It just feels like we're easy targets because we're a boy band, a k-pop act, and we have this high fan loyalty" - BTS on Challenges and Chart Manipulation Accusations

written by

Gabbii Millard

Within their newest interview with Billboard magazine, septet superstars BTS told all about the “tough” and “overwhelming” challenges they face as global sensations, with vocalist, V, comparing their success as the band members as being “Rice-bowl-size guys getting so much poured into it. It’s overflowing”.

Discussing their origins and whirlwind success as a rookie group that handed out flyers to their first international show on the streets of the USA in 2014 to winning Top Social artist just 3 years later, and now in 2021 with a wide range of awards and nominations under their belts, including acclaimed GRAMMY and BRIT award nominations, there is no denying the success of BTS has been next-to-none, even defeating records set by The Beatles.

BTS’ 2021 U.S. success alone has been a hot topic for media journalists and music fans alike, with their two English singles, Butter, Permission To Dance both hitting #1 within the Billboard Top 100 and Butter holding the title for 9 weeks. Such charting successes and streaks are not uncommon for pop music, especially in the West, but it is noticeable that since the overseas domination of BTS such trends have become possible due to their dedicated fanbase, ARMY. Billboard places the spotlight on accusations of “chart exploitation” and ARMY “cheating” their way to the top, with band leader RM stating “slamming us or our fans for getting to №1 with physical sales and downloads, I don’t know if that’s right … It just feels like we’re easy targets because we’re a boy band, a K-pop act, and we have this high fan loyalty”.

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Such accusations as stated in the article by Billboard were brought forward on social media by fans of Disney actress and tween singer Olivia Rodrigo, whose 2021 success for the debut album 'Sour' has brought up much internet discourse and chart dominance between the fandoms. However, much like fan activity between BTS and ARMY, we have seen the raring attitudes between multiple 21st-century pop artists and their fandoms, with Justin Bieber telling his fans to help ‘Yummy’ to the top the U.S. charts by using VPNs and streaming in their sleep, and fan incentives provided by Spotify allowed fans of Olivia Rodrigo to meet the singer if they streamed the highest on the platform. Common formalities noted between all three fandoms, as well as many more, include the usage of streaming software, playlists, and even streaming platforms such as radio application STATIONHEAD, where fans can produce playlists on-air or pre-made and broadcast them to their followers with or without commentary, with all plays being linked to users’ Spotify and Apple Music accounts which qualify as legitimate streams. Whether it’s “chart exploitation” as stated by Billboard, or merely the advancements in streaming and knowledge by dedicated fans, there is no denying that it works, as noted by aforementioned successes for BTS, and every track of Rodrigo’s debut album hitting the Billboard Top 30 in June.

With accusations of chart manipulation being denied by BTS, their parent company HYBE (formerly BigHit Entertainment), and label president Shin Young-Jae, one questions the extent to which the grounds of manipulation lay upon in the respect of the Billboard singles chart, as the only claims of such are visible through the multiverse of stan Twitter, though as RM noted during the Billboard interview, “if there is a conversation inside Billboard about what being №1 should represent, then it’s up to them to change the rules and make streaming weigh more on the ranking”.

Despite the cover story featuring the challenges of the band’s ever-looming pressures, whether they be a result of COVID-19 or not, chart manipulation accusations, and the longing to go on tour, the Billboard article also hones in on the possibility of military service, a subject in which members have asked to not be spoken to about unless they initiate the conversation, stating that HYBE experience a “financial punch in the gut” as a result of the absence(s) of one or more members, depending on the ways in which they enlist. Yet any announcement of potential enlistment is not yet planned to be released to the public upon the artists’ requests, the article released by Billboard covers all possible financial endeavours the label may undertake during their military service. With the article going further into the future of parent label HYBE, the creation of potential new groups, and the financial benefits such endeavours will produce, the predominantly pessimistic article fronts the Fall Edition of Billboard Magazine.

BTS ARMY take to social media to discuss their thoughts on the Billboard cover-story

Journalist Renee Klahr took to Twitter to analyse the discrepancies and misleading faults within the Billboard article.

BTS’ fans, ARMY, took to social media to express their distaste towards the Billboard article, with the hashtag #BillboardApologiseToBTS trending as a result of the global backlash. Twitter users such as @Rosleen_Havana and @_sugakookiee_ were quick to point out the discrepancies and contradictions within the article and marketing tactics, with the magazine issuing 8 different versions in a collector’s box for an article that suggests buying multiple versions of BTS products counts as “manipulation”. NPR producer Renee Klahr also spoke out about the article’s coverage, producing an 8-Tweet thread from the perspective of a fellow journalist as she dissected the Billboard cover story, questioning the true purpose of the article, stating, “…It sounds like the article is being set up to make a point about the calculated aspects of the music industry, not BTS as artists. It would be one thing if the article went on to show how BTS are kpop puppets or something — but it doesn’t”. In conjunction with the journalistic views on the article, ARMY were quick to point out more discrepancies, with YouTuber and musician Cameron Philip taking to his channel in a new video questioning why Billboard brought allegations of chart manipulation forward, despite Billboard being the creators of the charts, going on to say “You’re the ones that make the charts, you make the rules, the only reason we’re doing that as fans (buying and streaming) are because those are the rules”.

The future for BTS still remains bright, with domestic and international charts lighting up like Dynamite with every release, but when discussing the future of BTS in the U.S.A, RM notes, “I don’t think we could ever be part of the mainstream in the U.S., and I don’t want that either”, firmly re-iterating the bands’ desire to “do a massive stadium tour there. That’s it”. Though the article provides insight on the “manipulation” complaints by other pop fandoms towards the magazine’s own charts, and the potential future of HYBE, it is clear that questions of the legitimate sources behind such accusations and reasoning for Billboard’s chart system have yet to be answered. However, no matter the upcoming plans for BTS, it is clear that they will not be slowing down anytime soon, and the band that the world once saw in 2017 is most definitely not the band that’s seen before us today.

BTS’ latest collaboration, Butter (feat. Megan Thee Stallion), is out now.

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