It’s no secret that dedicated music fans band together on social media when their favorite artist releases new material. They list out strategies for how to stream on repeat and buy songs multiple times without detection in hopes of pushing tracks up charts and on to the radio. But rarely does the artist encourage these practices themselves.
Last night, several people noticed that Justin Bieber reposted a fan’s guide to his Instagram that detailed how to game various platforms in order to boost his new single “Yummy.” It’s unclear if the post was created by Bieber himself or someone on his team, but it has since been deleted.
The five-panel Instagram post was first put up yesterday by Bieber fan account Outlyning with the caption: “Justin really wants that #1 and he is really excited about it as he said yesterday in his livestream. If you don’t want to do any of this it’s totally fine, just ignore the post. ✌️This is tips for the people who actually wants to do an extra effort!”
if u don’t have a number one, just make a 5 page slide show ASKING UR FANS TO GAME THE SYSTEM BY LISTENING TO UR SONG ON REPEAT QOIETLY WHILE THEY SLEEP and also buy it multiple times
— ol’ flirty bastard (@unclenappy) January 10, 2020
Among the tips: create a Spotify playlist with “Yummy” and let it play on repeat while you sleep, buy the song on iTunes and multiple times on Bieber’s website, and link to the YouTube video instead of reposting it. It also says to use a VPN for streaming if you’re not in the US, since Billboard charts only count streams marked as coming from a US IP address. The idea is that if enough fans do this at once, the concentrated activity could help “Yummy” make it on to the Billboard charts.
These sort of fan campaigns to manipulate play counts are common. Similar efforts were encouraged by fans for Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times” single, and in 2018, a BTS fan group went even further, claiming it distributed more than 1,000 Spotify logins to help amplify the act’s Love Yourself: Tear album.
It’s unclear how much of an impact these actions actually have on a song’s chart position, but it’s likely a drop in the bucket. The songs that wind up in Billboard’s number one slot get tens of millions of plays the week they’re released, so it would take a concerted effort from thousands of fans to maybe make a dent.
In 2017, a PR rep for Nielsen, which calculates the numbers for Billboard charts, told The Verge that “Nielsen and its partner data providers have mechanisms in place to protect against this kind of activity,” but did not clarify further.
Labels and artists themselves engage in various ways of trying to land chart positions, like shorter EPs that encourage repeat listening, and “bundling,” where an album is given away for free when something like a concert ticket is purchased. But streaming manipulation is universally frowned upon by labels, streaming services, and publishers. Earlier this year, an industry-wide coalition, which included all three major record labels, Spotify, Amazon, Universal Music Publishing Group, and more, backed an initiative targeting fake streaming practices.
“Stream manipulation has the potential not only to cause economic harm to streaming service providers, rights holders, artists, and advertisers,” the initiative says, “but also to distort the media’s and fans’ impressions and understanding of the popularity of particular recordings … by influencing algorithmic playback results.”
Bits of what was in Bieber’s reposted Instagram aren’t unethical; telling fans to buy a new single is as normal as it comes. But directing people to use a VPN or listen on YouTube in a specific way are murky grounds for what’s considered fair. Everyone knows these campaigns happen, and while artists can’t stop fans from setting them up, they generally look the other way. Endorsing it is a rare faux pas, which is probably why the post was quickly removed from Bieber’s Instagram account.
The Verge has reached out to Justin Bieber’s management and Spotify for comment.