This article was originally published by The Daily Targum on January 30th, 2020.
Music is all about charts these days — releases are centered around tracking weeks and perfectly timed to limit competition with others. Every musician is essentially a player in the big game, that is the music industry, and where the charts are the leaderboards. Lately, Roddy Ricch has been on a winning streak.
The Compton rapper’s “The Box” beat out Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” on Billboard’s Hot 100 Songs chart. His album took the second spot on the Billboard Top 200 Albums the following week, while Selena Gomez’s “Rare” took first. With his single still in the top spot and his album in the second, Ricch was met with praise from both fans and the general public simply because, unlike Bieber and Gomez, Ricch didn’t have to beg.
It’s not uncommon nor inherently a bad thing for artists to ask fans to stream their music. After all the work and effort that likely went into a release, it makes sense that an artist would want their music to be heard and widely appreciated, especially someone relatively small. At the end of the day, music is a business and artists a commodity.
Record labels use chart numbers as objective, quantifiable measures of an artist’s success so, naturally, a musician would want good chart positions. But to see such popular, well-established artists as Bieber and Gomez blatantly cheating and begging their fans to stream their music is concerning, to put it mildly.
Bieber reposted streaming instructions from a fan account on Instagram, going so far as to urging international fans to stream using VPN services and suggesting fans leave the song on repeat while they sleep. (Ironically, leaving a song on repeat actually prevents it from counting as a stream. Perhaps that’s why Bieber ultimately failed to earn the number one spot he so desperately wanted.)
Bieber wasn’t the only desperate one. A week later, when Gomez realized she was competing with Ricch’s album, she took to her Instagram stories to ask for streams. Then, she posted a video of herself going out and buying her own albums. “One more day to see if I can buy as many albums as possible,” she said in the posts. “Am I kind of desperate for doing this? I don’t care.”
Selena got what she wanted in the end, with “Rare” beating Ricch’s “Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial” for the top spot by approximately 2,000 album-equivalent units. But she said the achievement felt embarrassing and inauthentic after asking for streams so insistently. And she was right, it was inauthentic.
It’s a gross oversimplification to say the better the art, the more passionate fans will be, but it is the general trend. For musicians, success is ultimately measured by listenership and the passion of their fans, because those two things are what lead to sales, streams, popularity and everything else. Chart positions are a test of the art and the fans.
Especially in this age of “stan” Twitter and Instagram, streaming to earn chart positions is a part of the pride and joy of fans. It’s one of the ways fans express their gratitude and love for an artist.
A quick look through a typical stan account after a new release, for example, will yield at least five different streaming guides with pre-made playlists and messages like “Keep streaming! Let’s get this to number one!” or “They worked so hard on this, we can’t let them down.”
Artists like Bieber and Gomez are privileged enough to already have huge fanbases supporting them in a way such that they don’t need to worry about scoring well on the charts.
Just like any sort of test or competition, cheating negates the satisfaction of doing well. It devalues the effort as well as the test as a whole. After working on “Rare” for four years with her heart and soul poured into it, it was shameful for Gomez to ruin its legacy and artistic value by begging for her fans to stream it more.
Unfortunately, Bieber and Gomez aren’t the only popular artists who have asked their fans to stream and get them top chart positions. It seems the entire music industry is headed to a point where placements on a chart matter more than the actual music.
That, in turn, is devaluing charts as a measure of actual musical excellence. Music is being treated as solely as a product for consumption rather than artistic expression.
Fundamentally, art isn’t supposed to be tied down by numbers and sales, and popular artists aren’t supposed to be appealing to their audience’s pathos, begging to get chart positions that barely matter. Music should speak for itself.