A Chinese rapper topped Ariana Grande in iTunes sales. But did bots buy his songs?
“Who is Kris Wu?”
That was the question Ariana Grande fans were asking on Twitter, after the Chinese-Canadian rapper nabbed seven spots in the top 10 of the US iTunes sales chart -- beating Grande’s much-anticipated single “thank u, next”.
Wu’s English debut album Antares, featuring Travis Scott and Jhene Aiko, surprised everyone -- with three of his songs selling more than Grande’s big new single.
And then just as quickly as it began, Wu’s dominance came to an abrupt end when he disappeared from the charts entirely.
It happened after Wu was accused of using bots to artificially jack up sales. Nobody seems to know exactly how it went down, but a tweet allegedly from Ariana Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, claimed on Sunday that Wu and his management were gaming the iTunes sales charts with an army of bots.
Braun later said the tweet was fake -- and added that he did not know Wu. If the tweets were real, they’ve been deleted from his account, but screenshots are making rounds on the internet.
We’ve reached out to Apple with questions about the accusations as well as the vulnerability of iTunes sales charts. We’ll update this story if we hear back.
WHO IS KRIS WU?
Before joining Interscope Records and Universal Music Group as their first ethnically Chinese artist, Wu was a former member of the massively popular K-pop band EXO.
After departing EXO for a solo career in 2014, Wu put out a few hits in the West. His song with Travis Scott -- Deserve -- has over 18 million views on YouTube. He also recently called himself the “Yeezus of the East” in a song with up-and-coming rappers Rich Brian and Trippie Red.
If you know how crazy Chinese fans are about Wu, you’d know that the comparison is not ridiculous -- Wu has 45 million followers on Weibo while Mr. Ye has a little under 29 million on Twitter.
While there’s no evidence of Kris Wu’s team deploying bots to fake sales, one thing is for certain -- his diehard Chinese fans have been going out of their way to help boost Wu’s chart performance.
According to the South China Morning Post, Wu's fans have posted plenty of instructions to Weibo, teaching other fans how to inflate the streaming numbers for Wu’s songs.
For instance, a post made by FanGaxaxy_fanqiba on Weibo guides readers step-by-step on how to create new playlists and repeat albums to boost streams.
“I set alarms every day to play on Spotify and Apple Music in turn, and tweet about the new songs on Twitter whenever I have a moment. Please get everyone to work on this together,” a Weibo user named Luckystar_yuan posted on Saturday.
Meanwhile, after Kris Wu dropped out of the iTunes sales chart, some fans took their anger to Twitter, calling Apple’s crackdown on Wu unfair.
Wu’s fans aren’t the first time a massive showing of support from China gave a homegrown star help in the West. Back in 2005, Yao Ming shattered the NBA record for All-Star votes thanks to a huge wave of support from China.
But many also rejected the comparison. A Weibo user wrote, “After all, Yao was the No.1 pick in his class. His talent speaks for itself. What’s on Kris Wu’s resume? Where are his Grammys…”