Kris Wu Controversially Pulled from iTunes Top Spot as Twitter Asks, “Kris Who?”

Amidst allegations of fraudulently boosted iTunes sales for Wu's new album, online reactions range from "who the f*** is Kris Wu?", to the vaguely Sinophobic, to the outright racist — but did Chinese bots really boost his stats?

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1:29 AM HKT, Thu November 8, 2018 4 mins read

So, Kris Wu’s new album, Antares, came out last week! We were feeling that single with Rich the Kid, and had to give a nod where it was due when he absolutely dominated the US iTunes charts upon the album’s November 2 release, claiming the #1 album spot and 7 of the top ten individual tracks in iTunes’ sales charts for the day.

Wu took to Weibo to thank his myriad fans upon the album’s release, writing:

It took over two years to prepare this album, and a lot of songs. But the final ones included are the ones that I want to share with you the most now. The music speaks for me. You’ll understand me better after listening to the full album.

Obviously, more than a few people will have spun the album by now, but Kris has completely disappeared from the iTunes Top 200 in a matter of days, following allegations of his fans using bots to artificially boost the album’s sales performance.

By way of background: Kris Wu, who first came to prominence as a member of super popular K-pop band EXO, has a lot of fans on the internet. Check our Twitter mentions any time we post a less than glowing review of the dude’s output for confirmation. Kris’s social media army, which includes 44.7 million Weibo followers, is called 梅格妮: “meigeni,” a homophone for the Chinese characters for the phrase “every you,” which is itself adapted from a Weibo post Wu once made reading “I like you, every you.” Still with us?

Accusations relating to the 梅格妮 padding out Kris’ iTunes stats seem to have largely originated from another bloc of internet superfans: Ariana Grande supporters (“Arianators”), who were upset that Kris was keeping the ex-Disney singer’s new single “thank u, next” off the top spot.

Needless to say, #StanTwitter has gone nuclear over this. Here are some representative jabs from Team Ariana:

“Shallow,” an original song by Lady Gaga for the film in which she stars, A Star is Born, is also currently charting, so naturally #TeamGaga is likewise reveling in the apparent Kris Wu iTunes takedown:

Even the Taylor Swiftbots are piling on for some reason?

Sadly, some fans are getting caught in the crossfire:

And even more sadly, the allegations of boosted sales aided by bot-swarm tactics has connected with ambient anxiety about China as economic and political adversary, fomenting takes that range from the vaguely Sinophobic to the outright racist:

UPDATE Ariana Grande’s manager Scooter Braun has also weighed in, posting to Instagram after apparently having spoken with Kris Wu directly:

So, what are the facts?

For one, as music industry news site HITS Daily Double reported a few days ago, as of November 5 Antares was still sitting in the #1 album slot on iTunes’ US charts, and seven of its tracks were still in the top ten by sales, despite not being featured on playlists on streaming services like Spotify, where wide swathes of the market first hear new music. This is a feat virtually unheard of in the current algorithm-driven charting economy, and lends credibility to the claim that Wu’s iTunes stats were somehow juked.

For another, China’s online “fan economy” has become not only an essential part of the country’s entertainment industry, but arguably an entire industry unto itself. As we reported in June, Yang Chaoyue, a contestant in idol-minting show Produce 101, made it into the show’s final 11 despite being a demonstrably mediocre singer and dancer. She was propelled by the fervor of her fans, who invested millions of RMB into her on-screen success, forming online action groups with divisions including “Voting department,” “copywriter department,” and “data department.”

Likewise, the precision with which Kris Wu’s 梅格妮 have organized around Antares can only be described as military-like.

Above is a “Hitting Top Charts Plan” that can still be found on Weibo, recruiting more fans to join in efforts to propel Mr Wu to the number 1 spot. The post includes instructions for buying a membership card to access the group and receive further instructions about how to use different IP addresses or online accounts to increase the album’s total sales numbers.

Another revealing Weibo exchange shows one fan strategizing around the impending release of “thank u, next”:

“There is a huge singer releasing an album today, so if you don’t buy [Anatares] we are definitely not gonna secure [#1]. If you have accounts, please just go straight to iTunes and buy it all! Don’t keep anything! Buy six songs then the whole album! Five times for each IP! If you cannot do it, let other 梅格妮 help you do it!”

In a comment below the post, we see that the “huge singer” is “a妹,” aka “Sister A,” or Ariana Grande.

There’s also this article entitled “Multi-purchasing Kris Wu fans surprise US iTunes chart” from mainstream Chinese newspaper Global Times, which quotes a fan as saying:

“The sales results could be very authentic. It is normal for Kris’ fans to make purchases several times per person to support their idol. They can afford it,” a Beijing-based K-pop fangirl surnamed Hu told the Global Times on Tuesday.

For its part, the label behind Antares’ release, Universal Music China, issued a statement on Weibo earlier this afternoon decrying the rumor of the album being removed from iTunes as “fake news.” At this writing, Antares is indeed currently available on Apple Music, though none of its tracks rank in the platform’s Top 100. If Kris was at one point dominating the US iTunes rankings there’s no trace of that now:

So… sketchy bot attack? Politically motivated pop-music protectionism? Naked racial animus?

We’ve told you all we know, don’t @ us.

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