In case you’ve been detached from the music industry gossip of late, Justin Bieber tried to get his new single, “Yummy,” to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, but unbeknownst to the Biebs and his team, a California rapper by the name of Roddy Ricch took the throne with his breakout hit, “The Box.”
You would think that a once-teenage heartthrob with years of tabloid baggage and a redeemed street cred would be able to dominate the charts like the good old days, but as Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle once said, “The future is now, old man.” Ricch’s track achieved virality by becoming frequently used on the social media app TikTok, which goes to show that in this era, you have to have at least some semblance of intersectionality with meme culture if you want to make it to the top (just ask Lil Nas X).
Bieber read the writing on the wall and adapted accordingly, as he created a TikTok account and tried to make “Yummy” something of a dance craze. More controversial, however, was a since-deleted Instagram post in which instructions were provided on how to game the system to get the song to the No. 1 spot. This would not be the last attempted Billboard coup, either, as Bieber's ex-girlfriend, Selena Gomez, followed suit in support of her latest full-length, Rare, just a few days later.
“I told people before that it’s not about numbers for me,” said Gomez in an Instagram story on Jan. 16. “But I would love for the most important album I’ve ever released to become No. 1.”
She chuckled and continued, “So if you don’t mind streaming it or listening to it on all the platforms, it would mean the absolute world to me.”
Asking fans to stream a song or album en masse to ensure chart success is by no means unprecedented or unethical, but this apparent succession of tenured pop artists making pleas to their fans to put their collective finger on the scale has been perceived by others as unbecoming, especially in light of Ricch’s sudden and fortuitous rise to the top.
While this practice may look like mere promotion and PR on the surface, some view the ostensibly earnest pleas as desperate, as there are more subtle and dignified ways to chase this goal. Billie Eilish, for example, suggested on Twitter that fans should listen to her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? on a loop in their sleep so that they get weird dreams:
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What are your dreams like when you listen to Billie's album while you're sleeping? Listen to the album and post your dreams (or nightmares): https://t.co/QTxz8TiibV #WHENIFALLASLEEP pic.twitter.com/r9LF6JQsRE— billie eilish (@billieeilish) April 4, 2019
Moreover, Bieber and Gomez have both faced criticism for these actions due to what many see as mobilizing “stans” [Twitter slang for overzealous fans who promote their idol through subversive means] to fight this battle for them, and a typical fan club, stans are not. Nicki Minaj stans once outed Lil Nas X [before he announced he was gay] and tried to get him “cancelled” for Islamophobic tweets from a different account they allege belonged to the “Old Town Road” rapper. Stans are also notorious for doxxing and organizing mass harassment campaigns that have prompted celebrities to deactivate their accounts. So as you can imagine, some people think asking all fans to manipulate the Billboard charts irresponsibly provokes this particularly dedicated contingent.
But why does Gomez want to be No. 1 if numbers don’t mean anything to her? And why does she want this achievement so badly when she’s already had an enormously successful and rewarding career in the entertainment industry?
We don’t know, but we do know that music is a young person’s game, and for once-successful musicians like Gomez, the name of the game is “sink-or-swim.” As such, it would behoove Gomez to think outside “The Box.”