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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

‘Butter’: BTS’s legacy may be ruining music charts

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

In today’s music industry, all that matters is the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Everybody wants it, and fans are willing to do anything to get their fave song up there. We have seen Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo and many others employ questionable tactics to achieve the coveted prize, but up to now, these fraudulent fan practices have fallen short of making a lasting impact on a song’s chart performance. Songs that were hits remained hits, only now with a “#1” attached to them, and songs that were not on the charts were still not; their lack of staying power reveals their true colors as “inorganic” #1’s. Until Butter, that is. 

On May 21, 2021, BTS released their highly anticipated single “Butter,” and they broke the internet. With unarguably the most devoted fan base in the world, called the ARMY, the single’s music video achieved a whopping 10 million YouTube views in under 15 minutes, and 11 million first-day streams on Spotify Global, breaking record after record on opening day. During its first week, it racked up a massive total of 242,000 digital sales, which is almost 40 times higher than the average amount of digital sales for the Hot 100 top 10 this week. With record-high streaming numbers and high airplay numbers to back up their enormous sales, the song easily notched the the #1 on the Hot 100 the week of June 5. It would go on to remain on top of the chart for nine non-consecutive weeks, setting the record for longest-lasting #1 hit of 2021 in the United States.

There is no denying that “Butter” is a monster hit. Trying to discredit BTS’s success would be ridiculous. However… it wouldn’t. BTS’s “Butter” cheated its way to #1; just “let me show you ‘cause talk is cheap.”

Those 242,000 sales seem too good to be true, and they are. For starters, they released an instrumental version of the song during the first week, whose sales would also add up to the single’s final tally for its Billboard placement. On top of this, both versions of the song were discounted to $0.69 (they would later lower prices to $0.39), while almost every other song currently on the iTunes top 100 costs $1.29. This practice is termed predatory pricing, and is a well-established opening week maneuver to rack up sales and get a higher chart debut. If that were the end of the story, though, nobody would be crying about it; many others have done it before, after all. This is where mass buying comes in. 

Most of BTS’s sales don’t come from the normal avenues — iTunes, Amazon, etc.— they come from the band’s official website. Why does this matter? Because iTunes and Amazon don’t allow the same credit card to buy more than one copy of a song, and BTS’s website does. Essentially, one fan could buy a hundred copies of Butter, which he’d never listen to, and every purchase would count towards the single’s sales tally. The underhanded tactics utilized are innumerable: releasing a total of six “Butter” versions, fans across the globe organizing PayPal crowd-funding for U.S.-based fans to buy the song en masse on the band’s website and re-releasing the single with different cover art so it would count as a distinct song purchase are among the ARMY’s most notable efforts. They would really do anything for their fave.

Today, 14 weeks after its debut, Butter is out of the top 50 on Spotify US, it has been removed from pop radio stations for not reaching the minimum audience approval rating to stay on rotation, and yet it sits at #7 of the Hot 100. There is a lot wrong with this picture, and the future of the Billboard Hot 100 may not be the same because of it. Billboard enjoys enormous online engagement from ARMY members, so they’re keeping the fandom happy by failing to acknowledge the all-too-evident chart manipulation. Will Billboard eventually rectify the glaring loopholes that allow this to happen, or will they continue acting as if nothing’s wrong? We may very well be witnessing a turning point in the music industry — here’s to hoping common sense becomes a corporate interest in the wake of it all.