UPDATED: Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu’s new album, “Antares,” has debuted at No. 100 on the latest Billboard chart amid allegations of fraudulent sales that drove tracks from the album to the top of iTunes earlier this month.
A representative for Nielsen Music, Billboard’s official data partner, said that some of the singer’s sales could not be verified. The album’s total equivalent album units – based on a combination of streams and sales – earned in the week ending Nov. 8 were cited as 8,000, of which 5,000 were in album sales; clearly many of the sales that powered the tracks to the top of the iTunes chart were not included in that sum.
“Billboard and Nielsen Music have been working to validate the accuracy and legitimacy of the sales volumes that were reported for Kris Wu last week,” the representative said in a statement posted on Billboard.com. “As with all instances when providers are unable to validate sales, Nielsen decides on a case-by-case basis whether streaming or sales activity is chart-eligible. In this case, we did not receive the required validation of certain Kris Wu sales for last week and have decided to remove all unverified activity for the week ending Nov. 8.” Since 2015, when the U.S. moved its album-release day from Tuesdays to the international standard of Fridays, Billboard’s initial album chart is usually announced on Sunday afternoons; while there are often delays or updates, a delay of more than 48 hours — the article explaining Wu’s placement published at 9:45 p.m. ET Tuesday night — is rare and suggests the results were deeply scrutinized.
A rep for Nielsen did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for further details.
Several songs from “Antares” shot to the top of the iTunes list after the album was released in the U.S. on Nov. 2, displacing or crowding out tracks from artists such as Ariana Grande, who dropped her new single, “Thank U, Next,” late the following day. One reason given for Wu’s explosive sales was that the album’s release was held back in China until Nov. 6, Wu’s birthday, resulting in a rush by Chinese fans to the U.S. iTunes store.
Some of Wu’s fans had encouraged each other to help propel the singer’s new songs to the top of the charts. “We have 48 hours to get to the top of U.S. iTunes,” wrote one fan account on Weibo with nearly half a million followers. “Buy buy buy on iTunes without stopping…listen, listen, listen on streaming platforms without stopping. The most important thing in the world is to get to the top of the charts!”
The account issued instructions on how to download Wu’s songs from the U.S. iTunes store, as well as how to influence streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Pandora, which are officially not available in China due to the country’s restrictive Internet policies, although they are accessible through the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs. Other fans provided technical advice on using U.S. apps and websites.
Skeptics, including Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, questioned Wu’s sales and suggested that his numbers came through bots or other gaming of the system. Billboard and Nielsen Music said they would investigate “to ensure both the accuracy and legitimacy of the sales.”
Supporters took exception. “Our gold and silver doesn’t count towards sales?” one disgruntled fan wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter, last Friday. “Then give the money back!”
Later in the week, Braun tried to calm the situation from his side by stating in an Instagram post that he had spoken with Wu. “It was explained to he and I that because his release was held back in China for his birthday his fans went and got the music any way they could and that was US Itunes,” Braun wrote. “Once the release in China took place the fans had their access. He has never been removed from the charts on iTunes.”
Although an unnamed Universal Music Group spokesperson told Billboard that “Antares” was currently the top album on [China’s] four biggest streaming services — topping the daily and weekly paid download tallies at QQ Music, NetEase, Cool and Cool Dog — other comparisons put the numbers in a different light. “Antares” currently has 158,287 sales on QQ Music, one of China’s largest streaming platforms. By contrast, the latest offering from NINEPERCENT, a boyband from a recent reality show, already has more than 324,000 pre-sales, although that is not an exact apples-to-apples comparison.
Looking at songs charts, no Wu tracks ranked in the top 300 streaming songs listed on QQ Music, while Grande’s “Thank U, Next” clocked in at No. 292 as of Wednesday evening. On Xiami’s “Hot Music Chart,” Wu also did not appear in any of the top 100 songs for the day, and on its “New Music Chart” of songs that have debuted in the past 30 days, he only had two works: “Wu” at No. 88, and “Coupe,” his collaboration with Rich the Kid, at No. 91 – well below “Thank U, Next” at No. 12.
However, there’s no question that Wu – who is ubiquitous in China, hawking everything from McDonald’s chicken wings to Xiaomi smartphones – boasts legions of devoted fans. His nearly 45 million followers on Weibo give Grande’s 58.5 million Twitter followers a run for their money. Just as her devotees are dubbed “Arianators,” Wu’s diehard supporters call themselves the “Meigeni,” a riff on the Chinese for “every one of you,” after Wu once told fans: “I like you, every one of you.”
On Wednesday evening, Billboard China’s official Weibo account published an article headlined: “How can foreign charts be more accepting of Chinese singers?” Examining what worked for Chinese artists who have recently appeared on the Billboard 200 – and what didn’t – the article said some singers struggle with vocals – unlike Grande – and need to work on creating more memorable melodies.
“Presently, the Chinese singers who are at the head of the pack in terms of popularity and production concept are mostly idols who sing and dance,” the article said. “Their vocals still are deficient and seem boring, and sometimes can only be achieved via outside help.”
One of Wu’s fans was pleased Wednesday that “Antares” had made it onto the Billboard 200, even if its position was smack in the middle. “The good thing is that Kris Wu’s music was still widely recognized abroad, and that his place on the chart was publicized,” the fan wrote on Weibo. “As for what place he ultimately deserves on it, I think the music should speak for itself.”