K-Pop Album Sales, Music Video Views, And Streams Don’t Matter In Determining A Song’s Success – Here’s What Does

There is one specific way to determine a song’s success, according to a prominent music critic.

Many K-Pop fans are very focused on streaming and mass-buying albums to support their favorite artists. Fans create “streaming parties” and follow specific guidelines to ensure their streams count.

An example of streaming guidelines | @jakeyarchive/Twitter
| @jakeyarchive/Twitter

Streaming is an active way for fans to support artists by showing their love for their songs. When working together, fans can even break records.

However, some fans worry that “streaming culture” can go too far, with some so strongly encouraging streaming that others feel the need to publicly apologize when they don’t have time to stream an artist’s new release.

Album sales are another way fans can actively support their favorite artists, with many fans mass buying if only so they can collect all their favorite photocards. But, just like with streaming culture, negatives come with companies encouraging fans to buy so many albums.

In December 2021, a post on an online forum went viral for showing just how toxic mass buying culture had become. The viral post was a photo of discarded new NCT Universe albums on the side of the street.

Not only is littering illegal in South Korea, but netizens voiced concerns over the impact on the environment when albums are so regularly discarded.

Some entertainment companies are taking steps to reduce the impact of their albums on the environment. But, as music critic Jung Min Jae points out, as long as companies encourage fans to buy many versions, fans won’t “remain perfectly rational and environmentally conscious.”

The media paints it as if these crazy fans are overspending on hundreds of the same album, destroying the environment. But fanhood stems from love. When agencies exploit that love with all these tactics inducing them to bulk-buy, we can’t expect the fans to remain perfectly rational and environmentally conscious.

— Jung Min Jae

But although companies regularly employ tactics that encourage fans’ devotion, generating more album sales and higher music streams, Jung Min Jae shares that the measure of an artist’s success is largely irrelevant to those metrics.

Jung Min Jae explains that unlike media culture in the past, we have become fragmented in the media we consume. Social media platforms curate individual feeds to accommodate each person’s unique interests, meaning that every person consumes different media and it’s easy to limit your focus.

The term ‘popular appeal’ hardly holds any meaning anymore. It once had meaning in the mass media age, when pop stars appeared on the same television shows and everyone watched the same shows. But today, pop culture content is fragmented and so is the public.

— Jung Min Jae

BTS | @BTS_Official/Twitter

Jung Min Jae points out that even global sensation BTS doesn’t have the same “popular appeal” that boy groups of the past might have had. This isn’t due to any failure on BTS’s part. But instead, even though BTS’s success allows for their names to become more mainstream, “the majority of Koreans have only heard of “Butter’” because they aren’t exposed to BTS’s other songs.

To the general public, BTS doesn’t have that much popular appeal either. People know who they are from the news that they topped the Billboard charts and whatnot. But the majority of Koreans have only heard of “Butter” as news and haven’t really listened to the song.

— Jung Min Jae

Of course, BTS’s ARMY is always increasing as the members showcase their incredible talents and capture the attention of an immense amount of fans worldwide.

But this media fragmentation is one reason Jung Min Jae doesn’t believe that streams or album sales accurately measure an artist or song’s success. Jung Min Jae also evidences the antiquation of CDs as a way of listening to music for the failing metric of album sales.

How many people do you know that buy CDs to actually listen to it? Considering that, it makes no sense that these boy bands sell two, three million copies. It’s largely due to the fans buying in bulk.

— Jung Min Jae

| @1204.club/TikTok 

So, as a general stance, Jung Min Jae doesn’t believe that CD sales, music video views, and streams can indicate a K-Pop group’s popularity.

I don’t think they reflect the general public’s reaction, in terms of whether the release was popular and widely listened to among the masses.

— Jung Min Jae

Instead, Jung Min Jae argues that the metrics are better served to judge a fan base’s dedication, which is still an important factor in a K-Pop group’s career.

That being said, do those indexes not reflect reality at all? It’s becoming increasingly murky, because what is that reality people talk about? Let’s say 10 fans each buy 100 copies of an album. It doesn’t mean that 1,000 people purchased that album, but are those 10 loyal fans not part of the general public? It’s still meaningful that the singer has a sturdy fan base, and that’s an important reality in today’s K-Pop.

— Jung Min Jae

| @goquinn.album/TikTok 

According to Jung Min Jae, there is a metric more representative of success with the general public. Because of the fragmentation of media, Jung Min Jae argues that virality and the inclusion of a song among different platforms and within different media is a more evident way to highlight an artist’s success.

Nowadays, a song is a hit if the general public is talking about it, and especially if elements from the song are used widely as a meme.

— Jung Min Jae

aespa | @aespa_official/Twitter

Jung Min Jae specifically highlights aespa‘s “Next Level” as an example of a highly successful song. At the time of its release, “Next Level” went viral for its interesting song structure and simple but memorable choreography. The song structure provoked conversations among netizens, the dance went viral on TikTok, and the song even became a meme that the South Korean news used.

 A great recent example was “Next Level” by aespa, which was a megahit in the sense that the public chatted about it like, ‘Have you seen its strange lyrics and song structure?’ It eventually turned into a viral meme on social media and was even used on the ballot counting TV broadcast animations during the presidential election back in March. When something becomes a meme, it means that a large part of the public recognizes it.

— Jung Min Jae

Source: Korea JoongAng Daily

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