Justin Bieber’s ‘desperate’ mistake
Pop star Justin Bieber has drawn heavy criticism for the promotion of his most recent release as the music industry grapples with new social media and the streaming revolution.
Bieber first rose to prominence after being discovered on YouTube as a 13-year-old boy singing cover songs.
He soon shot to superstardom, touring the world as an internationally famous singer in his teens before falling into the traps money and fame often snare young performers in, such as legal dramas from drug use and throwing eggs at his neighbour's house.
After a few tumultuous years he announced a hiatus from music.
His recent return, while largely successful, has been hindered by an internet economy that has moved on since last propelling him to fame.
While in the early days, Bieber grew his fanbase through YouTube and Twitter, now stars are blowing up on SoundCloud and TikTok, which he and his team are struggling to reckon with.
The first sign of this was through Bieber's collaboration I Don't Care with Ed Sheeran, who previously wrote songs for the Canadian singer.
That song debuted at number two on the Billboard charts, losing out during the record-breaking 19-week run of Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus' Old Town Road.
Fittingly, that record toppled a previous one set by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi with their song Despacito, featuring Justin Bieber.
Despite the title of his Ed Sheeran collaboration, it seems Bieber did in fact care about settling for second, as evidenced by the considerable push given to his single Yummy in an effort to have it debut at number one.
This included what many saw as a desperate post on the star's Instagram page, which has since been deleted but helpfully receipted and shared by Twitter users.
I’ve.. never seen anyone so desperate in my life pic.twitter.com/NoCo2NndTZ— cody (@codyspearz) January 10, 2020
The post included ways Bieber's once rabid but since grown-up fanbase could help game the system to help Yummy debut at number one.
This included things like creating a playlist containing the song on repeat and listening to it on very low volume while they slept (songs don't count towards streaming statistics with the volume off).
That tip even included a callout to international fans to use a virtual private network to make it seem like their stream was happening in the United States, thus counting towards Billboard charts.
Fans were also encouraged to make multiple purchases of the song on iTunes and via Bieber's website.
"Remember, this is Justin's comeback and if we all come together we can give him his sixth number one on the Billboard Hot 100," the post told fans.
Unfortunately Bieber had to settle for second once again, pipped by another song that went viral without relying on tricking an algorithm.
The Box by Compton rapper Roddy Ricch took out the top spot instead, in no small part due to its success on TikTok, where Ricch's sinister yet memeable "EE ER" hook became a common soundtrack for videos.
Its ascent to number one was a clear surprise.
The Box wasn't among three lead singles from Ricch's debut album Please Excuse Me For Being Anti Social.
Aside from those on TikTok, it doesn't even have an official music video.
Bieber's assault on the internet's new favourite video-sharing platform reached a fever pitch during the Superbowl on Monday.
While millions tuned in to watch the game and the commercials, Bieber took to Instagram to announce collaborations with TikTok stars would go live on the platform whenever a time-out was called.
The fact that one of the biggest pop stars of the last decade is now hitching their wagon to people making quite low effort content using their mobile phones shows how vital TikTok is being viewed as a way to boost a song's popularity.
Until the new charts are released next week it will be hard to tell if this strategy has had any effect.
The Box is enjoying its eighth week on the Billboard charts and its fourth at number one.
Yummy has since fallen to 15th after being on the list for half as long.
WHY TIKTOK MATTERS TO MUSIC
TikTok has emerged as one of the most important apps in modern music, despite not really being intended as a distribution platform.
This is partly due to its acquisition and absorption of another app known as musical.ly.
TikTok lets you upload videos up to 15 seconds, much shorter than your average song.
Crucially, the app allows you to take someone else's video and remix it as your own, keeping the soundtrack but adding your own video.
In the most simple terms this is how a song goes viral on TikTok, and it's what led to hits like Old Town Road and The Box racing up the charts.
In a way, TikTok is merely a modern repetition of the mid-2000s phenomenon known as "ringtone rap", songs that were popularised by the advent of purchasing custom ringtones.
While the sales themselves didn't count towards the charts, the ubiquity of them on mobile phones in an era when people not only kept their ringtone audible, but paid money to customise it, helped the songs reach a wider audience, which subsequently boosted sales.
Social media will always remain a popular place for companies to shill their products and for artists to connect with and grow their fanbases for as long as people continue to flock to them.
While some content does better than others on different sites, TikTok is quickly proving to be particularly potent for the music industry.
But as audiences become more attuned to how social media can be manipulated and less accepting of inauthentic content, it's becoming harder to figure out how to harness that potency.
Are you on TikTok? Let us know what you think in the comments below.