Last month, Bloomberg reported
on how the YouTube record for the most views within 24 hours was broken but being quietly unacknowledged. The Indian rapper Badshah got over 75 million views with his song “Paagal”, just edging over K-Pop icons BTS’s own song “Boy With Luv”, which hit 74.6 million earlier this year. The article points out that industry sources accused Sony Music, Badshah’s record label, of using bot farms to inflate the number of views and alleged that’s why YouTube held back crowning a new record holder. The brief story contained what I thought was a rather revealing couple of sentences highlighting the specific methods and actors within the space of falsifying YouTube numbers:
When releasing a new single, major record labels will buy an advertisement on YouTube that places their music video in between other clips. If viewers watch the ad for more than a few seconds, YouTube counts that as a view, boosting the overall total. Blackpink and Swift, among others, have done it. Badshah just took it a step further, people familiar with the matter say.
The rather bold accusation that two of the world’s biggest pop stars inflated their own YouTube numbers snuck into this piece without any second thought. Even the phrase “among others” is doing quite a bit of power-lifting to cover for however many artists of a similar tier might also be inflating their YouTube numbers. Yet, the banality of such number manipulation speaks to the question of who is really the audience for these eye-popping numbers: Advertisers.
In this case, the method of manipulating YouTube views isn’t simply getting a bot to refresh a video, as was the case back in the late 2000s. Instead, labels bought advertisement for the explicit purpose of using a bot farm to produce fraudulent views. The self-contained loop is one that YouTube (without any government regulation of its platform) can pick-and-choose when to legislate, as The New York Times reported last year
Last year, I wrote about my issue with Spotify’s Monthly Listener metric
that essentially just exists to inflate the perceived popularity of an artist: “Now I took the bait and saw that Bryan Mg only has 895 followers on Spotify, while his current monthly listeners are over 160,000. Imagine trying to book a show saying you have less than 900 followers [or] 160,000 Monthly Listeners?” Where Spotify’s faulty metrics skews the perception of artist popularity across the spectrum of popularity, YouTube views pioneered the digital method of generating preposterous numbers to craft media narratives for music’s most popular acts.