HONG KONG — Concerned about the impact that fake streams are having on the accuracy of China’s music charts, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) has designed an annual chart that incorporates both streaming and sales data with votes from industry professionals, the company tells Billboard.
The new year-end chart, which TME recently released to the public in China, combines inputs from two existing charts, the TME UniChart and TME Wave Chart, which track weekly and monthly streaming data. They feed into the Tencent Music Chart, the year-end charts compiled by the China-based music giant, which operates streaming apps QQ Music, Kugou Music, Kuwo Music, and karaoke service WeSing.
The TME UniChart, which first launched in 2018 and has been featured on Billboard’s global website (billboard.com) since November, calculates listening data from China’s public radio stations and streaming data on TME-run platforms, including clicks, favorites, downloads, shares, purchases and recommendations. The TME Wave Chart, on the other hand, is compiled by scores and recommendations from over 250 industry professionals every month. (TME, which licenses the Billboard brand in China and publishes Billboard China, would not disclose its math formula for weighting its results.)
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The new combined chart was developed to ensure the accuracy and fairness of the rankings, and to address growing concerns from music professionals that China’s music charts are subject to tampering, and include inflated streams and social media statistics, a company representative tells Billboard.
The issue mirrors concern expressed in the U.S. music industry about aggressive organizing by fan groups of certain pop artists to push them up the rankings. That has notably included K-pop group BTS’ fan ARMY and its agency, HYBE, which have come under scrutiny for BTS’ chart successes. (Both HYBE and BTS have rejected accusations that chart manipulation accounts for the group’s success.)
Chinese fan groups often engage in “data work,” which includes conducting online activities to ensure the high placement of celebrities on social media ranking boards,” says Dr. Celia Lam, associate professor in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, who studies audience and fan engagement. “Organized team-building activities within fandoms can include daily data targets – liking, sharing or reposting social media posts or using specific hashtags — to ensure the continued data performance of a celebrity figure,” she says.
China, the world’s sixth-largest music market, has dozens of domestic music charts, including some run by China’s state-owned broadcaster that have been operating for about two decades. But the country lacks an industry-recognized reference chart like the Billboard Hot 100 or Spotify’s Weekly Top Song Global.
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Several established music charts already exist in China, including Global Chinese Golden Chart (jointly launched by seven largest Chinese-speaking radio stations), China Music Billboard (run by China National Radio MusicRadio), and Global Chinese Music under CCTV. There are also emerging music charts run by streaming platforms such as Fresh Asia Music Weekly Chart, NetEase Music Hot Songs Weekly Chart and QQ Music MV Chart, along with some hosted by social media platforms such as Sina Weibo and Douyin.
With fewer music listeners tuning into radios, charts run by China’s public broadcaster have become limited in their ability to reflect a song’s popularity. Music professionals have questioned the credibility of emerging music charts, as fans in China are known to mobilize in mass-streaming activities to push their singers to the top of the charts, preventing those charts from reflecting the organic popularity of songs.
Tencent Music says it wants to help weed out fraudulent activity and create more credibility for its own charts. Still, the move comes amid recent government regulatory scrutiny on TME for its potential monopoly stranglehold on the streaming market. Music listeners in China spent 70% of their time streaming music in 2022 on TME’s three major platforms — QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music, the company says. TME had 85.3 million paying music users as of the third quarter of 2022, according to company filings.
Leveraging the huge amount of data generated by TME’s services, the annual rankings also offered insights into China’s fast-growing music industry. In 2022, pop stars Jay Chou, Yisa Yu, Lala Hsu, G.E.M., Mao Buyi and Jackson Wang took the top spots on the Tencent Music Chart. Rising stars Zhou Shen, Joker Xue, Liu Yu Ning, Xin Liu rounded out the top 10.
“Looking at the annual charts in recent years, we can see that the Chinese music market has begun to diversify,” Vincent Lee, director of TME’s charts team, tells Billboard. “Influential singers like Jay Chou, Eason Chan, and Karen Mok still occupy important positions in the music market. But the power of the new generation should also not be underestimated such as the very young boy band Teens In Times and Zhou Shen, who gained popularity through variety shows and original soundtracks of film and television dramas.”
Music lovers in China have also started branching into different music genres. Besides Jay Chou’s “Greatest Works of Art” and “Free of Worries When Flowers Blossom” by Zhou Shen, Chinese listeners embraced “You Are My Magic” by Taiwanese psychedelic rock band Accusefive and Cai Xu Kun’s romantic love song “Hug Me.”
Younger rising artists have also begun to win the hearts of fans. “Getting Warmer” by Teens In Times topped the UniChart as song of the year, while the song “Beautiful” by the boy band INTO-1 member Mika has remained on the chart for 52 weeks.
“Judging from the hit songs in recent years, there is less and less a ‘standard formula’ to musical success,” says Lee. “Different types of music have shown strong potential in China’s music scene, and popular songs have emerged from all kinds of genres.”
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