Congratulations to Dinosaur Jr. for topping Japan’s video-streaming chart with nearly 8.1m weekly views for a 25-year-old song called ‘Over Your Shoulder’. Wait, what?! Yes, the definitely-not-at-all-J-Poppy grunge veterans suddenly have a hit in Japan, with those video streams sending the track to 18th place in the overall singles chart compiled by Billboard. So what’s going on here?
Actually, it’s an interesting story that involves YouTube. “The likely answer is that some unknown user uploaded a video or videos using these songs, which were then viewed enough times for the songs to make significant inroads into the ranking,” speculated Billboard when it announced the chart. Pitchfork noted that ‘Over Your Shoulder’ has never been released as a single or reissued in Japan. “It does not appear in a new popular film, nor does it appear to soundtrack a meme or viral video,” it reported.
People have since been getting to the bottom of the issue. EnterTech Accelerator’s Taka Suzuki tweeted that “a linkage this song with Japan is obvious” – ‘Over Your Shoulder used to be used in a TV show called ‘Gachinko Fight Club’. Tech site Gizmodo continued the story, reporting that pirate uploads of the show to YouTube suddenly saw a spike in popularity in late January, partly through word-of-mouth nostalgia, which in turn seemingly triggered YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. The videos have since been removed (seemingly for copyright takedowns) but they were up long enough for their inclusion of the song to register with the chart compilers.
This may all seem like just another YouTube / chart-formula quirk (like a ‘Harlem Shake’ with less twerking but more guitar solo) but it is also a reminder of the service’s popularity in Japan – and not just for watching old TV shows. In a survey published by music-industry body the RIAJ in April 2018, YouTube was the most popular way to listen to music: 61.6% of respondents said they used it, compared to 54.6% who listened to physical CDs; 38.7% to digital-music files; and just 10.4% via paid streaming services. The RIAJ somehow neglected to ask how many Japanese music fans were listening to Dinosaur Jr. however…