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“Create a playlist with Yummy on repeat and stream it. Don’t mute it! Play it at a low volume. Let it play while you sleep.” “Buy the song on iTunes. Buy the song multiple times on Justin’s website.”

These quotes are from a slideshow, complete with artwork reminiscent of a MySpace page in 2007, posted by a Bieber fan account, encouraging other fans to stream and buy his new single ‘Yummy’ enough times to guarantee it a number one spot in the US. It even told non-US fans how to use a VPN in order to lend their support.

We can forgive fans for this kind of enthusiasm, not to mention their ignorance about chart-eligibility rules, but the slideshow has sparked a controversy because Bieber’s official Instagram account shared it, before deleting the post when it was noticed by the wider world.

The Verge has some screenshots from Bieber’s Instagram before the posts were deleted and it is clear from the quality of the artwork and the juvenile font that this was not an official message. However, Bieber’s account reposting it gave it the official seal of approval. So far, there is no official word from the artist’s team on how and why that reposting happened.

‘Let it play while you sleep’ as a listening pattern is one reason why so many tracks on ambient noise playlists (rainfall, white noise, waves etc) do so well, as they are genuinely intended to help people to sleep. But streaming services and chart companies alike are more than aware of the murky lines between legitimate fan campaigns, and irregular activity.

In 2019, we saw the controversy around Indian artist Badshah’s claim to have broken YouTube’s 24-hour views record, followed by the admission that a Google ads campaign had been the driver, and later by YouTube implementing changes to its charts and records methodologies to exclude paid-ad views.

We also saw the announcement last June of an industry initiative including a new ‘Anti-Stream Manipulation Code of Best Practice’ signed by all three major labels plus publisher Sony/ATV and indie licensing agency Merlin; Spotify, Amazon and Deezer; and a range of industry bodies representing labels, publishers and artists.

Meanwhile, this year we’ve already seen a debate sparked by French Montana’s ‘Writing on the Wall’, and accusations of fake streams (whether on his behalf, or to make him look bad, depending who you believe) around that.

The timing of Justin Bieber sharing a fan-made slideshow encouraging people to use tactics that may be looked askance at by chart bodies and streaming services is unfortunate, then, although it still has the strong whiff of social-media mistake rather than crafty campaign.

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