SuperM Just Became The First K-Pop Group To Get A Billboard No. 1 Debut Album And It's Caused A Debate About Bundling

    "They should create a Billboard top merch chart."

    by ,

    This week, K-pop group SuperM became the first Korean act to achieve No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with their debut album.

    Gabriel Olsen / Getty Images

    The group was announced by SM Entertainment in August and billed "the Avengers of K-pop", bringing together members from already established groups SHINee (Taemin), EXO (Baekhyun and Kai), and NCT (Taeyong, Ten, Lucas, and Mark).

    Their album, SuperM: The 1st Mini Album, sold a first week total of 168,000 equivalent units. According to Billboard, 164,000 of those were album sales, while 4,000 came from streaming.

    The numbers have caused some debate online about the methods used for artists to achieve No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

    SM Entertainment / smglobalshop.com

    In order to secure their No. 1 spot, SuperM released eight different versions of their album: one corresponding to each member, and a "United version". The collection completes a SuperM logo on the spines, which fans were encouraged to share photos of in exchange for the chance to appear on the group's Instagram story.

    Meanwhile, digital copies of the album were included with every sale of a merch item on the SM Entertainment official store, including flash sales of signed posters and picture disc vinyl. Most of the items on the website included the option to purchase with Affirm, an app which lets you buy now and pay later.

    Digital copies of the album were also included with the purchase of tickets to SuperM's US arena tour, which went on sale the day after the album was released.

    Fans of the group were also given the opportunity to sign up for a text message newsletter, which encouraged them to buy the album and regularly mentioned the "chart battle" for Billboard No. 1.

    i get more texts from @superm than i do my own mother

    the way superm texts me more than my own friends back home do

    HSHSKS WAIT superm sent this notice thing saying we can buy their albums at fye, target and walmart but then I replied saying I couldn't find it at walmart. SO THEY REALLY SENT ANOTHER TEXT BUT WITHOUT THE WALMART THIS TIME EYE-

    A note on the SM Entertainment Global Shop claimed the album was "an official release from SM Entertainment and Capitol Records", and all sales would contribute towards the Billboard chart. A similar note appears in the bio of the store's official Instagram page.

    Instagram: @smglobalshop

    The album is also available on several other e-commerce sites such as Cokodive, which expressly states on the page that sales from their website will apply to both Billboard and South Korea's Gaon music chart.

    However, BuzzFeed News understands that retailers remove non-US purchases from sales reports before submitting numbers to Nielsen Music to be reviewed for Billboard sales charts.

    Since BuzzFeed News raised the note in the Instagram bio, it's been updated to specify only sales from the US contribute to Billboard charts. It appears that it has said "all orders" since April 2019.

    Screenshot / SM Global Shop / Via Instagram: @smglobalshop

    Meanwhile Summer Walker — who achieved No. 2 this week — applied similar methods, offering discounted merch, signed vinyl editions, and new T-shirts to fans a couple of days before the week was up.

    so I’m signing the vinyl for y’all and just found out ppl tryna take the #1 spot from us! and that’s not finna happen. so look if u buy the album today u automatically get 40% off restocked merch items 🙏🏽 added two new shirts at a discount too!! 🖤🖤🖤 https://t.co/x1I9K3iUHl

    "Just found out ppl tryna take the #1 spot from us!" she tweeted alongside a video of herself signing albums. "And that's not finna happen."

    These methods are by no means unheard of in the music industry. It's usual for K-pop artists in particular to release several collectible versions of their albums, and western artists have recently joined in the trend.

    Instagram: @taylorswift

    Taylor Swift, for example, offered four deluxe editions of her most recent album Lover, with each one including different exclusive content.

    Merch and tour bundling is also nothing new. Artists like Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Post Malone (all of whom achieved Billboard No. 1s this year) all include digital copies of their albums with merch purchases — at least for customers in the US.

    Meanwhile, the Jonas Brothers and the Backstreet Boys offered digital downloads of their albums when fans bought tickets to see them on tour, while Ariana Grande offered a $10 "Sweetener Pass" which included presale access to tour tickets and a digital download of Sweetener.

    However, there have been occasions where Billboard has decided the practice went too far and disqualified album sales achieved via bundling.

    Michael Tran / Getty Images

    In June, DJ Khaled's Father of Asahd debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 136,000 equivalent units, falling short of Tyler, the Creator's Igor, which sold 165,000.

    It turned out Khaled fell short of the No. 1 spot because Billboard disqualified the units that had been sold as part of a bundle with energy drinks. At the time, Billboard president Deanna Brown told the New York Times that they had disqualified the sales due to Khaled's partner, Shop.com, encouraging customers to buy the drinks — and therefore the album — in bulk.

    The whole thing has caused a debate among music fans, with some people arguing the concept of bundling promotes "merch over music".

    they should create a billboard top merch chart it’s literally not about the music anymore

    merch and concert tickets are NOT music. y’all know damn well nobody is using that digital album download link. this has gone too fucking far. y’all need to get a GRIP. @billboard

    we're in the streaming era, and weighing radio so heavily only hurts artists who are huge in demand but practically nonexistent on radios. bundles lend itself to easy manipulation AND it takes away the integrity of the music sales. should selling merch count as selling music?

    This is nothing to congratulate. Billboard better figure out what to do with bundles. The last day of the tracking period was embarrassing to see. When artists are promoting their merch to rack up album sales instead of their music, what does that say about the Billboard chart? https://t.co/6v9Uv7cc8E

    However, others just said it's an industry standard in 2019 and should be accepted as part of the business.

    "Superm cheated bc of bundles!" Every damn artist in Western music does bundles. Beyoncé? Bundles. Ariana Grande? Bundles. Harry Styles? Bundles. Taylor Swift? Bundles. So exactly who are yall gonna go run to cryin? Bc Billboard is not gonna give two shits. So whose it gonna be?

    "Fans bought it!" one person said. "Hate the game not the players!"

    Someone still had to buy the bundles! Fans bought it! Hate the game not the players! Y’all mad Sm outsmarted

    BuzzFeed News has contacted representatives of SuperM and Billboard for comment.

    CORRECTION

    Deanna Brown is the president of Billboard. A previous version of this post misidentified the person who holds that job.

    CORRECTION

    Nielsen Music and Billboard's charts only reflect US purchases. A previous version of this post said the charts reflected worldwide sales.

    UPDATE

    Following the publication of this post, SM Entertainment Global Shop updated their instagram page to specify that only sales from the US contribute to Billboard charts.

    Ellie Bate is a celebrity reporter and talent coordinator at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.

    Contact Ellie Bate at eleanor.bate@buzzfeed.com.

    Ikran is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Ikran Dahir at ikran.dahir@buzzfeed.com.

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