In April of last year, sensational K-pop girl band Blackpink broke a major YouTube record with the premiere of their music video for “Kill This Love.”


The video garnered nearly 57 million views in its first 24 hours, narrowly edging out the record Ariana Grande had set several months earlier with her cringeworthy ex-smearing anthem “Thank U, Next.”

But less than a week later, Blackpink’s record was thoroughly smashed by the slightly more sensational K-pop boy band BTS with the video for their single “Boy With Love,” featuring Halsey. The record that had taken more than 14 years of YouTube’s slow, incremental growth to set, was—in a matter of days—surpassed by a wide margin.


“Boy With Love” managed to accrue 74.6 million views in its first 24 hours on YouTube, adding around 18 million views to Blackpink’s record. That’s more than a 30% improvement—equivalent to shaving 40 minutes off the world record marathon run.



And that astonishing feat was where things stood until this summer, when the premiere battle between Blackpink and BTS kicked off again, with Blackpink’s “How You Like That” adding an additional 12 million views to the record in June of 2020 (86 million), only to have BTS destroy their record yet again with the August 21st release of “Dynamite.”


BTS (방탄소년단) ‘Dynamite’ Official MV

www.youtube.com

In just 24 hours, “Dynamite” racked up more than 101 million views, adding around 14 million to Blackpink’s record and nearly doubling what counted as a record just last year. How the hell did that escalate so quickly?

Are these bands perfecting the science of catchy pop tunes, pushing humans toward the theoretical limits of production value? Nope. Are their dance moves getting exponentially fresher, their faces somehow more flawlessly smooth? Also no. “Dynamite” is cute and fun with some Wes Anderson vibes, but it is not the best music video of all time. It’s not even the best BTS video of all time. So what’s the deal?

Part of the answer—a small part—is that people are just watching more YouTube. The platform has been growing steadily, with more than 2 billion active users spending more and more time allowing the algorithm to shape their worldview.

But YouTube’s growth hasn’t been anything close to the pace at which that first-day record has been ballooning, and if you look at other music that’s made a major impact recently, the view count isn’t even close. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s hit “WAP,” for instance. Despite being one of the biggest debuts in decades by other metrics, it took around two weeks to snag as many views as “Dynamite” got in one day.

The biggest factor—as it so often is these days—is a toxic fandom. Fans of BTS and Blackpink don’t just get excited for a new music video to drop; they track these records and see it as their duty to rack up as many views for their preferred band as possible.

They identify with the fandom. They aren’t just people who like to listen to BTS. They are ARMY. And they identify with the band so much that the group’s success is their own.

They see the power of their collective fandom as proof of the objective superiority of the group. And they owe their devotion (in the form of watching the new music video on a loop) to Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook as payment for both the entertainment and the fan-community that BTS has provided. That’s also why MTV is currently being flooded with votes for BTS for the “Best Group” VMA.

While K-pop groups have elevated this dynamic to new heights of corporate-curated loyalty machines, it’s far from new. It’s basically the same as rooting for your sports team, except instead of wearing your lucky shirt to try to sway the outcome, you keep clicking “watch again” every four minutes.

It’s also the same energy behind the “subscribe to Pewdiepie” movement backing up Felix Kjellberg’s rivalry with bollywood music company T-Series (racist diss tracks and all). In that case T-Series has come out on top with more than 150 million subscribers to date.

It’s all so familiar at this point that it was entirely predictable that “Dynamite” would (ahem) blow up. But should these stats really count? Doesn’t clicking play on a video because you actually want to watch it count for something more than clicking play to make the view count go up? Should YouTube count two dozen consecutive views from a single user the same as 24 individuals all watching the video?

Maybe not, but the truth is that this hype is good for YouTube as well, so they aren’t going to stop it. More importantly, it’s the same kind of game that just about every major fandom has been playing in recent years—often with the encouragement of the desperately self-promoting artists involved. That includes Ariana Grande’s fans with “Thank U, Next”.

So, if that record of 101 million first-day views involves a little bit of cheating, then it’s the same cheating that everyone else in the industry is doing. Just like Russian Olympic athletes, every major musician is juicing—but some are still doing better than others. In other words, everyone seems to have the same capacity to “cheat,” and “Dynamite” still destroyed Blackpink’s record.


BTS (방탄소년단) ‘Dynamite’ Official MV (B-side)

www.youtube.com

Maybe there should be an asterisk next to BTS’s new record, but the same goes for any number of streaming records. The feat of BTS with the help of ARMY is still impressive… And I’m not just saying that because the power of ARMY is absolutely terrifying.

At the time of writing, the view count on the official “Dynamite” music video is approaching 200 million, and the “B-Side” second music video with unused footage is trending #2 and has already passed 10 million views just hours after it dropped.

Will Blackpink fans be up to the challenge?

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