(News Focus) New chart rule prompts K-pop stars to rethink releases
By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- As K-pop has become more competitive in quality and quantity, so has the race to conquer the music charts as quickly as possible -- so fierce as to get the industry to agree to shake up its chart aggregation system.
On Feb. 27, major music services like Melon, Mnet and Genie collectively revamped their methodologies in aggregating real-time charts, measuring performances for only six hours -- from noon to 6 p.m. -- from the previous around-the-clock gauging.
Anything released outside of the six hours will be measured starting at 1 p.m. the following day.
The website for Melon, South Korea's largest music streaming service (Yonhap)
Why the change? Before the fix, midnight used to be the go-to release window for major artists, mostly idol stars, putting out new music online.
But this practice came under attack, with critics arguing that charts became susceptible to hardcore fans flooding services to buoy their idols' music while general users are doing other things during the wee hours of the morning.
Big idol groups favored midnight releases, with not just the title track but others on new albums dominating several charts, most recently seen after the release of the new album from BTS (Bangtan Boys) just prior to the rule change.
This trend even caught the attention of the government, with the culture ministry sending a request to the Korea Music Content Industry Association late last year, asking the trade group to address concerns of chart hogging by top-billed artists.
Needless to say, major artists and record labels have started to re-strategize, experimenting with various release window options to make the most out the new landscape.
In this file photo, girl group Lovelyz performs during a showcase to promote its second album "R U Ready" at a concert hall in Seoul on Feb. 27, 2017. (Yonhap)
The first big release under this new environment was "R U Ready," the second full-length album from idol group Lovelyz. The eight-member act released its album at 10 p.m. the day before the new rule was enforced.
While Lovelyz isn't considered to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the top-tier A-list acts such as Girls' Generation or EXO, they did eventually top a number of major charts such as Mnet and Naver Music.
But usually with new rules comes hiccups, and this was no exception. Lovelyz fell victim to a technical glitch prompted by an algorithm change on Melon, the leading music streaming service, with several of the team's songs vanishing from Melon's chart in the early hours of Feb. 27.
In this file photo, Taeyeon, a member of girl group Girls' Generation, poses for photos at the 2016 KBS Music Festival in Seoul on Dec. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)
Pop diva Ailee released her new song "Reminiscing" at noon on Feb. 27 and Taeyeon of Girls' Generation also put out her new solo EP album "My Voice" at noon the following day. Taeyeon soared to No. 1 on several major charts regardless of the new rule.
Meanwhile, some artists are aiming for the 6 p.m. window, the deadline of the new real-time chart aggregation, targeting students returning home from school and office workers getting ready to leave work. Idol girl group Gugudan put out their new EP album "Act 2 Narcissus" at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28, while boy band BTOB plans to also put out their new EP album "Feel'eM" at 6 p.m. on March 6.
With the industry trying to size up the market response from the new rule, several big acts scheduled a comeback this month. Acts like GFriend and B.A.P have reportedly toiled heavily in coming up with the perfect release windows.
Industry watchers say that the rule change is indeed the right direction in terms of the overall health of the industry. But whether it can level the playing field in a fundamental way remains to be seen.
"Introducing the new tally method is a rational move, given the overwhelming sway just a few major artists have had over the charts. But we still have to wait and see the totality of its effect," cultural commentator Ha Jae-keun said.
This image, provided by Source Music, shows a promotional poster for the South Korean girl group GFriend's first full-length album "LOL." (Yonhap)