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10 of the Most Shameless Schemes to Game the Billboard Charts in Recent Memory

Welp, he tried it. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Justin Bieber’s new single “YUMMY” seemed to go down a little more like medicine, with many criticizing its simplicity and, let’s be honest, sorta gross lyrics. So last weekend, to a bit of surprise, he posted instructions to fans for how to increase streams and iTunes purchases of the song. (The Instagram post has since been deleted.) The suggestions included to put the song on repeat on Spotify, but make sure not to mute it, and to buy the song multiple times through a link on Bieber’s website. It didn’t quite work — Compton rap newcomer Roddy Ricch instead got his first No. 1, a viral hit in its own way — but it reignited conversations about the lengths artists go through for a hit. Since Bieber certainly isn’t the first, or most outlandish, artist to attempt to scheme his way to a No. 1, let’s revisit nine other artists he could take notes from.

(And remember: Under Billboard chart rules, it takes 1,250 paid streams or 3,750 free streams to equal an album purchase; before July 2018, it just took 1,500 streams.)

Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” remixes

The scheme: A remix got “Old Town Road” to the top of the Hot 100 in the first place, with Billy Ray Cyrus hopping on the song after Billboard took the genre-bender off the country charts. Three weeks into its run, a newly yeehaw Diplo remixed the track; three months later, when the record for longest-running No. 1 became in reach, Lil Nas enlisted yodeling kid Mason Ramsey and Young Thug for another remix.

Did it work? Billie Eilish fought back with her own Bieber-featuring remix of then-No. 2 song “bad guy,” but Lil Nas won out — and after a fourth remix from BTS’ RM, made history. Don’t forget that another long-running Billboard No. 1 got its status in part from a remix: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” which added Bieber to get the song onto Top 40 radio.

DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd energy drink bundles

The scheme: Artists have sometimes-controversially used merch bundles to game the charts for over a decade now, since Prince bundled Musicology CDs with tour tickets in 2004. But DJ Khaled took bundling to a new level last year, when he gave away Father of Asahd downloads with energy drink purchases.
Did it work? Billboard ended up not counting the bundles, prompting Khaled to threaten a lawsuit after it cost him the No. 1 spot. Instead, Tyler, the Creator topped the chart that week for the first time with Igor — thanks in part to album bundles with everything from T-shirts to lawn signs. Billboard has since tweaked its rules for album bundling: All items bundled with the album must now also be available for purchase separately; the bundle that includes the album needs to cost at least $3.49 more than the merch would on its own, since that’s the minimum price an album needs to cost on its own to chart; and the album actually needs to be claimed — downloaded, if it’s digital, or shipped, if it’s physical.

Bon Jovi’s This House Is Not for Sale tour bundles

The scheme: Speaking of Prince and Musicology, let’s talk about a more contemporary example: When Bon Jovi bundled its 2016 album This House Is Not for Sale, which had debuted at No. 1 at the time, with a new spring 2018 leg of the band’s arena tour. The album included two new songs, if that counts for anything, but it was largely the record that Bon Jovi fans already moved to the top of the charts once before.
Did it work? Impressively, the week after the tour went on sale, Bon Jovi topped the Hot 200 once more with 120,000 units, nearly all of which were pure album sales, thanks to the bundle. Not only that, but nearly every stop of the tour sold out as well.

Rae Sremmurd’s #MannequinChallenge

The scheme: Viral dance challenges date back further than the Mannequin Challenge — remember the “Harlem Shake”? — but this one represented an already thirsty artist, Rae Sremmurd (with Gucci Mane), mobilizing fans and bandwagoners alike to join the challenge, in which you’d freeze in whatever pose you were doing, like a mannequin, while “Black Beatles” plays in the background.
Did it work? Everyone from Michelle Obama to a Beatle himself took part, helping the song make a huge jump from No. 9 to the top spot in just one week. And while the Mannequin Challenge may have been reverse-engineered to include “Black Beatles” thanks to one tasteful California high school student, future dance crazes like Drake’s “In My Feelings” challenge became more manufactured.

BTS’ collectible LOVE YOURSELF: Answer deluxe editions

The scheme: This is one of the simpler and more blatant tricks in the book: Market an album to a hungry fan base featuring some collectible part of a physical copy, prompting the stans to buy multiple copies of the same album.
Did it work?: Not like BTS needed the boost, but you can be sure the ARMY went out to collect all four physical editions (S, E, L and F) of the boy band’s 2018 compilation LOVE YOURSELF: Answer, the first Korean-language album to go gold in the U.S.A. year later, Taylor Swift would pull a similar stunt with Lover, packaging deluxe editions with four separate excerpts from her journal — only available at her go-to retail partner, Target.

Post Malone’s looped “Rockstar” video

The scheme: Billboard recently updated all of its chart policies to account for YouTube streaming; before, video plays of songs were lesser than streaming spins. Post Malone exploited this years before thanks to a clever, if gimmicky, video of his future No. 1 hit “Rockstar,” featuring 21 Savage. The video featured the hook on loop for three minutes and 38 seconds — which, however catchy, leaves a little bit to be desired.
Did it work? Listeners searching for the full song could follow a link from the video to streaming services, where their play would count toward chart position and later pushed the song to become Malone’s first of many No. 1 hits. (Sources told The Fader at the time that plays from the looped YouTube video also counted, possibly giving Posty two plays for one.)

Drake’s bloated Scorpion tracklist

The scheme: When Drake released Scorpion in June 2018, the album broke the record for most American release-week streams with 435 million in just three days, setting a near-double record of 745.92 million by the end of the week. (Worldwide, it was the first album to top 1 billion release-week steams.) The double album’s stuffed 25-song tracklist certainly didn’t hurt.
Did it work? Listening to Scorpion once-through would net 25 percent more streams than Drake’s last proper “album,” 2016’s Views (which had previously used the trick of tacking on his hit “Hotline Bling” to boost the album’s overall streams), thanks to the stuffed tracklist. Even the previous record-holder, Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys, clocks in at a heavy 18 tracks.

Future’s back-to-back No. 1 albums

The scheme: Want to become the first artist to get Billboard No. 1s for separate albums back to back? It helps to be generally prolific, have a strong fan base, and be at the the peak of your career. That’s how Future became the first artist to replace himself at No. 1 with FUTURE and HNDRXX in March 2017, taking a risk that, quite simply, few to no artists had thought to do before.
Did it work? Releasing both projects as major-label efforts paid off, with both not only reaching No. 1, but topping their respective weeks in sales.

Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” rerelease

The scheme? Lizzo first released “Good As Hell” as the lead single off her first major-label release, the Coconut Oil EP, in 2016. It became a fan favorite, but didn’t make too big of a splash. A little over three years later, thanks to a savvy late-2019 (and post-“Truth Hurts”) rerelease, it’s back on the charts. This isn’t a new trick — it often happens to early projects after an artist signs to a major label — but it was hard not to notice with Lizzo. Count that Ariana Grande remix a month later as the cherry on top.
Did it work? So far, “Good as Hell” has risen to No. 3, following “Truth Hurts” and its seven-week reign at No. 1.

Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” streaming mobilization

The scheme: Let’s recap: Justin Bieber (or should we say, Scooter Braun) made an Instagram post with instructions for how to increase plays of his songs on Spotify and YouTube, along with purchases on iTunes. It read more like something an avid stan account would’ve posted, telling fans outside the U.S. to use a VPN to count their Spotify streams or fans on YouTube to log out and refresh each time they played the song to count as a new viewer. Speaking of YouTube, this also happened to coincide with the first week the Billboard albums charts started counting YouTube music video streams — although artists like Selena Gomez were prepared too, with multiple video versions of new singles “Lose You to Love Me” and “Look at Her Now” popping up.

Did it work? Not quite, seeing as Roddy Ricch blocked Biebs from that coveted No. 1 debut. However, his post pulled back the curtain on the mechanics of getting a No. 1 like we haven’t quite seen before, so expect thirsty artists to be a lot clearer in the future on how their fans can help their plights.

‘Yummy’ and the Most Shameless Schemes to Game the Charts