SEOUL • Is he an overnight sensation or was there chart manipulation?
That was the question on many fans' minds when Way Back Home by far lesser-known musician Shaun pipped K-pop giants such as Twice, Black Pink, Apink, Mamamoo and BTS to the new No. 1 spot single on major K-pop charts.
Shaun is a singer who also plays the synthesizer for rock band The Koxx. He has never been considered among the big names in the industry, which is why his unexpected surge on the charts is sparking suspicion over chart manipulation.
"When a little-known musician tops the charts, there are usually some explanations behind it. But in Shaun's case, there weren't. The controversy is from him taking the No. 1 spot (between noon and dawn)," said culture critic Kim Jak-ga on an MBC radio show.
In South Korea, there have been several cases where a relative newcomer has been suspected of manipulating his place on the rankings by inflating purchases online. This has been known to be particularly effective between the wee hours of 1 and 7am, when there are fewer users and even low numbers of sales affect the charts.
As music-streaming websites provide charts on their top pages, taking the No. 1 spot further boosts sales. The process is called "sajaegi", which literally means "buy and stock".
To prevent such practices, a collection of music-streaming and sales websites announced earlier in the month they would freeze chart rankings from 1 to 7am.
But Shaun's tune took the top spot at midnight, right before the chart freeze started, and so stayed on top until the next morning.
The artist has been adamant he did not cheat in any way and, last Friday, requested the police to investigate the case. He also filed charges on several people for spreading rumours on the case.
"I hope that no one gets hurt while the truth is uncovered... I want to say I'm sorry (to the fans) by showing them hard evidence as fast as I can, but it is such a rough road until the truth is revealed," he said on his Instagram page on Sunday.
His agency, DCTOM Entertainment, has said his surge in the charts was thanks to its viral marketing, without elaborating on what that may have entailed.
While it is usual for songs to reach their highest position on the charts immediately after release, it is also not rare for songs to climb the rankings over time, sometimes months after the initial release.
Girl group Momoland were accused, and later officially cleared, of chart-rigging by the government last month, but the false accusation left a mark on the members' formerly pristine reputation.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK