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What The Kris Wu/ Ariana Grande Drama Says About the US Music Industry

When Chinese-Canadian artist Wu Kris Yifan (stage name Kris Wu) released his first-ever solo album Antares the track November Rain went straight to number one leaving Ariana Grande – and Arianators – shook.

Wu released the album on November 2 and by November 5 many of the songs from his album went straight to the top 10 in the United States (US) iTunes charts. This meant that Ariana Grande’s song thank you, next didn’t debut at number one and her song was the only non-Wu song in the top five.

This caused quite a panic because apparently Grande, her fans, and major US media houses had no idea who Wu was.

Arianators and her manager Scooter Braun alleged that Wu’s fans used bots to chart. Grande actually liked a tweet which shaded Wu’s popularity as being manufactured. Even though some of the US pop market seemed unaware of Wu, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a huge fan base.

For those of you who don’t know, Kris Wu is actually kind of a big deal.

He is a former member of one of South Korea’s most successful K-pop acts (no, not BTS) EXO. Since then he has embarked on a successful career as a solo artist and actor in China – and even in the US. Wu has released several tracks that have featured as OSTs (Original Soundtracks) on Chinese box office hits and digital singles. When he released a single called Deserve featuring US rapper Travis Scott in October 2017, it charted at number one on the US iTunes chart, making Wu the only Chinese artist to achieve the feat. Antares is his first solo album.

Wu has starred in several Chinese box office hit films including Mr. Six and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, which are among the highest-grossing Chinese films of all time in the country. You may have seen him in the 2017 film XXX Return of Xander Cage starring Vin Diesel and Deepika Padukone. Besides his acting, Wu has dabbled in modelling and has featured in campaigns for brands like Burberry and BVLGARI.

But the accusation that Wu used bots seemed to stick. iTunes seemed to responded by taking all of Wu’s tracks off the charts – seemingly proving Arianators right. Later Grande’s camp changed the accusations from being about bots to saying Wu’s fans used illegal virtual private network (vpns) to make his album chart.

US media house Variety kept quoting an “well-placed industry insider” who said that Wu’s iTunes sales have been obtained fraudulently. A statement from Nielsen, a company which published chart data for Billboard, revealed that they would be be investigating the legitimacy of the Wu’s sales.

Arianators and many US media houses in the US said because Wu was apparently unknown in the US and had very few fans on Twitter, it’s extremely unlikely that his songs would chart so high.

Wu’s songs quickly fell off the charts by November 6. There were allegations that Braun had gotten them removed by contacting iTunes about the use of bots – and once the bots were removed his songs were removed. Braun later denied that.

However, Wu’s album release was delayed in China until November 6 – which was his birthday. Chinese fans might have used vpns to stream the album when it wasn’t available in their country, and then reverted back their own accounts once it was released in China. Besides, Twitter is banned in China so Wu’s following on Twitter is not indicative of his entire fan base.

Wu’s label Universal Music China released a statement saying his music is still available for streaming and download on iTunes in the US, and that all of the chart’s data is correct. The label also said it would take “legal measures” against those spreading “malicious rumours”.

Wu’s fans were outraged at the bot claims. They said racism is playing a large part in people’s perceptions of him and his fan base for them to assume that the fans aren’t real – and that his music isn’t good enough to chart.


The rising popularity of Asian artists like Wu and others like BTS show that the US music market won’t be solely dominated by English-speaking American musicians. The level of talent, and performance value that artists from South Korea, China, Hong Kong (to name a few) are bringing to the table rivals Western artists. The number of US artists collaborating with these Asian artists gives them a more universal appeal. It is ignorant to assume that artists who don’t necessarily sing in English do not have large fan bases or that these artists do not have fans outside of their language group.

Growing globalisation and digitisation has not escaped the entertainment industry. Global fans of Asian artists are very invested in streaming music and videos to get their artists to the top. They are an organised group who work to create, distribute, and promote their favourite artists content. Knowing that the groups they stan seek to enter a market which is immediately not receptive to them, fans often work extremely hard – through whatever means available – to get their favourites to chart, and win awards.

Tamar Herman writing for Forbes makes an important takeaway point from this whole saga: “Whether the China-based sales are reflected or removed, it will set a precedent for how the United States’ main music chart organisation intends to move forward in the globalised age of media consumption.”

Perhaps it’s time for western artists to make space for Asian artists as their popularity continues to grow.

Reporting by Shaazia Ebrahim and Fatima Moosa

Featured image via Instagram
11 Comments
  1. Zhang says

    Hong kong is in China ,you should ‘t write them apart. You should write Like This hongkong (China )

  2. karly0321 says

    Music without borders, I believe itunes will give you a fair result.

  3. karly0321 says

    Although kris wu is a newcomer in the United States, he has been a superstar in Asia for seven years. He’s a fan everywhere he goes! We need to be treated fairly!

  4. karly0321 says

    Itunes should have explained the rules in advance, so it’s easy!.

  5. karly0321 says

    If kris sales don’t count, then other Asian artists’ sales shouldn’t count! Is this the kind of globalization that America wants? Why is it so unfair?

  6. Katherine says

    American is not the last hunman being in the world. Plz look around to this varied world. China is a country has 1.3billion people. That one thing you can’t doubt is Chinese would rise and come to surface. It would not be a surprise. Stop being the frog under well.

  7. Silvia says

    I always think that people’s accusations against Wu are unreasonable.He is innocent.ITunes should give a reasonable explanation

  8. Cheung11 says

    That’s really rude for him and specially for his fans who were accused as bots , for the reason they just bought the album on iTunes US which was not release in China before November 6 . Now they kicked him out to chart just because his is a new comer on US and make some one can not be top of the chart? This not the first time he took the top on iTunes US, so why iTunes took his album off in this time? Just for he is not a super star in US? He shouldn’t take those accusation by any ones.

  9. May says

    Pls be fair!!!

  10. Xi Liu says

    Although he may be a new artist in the United States, kris wu continues to roll out new music.he is a great musician. His fans are not robots,music has no borders, I hope more and more people will recognize his music!At the same time we believe that the US market should be open and give Chinese artists fair treatment.

  11. bonnie says

    Kris is innocent.ITunes should give a reasonable explanation

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