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Adam Minter

How to Top the Charts in China

Foreign brands and celebrities need to figure out the country’s unique, and insanely obsessive, fan culture.

Wu shocked the U.S. charts. 

Wu shocked the U.S. charts. 

Photographer: VCG/Getty Images

American pop star Ariana Grande had every reason to expect that her new single, “Thank U, Next,” would race to the top of the U.S. charts when it was released earlier this month. When she checked iTunes after its release, though, she met with a surprise. Kris Wu, a superstar in China, not only had the No. 1 spot on the iTunes’ singles chart but also seven of the top 10 songs. It was an extraordinary achievement for an artist with almost no North American profile, and Grande and her camp weren’t buying it. Rumors started flying on social media that “bots” were behind Wu’s chart dominance.

Skeptics were right about one thing: There was an organized effort to boost Wu’s sales. But it was organized by Chinese fans who spent their own money to push him up the U.S. charts, not music promoters or programmers.