So while other singles on the Hot 100 typically rely on streaming for the majority of their weighted points (followed by airplay and then sales), the chart-topping performance of BTS’ “Butter” in July, for example, was propelled mostly by sales, the bulk of which flowed directly through BTS’ own webstore, say sources familiar with the matter. That webstore, those sources say, does not recognize prior purchases or limit how many copies a fan can buy, unlike iTunes, which notes when someone already owns a copy.
While other artists’ fan cohorts also prefer direct-to-consumer purchasing for sustained sales runs and have tried tactics similar to ARMY’s, none have done so as effectively or with as much apparent coordination, those sources say. And this summer, when “Butter” and “Permission to Dance” reigned atop the Hot 100 for 10 straight weeks total, fans of artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Dua Lipa — whose own singles were shut out from the No. 1 spot during that time — began calling ARMY’s work akin to cheating.
On the July 24 chart, “Permission to Dance” debuted at No. 1 with 140,100 total sales, according to MRC Data, with “Butter” falling six spots to No. 7 and Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” holding at No. 2. But then, something highly unusual happened: The next week, “Butter” returned to No. 1 (leapfrogging Rodrigo and others) and switched places with “Permission,” which slipped to No. 7.
Rodrigo’s fans claimed that it wasn’t a coincidence. @scrappyseal, noting the reversal, tweeted that BTS had “0 GP [general public] support. A real smash is sustained by the GP support.” Another fan of both Rodrigo and Lipa’s, @lipaanostalgia, described BTS as having “fraudulent ways” and its fans as “involved in chart manipulation” and “mass buying.”
ARMY’s crowdfunding efforts are certainly near legendary at this point. As screen grabs of account balances and bulk purchase receipts on Twitter reviewed by Billboard show, BTS fans use PayPal to pool money from ARMY around the globe and make the purchases that will count toward U.S. sales. “ARMY WHERE ARE YOU??” @borakore52 asked in an Aug. 5 tweet. “I have enough for 448 sets of 16 PTD plus 24 Butter!! Even if you cannot buy until later, please get your requests in ASAP!!”
Some ARMY organizers then offer to reimburse other fans for purchases. The source of those funds remains unclear, and some BTS fans have expressed concern about revealing more about their methods. “Feeling the need to be a bit more discreet on the timeline about what we do and how we do it,” @RafranzDavis wrote during a funding run in early August. “It’s annoying but thnx to everyone that just gets it.” (MRC Data has a standard process for examining any suspicious chart activity; Billboard would not allow sales funded by an act or its label/management to count toward chart performance.)
These efforts have buoyed the group’s singles, as they have sailed to the top of the charts despite BTS’ weaker streaming numbers and radio airplay than some of its pop contemporaries. “It’s a fair question,” says RM of allegations that ARMY’s work amounts to chart manipulation. “But if there is a conversation inside Billboard about what being No. 1 should represent, then it’s up to them to change the rules and make streaming weigh more on the ranking. Slamming us or our fans for getting to No. 1 with physical sales and downloads, I don’t know if that’s right … It just feels like we’re easy targets because we’re a boy band, a K-pop act, and we have this high fan loyalty.”