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Music websites reform to prevent chart-rigging

A collection of music streaming and sales websites announced Monday the reform plans that they hope will prevent chart-rigging as in the recent scandals involving popular k-pop groups, effective Wednesday.

The policy committee for Gaon charts, consisting of officials at Naver Music, Bugs, Melon, Soribada, Mnet, and Genie working to improve how local music charts are run, said that the aforementioned websites will begin to freeze rankings between the hours of 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. 

Momoland (MLD Entertainment)
Momoland (MLD Entertainment)

This change is due to the “sajaegi” controversies ailing the Korean music industry. “Sajaegi,” which literally means to “buy and stock,“ refers to a type of chart manipulations by entertainment labels who buy their own artists albums, boosting sales and the artists’ rankings on charts, including Gaon charts.

Buying the records en masse between 1-7 a.m. is considered effective in rigging the charts, as far less people use the websites than in the day, thus allowing artists to emerge at the top spots with a lower number of sales.

The logo of Korea Music Content Association, operator of Gaon charts. (KMCA)
The logo of Korea Music Content Association, operator of Gaon charts. (KMCA)

In the past, groups including Sistar, Momoland and even k-pop sensation BTS in its more obscure days have been embroiled in rumors that they committed such illegal acts, nearly all cases involving lesser-known groups surpassing album sales of well-established acts in the charts.

Recently, Limez Entertainment has been under investigation as two of its acts, Nilo and Jang Deok Cheol, have been accused of manipulating chart rankings in such a manner.

Artist Nilo originally released “Pass By” in October 2017, but his song climbed up the music chart rankings to the No.1 spot a month later, beating popular groups like Twice, Winner and Big Bang. Then, vocal trio Jang Deok Cheol also miraculously found its way to the top spot for the first time in three years with its debut song “Good Old Days.”

Many users of Melon’s online music streaming service reported that while they had never heard of Nilo or Jang Deok Cheol, the two artists showed up on users’ history of streamed songs and “Most listened to Songs” playlist, raising the possibility of foul play.

The respective artists denied the accusations.

Artists and labels are quick to defend themselves against such allegations. But even if the accusations are proven false, they can have negative effects on artists’ careers and reputations.

Girl group Momoland was accused of influencing chart rankings by netizens earlier this year when its EP “Great!” sold over 8,000 copies in one day, when it had only previously sold 5,000 copies in the month of the album’s release. Because of the calculation method for artist rankings, this uptick in album sales led to the No.1 spot on music charts.

Although Momoland was officially cleared by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, the group wasn’t able to celebrate its success, and false accusations left a mark on the members’ formerly pristine reputation.

While the general consensus calls for measures against chart-rigging, there are concerns of possible negative repercussions that freezing the charts overnight may have on lesser-known artists.

Some artists depend on their fan bases to up their streaming numbers, so that their music can be discovered by the general public that typically listens to the top hits during the day. Not updating the charts overnight could affect the honest artists whose late-night rankings are critical to their chart success.

By Yoon Min-sik ( and Serena Soh (