Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for MTV/Paramount Global
The Blinks hadn’t slept well in weeks. With new music on the horizon, a Blackpink fan account administrator Blink Union, who goes only by name W, spent hours planning the campaign for the release of the K-pop stars’ long-awaited second album. , born pinkwhich included training new fans on proper streaming techniques, tracking Blackpink’s placement on the global charts, and, of course, pressing “Play” on the music video for “Pink Venom” ten times per hour. “That’s what we encourage, so you’re not watching the same video over and over – you’re creating a gap of at least six minutes,” he tells me. “It depends on the leadership of the fandom to stay on top of the streaming rules.” W originally became a fan of Blackpink through YouTube’s algorithm (“One day they were at the top of my recommendation; within a few weeks I really got into it”). Now, as the UK leader of what is described to me as a UN of smaller, localized Blackpink fan communities, W is part of a Blinks team that helps coordinate half a million subscribers in 60 countries to reverse engineer this algorithm in an effort to keep Blackpink at the top of YouTube’s charts.
While most K-pop groups release music several times a year, Blackpink hasn’t let up since the 2020s. The Scrapbook ahead of “Venom,” which racked up views for the born pink time more important than ever. “There was speculation before the comeback that Blackpink actually lost fans to the two-year hiatus,” says Niels Nable, who is based in the Philippines and follows BBU account and Reddit sub goals. r/blackpink. “So yeah,” he says, Blinks “wants to prove they’re still on top.” The way to do this is to put up massive streaming numbers to show off the size and intensity of the fandom, influence chart placement, break records and help the band win awards. in Korean music shows. “You never hear Blackpink tell us at Blinks, ‘We want number 1 on Spotify or YouTube,'” says Ash, a New York-based BBU account administrator. “We do this because we want Blackpink to know that we appreciate the music and recognize their hard work.”
While many Blackpink fans have formed their own small-scale online communities, BBU is the largest fan-run Twitter account that actually creates streaming goals and distributes them to its followers. “Views are important,” says W, pointing to “Ready for Love,” a promotional song Blackpink released in July for the video game. PUBG-Mobile, as a key example. “There was no streaming platform release,” says W. But “with around 20 million views, we managed to get into the Billboard Table ‘Global 200’. When setting goals, they consider things like song length (shorter songs get more plays in a day) and past streaming records. They also take into account the streaming “environment”, which may include fandom growth since the last release, any supposed changes to the YouTube algorithm, and world news events. For “Pink Venom,” BBU hoped to hit 80 million views on YouTube in the first 24 hours and push the video to No. 1 on the app’s trending page. (They were successful on both counts, reaching over 90 million views on the song’s first day, placing “Pink Venom” in the top three 24-hour streams in YouTube history.) Pulling it off took effort. massive coordination with fan leader recruitment, training and fundraising to help subscribers purchase YouTube Premium albums and subscriptions. “As far as tracking views, I usually do it hourly while comparing real-time numbers with stats from their previous returns,” Nable explains. “I play the song while working. I pride myself on multitasking.
BBU started in 2016, before Blackpink had even released its debut single, and has guided Blinks through a rapidly changing streaming landscape ever since, from a 2017 algorithm change that reduced views by less from 30 seconds to a 2021 change that BBU says has made playlists less effective at increasing views. One of BBU’s main concerns is to ensure that streaming platforms, especially YouTube, see fans as real human viewers, not bots. “For ‘Pink Venom,’ we had more work to do,” Ash explains. “More … than The Scrapbook because we have to give streaming tutorials: how to stream properly, how not to be a robot. You are not supposed to just replay the video. It does not work like that. In an effort to discourage stream farming and bot activity, YouTube’s engagement policy prohibits “low quality” streams that appear to be anything other than an authentic individual view. The company uses a number of signals to identify and remove fake views, but these signals aren’t public, so a big part of the fandom’s job is to figure out what counts as a high-quality stream. Blinks collects this information in several ways: by monitoring YouTube’s policy pages for changes; tweeting @TeamYouTube, YouTube’s technical support account; hoping that one of his collaborators will slip them more details; and running “algorithm experiments” to see if they can uncover more unwritten spam signals from YouTube. Ash tells me they’ll send out small groups to watch older music videos — playing three more videos between each stream instead of four, viewing the video in a playlist or on its own, leaving a comment or not — and following the increase in the number of views. . “We are starting to analyze the data, like What’s going on? Why isn’t the number of views increasing? Is it because we are doing too much?“They then try to apply new streaming rules to a small group. “If we get 20 streams from this account and only eight views count, maybe create” another account, says Ash.
It’s not exactly scientific, but they’ve figured out what gets more views than most content creators on the platform. Eventually, Blinks compiled enough information to distribute broadcast rules which are part of YouTube politics, popular knowledge and fan superstition. W sent me a list of over 60 guidelines that they share with their followers. Dos: Get a YouTube Premium account to skip ads, type the song name into the YouTube search bar to encourage better search placement, and space out streams by watching other videos in between. Don’t: Loop the video, change the playback speed, or comment too frequently. If you can, stream to multiple devices using multiple browsers from multiple IP addresses — all to convince YouTube’s spam filters that your behavior is totally cold and normal.
Photo: @BLACKPINK_BBU via Twitter
Photo: @BLACKPINK_BBU via Twitter
But their initial plans for the release of “Pink Venom” didn’t take into account that YouTube also had something to prove. The single premiered on August 19 with a dance challenge in partnership with YouTube Shorts. “It was a surprise, actually,” Ash tells me of the collaboration. “I just wanted to know how the shorts affect their trend and how the views flow from that. Because I think if it actually helps Blinks get more appeal, then it would be great for everyone to participate. The decision led BBU to plan your own Shorts challenge for the release of born pink in order to test how Shorts can support the larger goals of fandom. Of course, that’s great news for YouTube — in fact, the rollout plans for many of the app’s products today include K-pop partnerships. The global launch of the Shorts feature in 2021 came with a dance challenge for BTS’s “Permission to Dance.” “Blackpink was one of the first artists to use the ‘Premiere’ feature on YouTube,” says Vivien Lewit, global head of artists at YouTube Music. “K-pop artists have a really unique relationship with their fans on YouTube, and for years they’ve really been the most adept at tapping into that fanbase. They’ve started producing content in a way that increased their music and that continued to generate more fans and more connectivity.
YouTube and K-pop have been linked since Psy Gangnam Style became the first video to reach one billion views on the platform in 2012. K-pop is as much a visual medium as it is an audio one, and as Ash puts it, “YouTube is Blinks’ main tool, apart from my opinion, because they love watching Blackpink. Once fans start watching, a cottage industry of compilations of fan-made memes, dance covers, and reaction videos appear in the recommendations, serving to deepen and stepping up the fan base. “The fandom around K-pop is deep,” says Lewit. “There’s a willingness to participate.
But in recent years, much of the K-pop fandom has shifted to TikTok, where groups now post simplified sections of choreography, performed with members of other groups, as a staple of their album rollouts. . In 2021, a TikTok trend around Netflix squid game tuned to “Money,” Blackpink member Lisa sent the B-side to No. 90 on the Billboard “Hot 100.” Even though Blackpink released its official abridged content exclusively on YouTube, TikTok currently has over 1 million videos created with the “Pink Venom” sound compared to 750,000 on YouTube. YouTube is counting on Shorts partnerships with Blackpink and BTS to turn the tide.
BBU executives are still evaluating where TikTok and Shorts fit into their fandom participation, how they can support their streaming goals, and whether they’re a genuine extension of their relationship with the group. In the past, Blinks has firmly rejected other games to their loyalty (like Blackpink themed NFTs), but they clung to Blackpink’s role as ambassadors at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021. The fandom launched a #ClimateActionInYourArea campaign to plant trees in their local communities to thank members of the group for talking about climate change. Any campaign they undertake must either help them show their appreciation for their favorite artists or help the fandom empower people, and they are determined to break records whether the short video helps them or not. While BBU is proud that their efforts propelled “Pink Venom” to global success, they are far from over. Early Sunday morning, BBU’s Twitter account was suspended (they suspect mass reporting from rival fandoms), but they immediately restarted their streaming campaign from a backup account. “Each comeback we show growth as a fandom,” Ash says. “That’s how Blinks wants to move. It’s not about other bands, other teams. It’s always been about Blackpink. What happens next for us? We’re pushing more strong.