Within 24 hours of posting his video “Paagal” to YouTube, rapper Badshah broke records. He even went so far as to break a record that even Taylor Swift could not touch. The video after being released, was seen 75 million times in one day, taking over a mark set by Korean boy band BTS this April. Even though all these apparent milestones were being met, YouTube declined to credit the Sony Music artist. Since introducing a new way to premiere videos last year, the Google-owned site has announced and celebrated the setting of every new record, from Ariana Grande’s “thank u next” to Blackpink’s “Kill This Love,” culminating in BTS’s “Boy with Luv.” It even said Swift’s “ME!” set a record for “most-viewed female solo debut.” But Badshah’s achievement provoked no response from the world’s most popular online video site.
Rival executives in the Indian music industry began discussing the possibility that “Paagal” had been helped by “fake views.” But a few days later, a different set of explanations arose: Badshah and his representatives had purchased advertisements from Google and YouTube that embedded the video or directed fans to it in some other way. This episode has led to an examination of what many in the music industry say is a common occurrence—purchasing tens of millions of views. When releasing a new single, major record labels will purchase an advertisement on YouTube that places their music video in between other clips. If viewers watch the ad for more than a few seconds, YouTube considers that be a view, increasing the overall total. Blackpink and Swift, among others, have also been rumored to have done it.
This practice generates uncertainties and doubts and the authenticity of the popularity of these clips and reveals some of the shadowy ways in which artists and their labels promote their music—especially in emerging markets. YouTube, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, is now reconsidering the way it judges and evaluates records, according to two people familiar with the company’s thinking.