Okay, this story has gotten enough media attention that it’s worth mentioning (and it finally hit upon a Mayday connection earlier this week), but it’s a bit complicated so bear with me for a minute here.
With his own album selling somewhat slower than expected, Jay has come forward with what he says are his real sales figures, implying that the reason he is not number one is because the sales figures for most artists are invented by record companies to make artists seem more popular than they are. When he first mentioned it, he implicated the head of EMI, which led the media to assume he was pointing at Jolin Tsai, who is on that label. (The Jay/Jolin angle will always get the attention of the press and will turn the comment into a much larger controversy than it would otherwise have been. Any time either of these two mentions the other in the years since the end of their supposed romance, that’s two weeks of free publicity.)
In naming the EMI manager, however off-the-cuff the original remark may have been, Jay has stirred up a massive controversy. The manager himself announced his decision to retire amid rumors that he is depressed. Meanwhile, EMI artists like Jolin and Rainie Yang have stepped up to defend him and ask him not to leave. EMI has sent a cease and desist type letter to Jay’s company, though Jay responded that he’s not afraid to go to court because then at least the real figures will have to come out. Show Luo has jumped into the fray, complaining that Jay is taking it all too far. In Malaysia promoting his own album, Leehom Wang answered questions about the controversy like a career diplomat, saying that rather than making attacks and becoming so competitive, artists need to support each other and work together for the promotion of Chinese music as a whole. His opting for the high road did not stop the press from trying to manufacture a slight dispute with Jolin over his comments, but that one appears to be a non-starter.
At first glance, this appears to be a classic case of a sore loser: Jay doesn’t believe anyone can (or should) sell more albums then him, and so he has decided to fight back. But the problems run a little bit deeper than just Grumpy Jay and his Pout-fest. There are, and have been for some time, rumors about not only inflated sales figures, but major labels purchasing positions for albums and singles on the major music charts, and even purchasing awards at the myriad award ceremonies that seem to take place at random all over the region. This brings to mind shady deals and bribed officials, but bear in mind that simply inflating album figures can have a sort of chain reaction that affects everything else – the inflated sales figures translate to an artificially high spot on the charts, which in turn mean awards in the form of “favorite” artist. Remember that one of the Golden Melody awards judges’ reasons for their otherwise baffling decision to name the David Tao/Jolin Tsai duet “Today I marry you” the song of the year last year was its widespread popularity.
Adding fuel to the fire, at last weekend’s awards ceremony in Fuzhou, 80% of the awards went to Taiwanese artists. That by itself is not all that shocking; most of the fans there had turned out for a favorite artist from Taiwan, and we could say even more about Fujianese special affinity for the island. But it does seem odd that none of the famous acts from Hong Kong who were nominated for awards but did not win turned out for the ceremony. Jolin and Stephanie Sun – both nominated but winless – did not show up. (Also absent from both the ceremony and the winners list: Jay, Leehom, David Tao, JJ Lin, Gary Cao…)
In fact, there doesn’t appear to be any big star who attended the event but went home empty-handed. The odds of that happening by chance seem slim, right? I see three alternate possibilities: one is that the organizers informed the winners and losers in advance to make sure no one was embarrassed and that there would be a good collection of winners present to increase the ratings of the show (this can’t be dismissed too lightly; I’ve seen a list of the final ten in each category, but there was some sort of tiered voting system, so some of the big names might have known they were not up for awards and stayed away), a second is that the winners were arranged after the RSVPs went in so that those who made the trip out were duly rewarded, and a third and least likely (I think) is that the entire program – from who won to who attended – was bought and paid for by record labels seeking promotion for their artists.
Backstage at the Fuzhou event, reporters asked artists about their thoughts on the accusation and whether their own album sales figures had been inflated. Angela Chang got caught, like a deer in the headlights, saying of the purchasing of chart rankings, “I’ve heard of that happening… I haven’t heard of that happening, oh, don’t give me trouble.” Assuming that’s a real quote (and not a bit inflated itself – one never knows), it implies that she remembered a little too late that she shouldn’t admit to hearing that such things really do happen.
Reporters also caught Mayday backstage, and they noted that “Our sales have been pretty good, and those are real numbers. But we’re a small company, all the money we earn gets spent on concerts and albums, so there’s none left to buy positions in the charts.” (Or a change of clothes, apparently.)
The fact that Jay is suddenly so concerned about the reality behind sales figures when his own album is hitting the charts is enough to suspect that there’s an element of self-promotion involved, but that doesn’t make the basic point any less valid. In an age in which record companies are struggling for sales and hit with the twin problems of rampant piracy and digital distribution, claims that the numbers of albums sold are skyrocketing seem counterintuitive. Getting albums up the charts and keeping them there is instrumental to promoting an artist, though, so it easy to understand the temptation to inflate the numbers rather than deal with the reality.