On March 25th, musical artist Anitta became the first Brazilian to reach the number one spot on a global music chart when her song “Envolver” became the most streamed track on Spotify’s Daily Top 50 Global playlist. It was streamed 6.4 million times, with 4.1 million of those streams coming from Brazil.
But her success on Spotify’s charts isn’t just a result of the song’s catchy chorus: Anitta fans and music industry experts told Rest of World that some of “Envolver”’s success can be attributed to fans gaming the platform’s algorithms in ways that potentially broke Spotify’s terms and conditions. At least some of that behavior was encouraged by Anitta’s own team, which pushed fans to inflate her streams on the platform.
On March 14th, Anitta’s official fan account on Twitter, QG da Anitta, retweeted another fan account’s post encouraging people to boost Anitta’s popularity by setting up playlists featuring her song and reminding them to “use different accounts on Spotify and remember to switch accounts after 20 streams.” The next day, that official account set up a raffle of Spotify Premium subscriptions for users who sent screenshots of using Spotify to stream “Envolver”.
Rest of World counted over 100 playlists on Spotify titled with names like Envolver #1, Stream Envolver, Envolver stream party, and Envolver 20x. Most of them explicitly stated in their descriptions that their purpose is to increase Envolver’s streaming numbers. “Play it only once a day, don’t leave it on random, and turn the volume up,” reads one of the descriptions.
Spotify declined to comment on any potential terms and conditions violations but confirmed Anitta’s status as the first Brazilian to top their charts.
Adriano Ferreira da Silva Filho, a 19-year-old fan from Ilhabela, a beach town in the state of São Paulo, told Rest of World that he wanted to boost “Envolver”’s popularity as a means of paying back an artist who was influential in his life. So, Filho created a series of different playlists to play the song over 2,000 times a day using his laptop and two cellphones to be able to have them all playing simultaneously from different usernames.
“If you only play the track on repeat, Spotify doesn’t count it as a stream,” Filho explained. “They think it’s a bot. So, you have to create a playlist with different tracks and alternate them with the one you want to boost.”
Anitta fans aren’t the first to try to hack Spotify’s algorithm in their artist’s favor. Top spots on streaming platforms provide more than bragging rights; they can sometimes provide a snapshot of how many people will attend that artist’s concerts, where artists have a better chance at making money. Musicians who used to dream about being on the radio now want to be featured in big playlists, marketing strategist Nathy Faria, a coordinator at Music Rio Academy, told Rest of World, even if it has been widely reported that artists make little to no money via Spotify, unless their songs stream for hundreds of millions of plays.
Last July, a major operation by Brazil’s Center for Investigation of Cyber Crimes shut down 84 websites that provided bots for hire to artificially pump streaming numbers for Brazilian artists. The platform warns third-party services that sell artificial streams that they could be banned since such activities constitute a terms and conditions violation.
The sale of so-called fake streams on Spotify is “a disaster,” said Farias. “[These] are platforms and artists selling lies.” She said that a lack of transparency among streaming platforms like YouTube and Spotify make it difficult for users to tell what’s real from what’s fake.
The “Envolver” campaign falls within a gray zone, given that apparently many of the streams were generated by an army of highly engaged fans, not bots, which Spotify has become very adept at detecting and expelling from its platform. “From a digital marketing perspective, there’s nothing wrong with fans doing it. If an artist has people willing to do that, it only shows how powerful they are,” Faria said.
Career manager Rodolfo Lacerda, from Música em Rede, a São Paulo-based music management company, said that when he saw the juiced-up playlists, he thought, “Could this get [Anitta] in trouble?’ But creating playlists for your favorite artist is fair game. … Maybe if [the song] hadn’t been for them, she would’ve stayed in 10th or 9th position. Of course, it’s not something an artist should encourage.”
Anitta’s team declined to comment, but did release a statement on Instagram on March 25th thanking everyone and saying “right now, I’m just shocked.” By the end of that weekend, “Envolver” dropped to second on the chart, and a week later it held steady in fifth position. To fans like Filho, it’s not over yet. He said that fans are making plans to boost her numbers when Anitta’s new album drops in mid-April.