Cai Xukun album release strategy in China sparks fraud allegations, suspension of thousands of Weibo accounts

PHOTO: Instagram/caixukun

The legality of a musician's attempt at a unique album roll-out was questioned by a media report earlier this week, causing online backlash and the rushed release of the rest of the album.

In April, Cai Xukun released six out of 11 songs from his forthcoming album Puzzle online, along with a message, "to be put on the shelf soon", a wink at the planned full release of the physical product.

The six songs have made over 80 million yuan (S$16.7 million) in sales since their release, with 50 million yuan coming in the first hour.

PHOTO: Instagram/caixukun

On Sunday (Aug 29), a report from Hubei-based Chutian Metropolis News questioned whether the release strategy was legal, prompting Cai to release the additional five songs on Monday.

Cai's team also said a different song, titled Outro, will be released when it is ready.

On Tuesday, Cai's studio apologised and said it "had not fulfilled the obligation of obviously reminding people of the future release date of the songs."

The report claimed the pop star might have violated consumer protection laws for not being clear that it was "charging fees first and delivering product later".

PHOTO: Instagram/caixukun

The article sparked backlash online, with fans of Cai claiming that Chutian Metropolis News was jealous of his popularity. One commenter accused the outlet of taking bribes from Cai's competition.

"We fans do not feel any problem with the release strategy. Are you entitled to blame Cai Xukun on our behalf?" asked one fan.

Another said: "I spent the money. I am satisfied. It's none of your business."

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Weibo said on Tuesday it had punished 9,650 accounts by suspending them from commenting, giving and receiving likes or sending private messages. The suspensions ranged from one week to three months.

The social media giant released a statement on Tuesday, saying: "The violators controlled public opinion, abused or smeared the media and the reporters through comments or private messages. They have seriously disturbed the work of the media and destroyed the order of the internet.

"So we should firmly oppose and crack down on those illicit deeds."

The incident happened amid a backdrop of increasing pressure on Chinese internet companies to rein in unruly fans of celebrities.

Last week, Weibo had to suspend thousands of accounts after fans of one celebrity started an online attack against another fan group over a rumoured collaboration between the two stars worshipped by the opposing groups.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.