Last week, an old-fashioned mystery confused the music press. Nearly 25 years after its release, the Dinosaur Jr. song "Over Your Shoulder" was # 18 on the Japanese Hot 100 charts and hit major new releases such as Ariana Grande's "7 Rings."
The Blurry, Sad Step to Dinosaur Jr.'s 1994 Album Without Sound, "Over Your Shoulder" is an unlikely candidate for a hit single. In fact, it has never been published in this format. Even stranger, the title, with over eight million video games claiming the country's best video streaming space, lifted the charts in Japan, even though no YouTube upload of the song had so many views.
Billboard Japan speculated: "Over Your Shoulder" came into the charts by being used as random music in other videos, but what videos? And why now? A viral Pitchfork story put it in a nutshell: "A 25-year-old Dinosaur Jr. song is a hit in Japan. Nobody knows why. "
Well, some of us now know why, but it does not make the incident – the Japanese bad guys, reality TV piracy and renegade algorithms – any less strange.
The key to Japan's apparent resurgence of Dinosaur Jr. is how Billboard currently calculates hit singles. Six years ago, the company added YouTube games to the Hot 100 chart and counted song streams from both official videos and user-generated clips. This has led to some crazy people. For example, in 2017, The Fader reported that 41 million views of a bizarre YouTube clip in which Post Malone sang the refrain of "Rockstar" over and over again helped put the song at the top of the chart.
In the case of "Over Your Shoulder," the only obvious link between Japan and Japan was "Gachinko Fight Club," a recurring segment in a variety show called Gachinko! who left the air 15 years ago . The reality TV program allegedly featured regular "punks" trained to become professional boxers – often using "Over Your Shoulder" as their musical cue.
According to Takayuki Suzuki a Japanese entertainment consultant who first noticed the connection on Twitter the track was performed in most episodes to give a sense of "feeling, despair and emotion "to convey. The show was hugely popular.
"The highest rating was 32.3% of the total household," Suzuki told Gizmodo. "In terms of rating, 10% is good, 20% is great in Japan."
Gachinko! However, using using the song back then only partially explains why it's becoming viral on YouTube now in Japan. At the end of last month, some Japanese Twitter users noted that Gachinko Fight Club recommended video clips on YouTube, both through the site's recommended video sidebar and through its autoplay feature.
"Anyway, the YouTube recommendation from anyone Gachinko Fight Club," reads a typical February 2 tweet. Many tweeted about booting up YouTube pirate copies, often overnight.
The algorithm gods, it seems, smiled on the show – and thus "Over Your Shoulder." The song, played as short clips on pirated Gachinko Fight Club marathons, received millions of unlikely streaming hits decades after its release.
"Apparently, former members of the Gachinko Fight Club have recently appeared in television programs," said the user @ 9mmShort who tweeted about the referrals, toward Gizmodo. "It could be that many people who saw it saw the Gachinko Fight Club on YouTube because it was nostalgic."
For those who want to satisfy their Gachinko Fight Club nostalgia, YouTube is the only option. Suzuki explained that there are very few TV streaming services in Japan, especially when it comes to older Japanese programs like Gachinko! – which are also not available on DVD. "Pursuing the program name [which]therefore, leads to a pirate video [on] YouTube," he said.
Japanese Twitter user @kyabetu_aomori, who told Gizmodo that variety shows were often featured on YouTube, said they did. Click repeatedly on "not interested" in the clips from the Gachinko Fight Club to see the latest Stop tide of referrals. They said that these videos have about 100,000 to 300,000 games. At least while they were still there.
Last Monday, social media users in Japan noticed that the Gachinko Fight Club's videos were disappearing. "All Gachinko Fight Club videos are gone! All deleted by the user! "Wrote one. As popular as fake content may be on YouTube, it can also have a short shelf life.
In the end, "Over Your Shoulder" was not the only factor making a stop in Japan. It was published nearly 25 years ago. More than 15 years ago, it was used in a Japanese reality show about boxing by Bad Boys. Billboard started counting YouTube games six years ago. And just a few days ago, YouTube apparently started recommending pirated episodes of this reality show to Japanese users who seemingly played in their thousands, playing "Over Your Shoulder" over and over again.
If these videos are deleted, it's easy to understand Billboard's confusion, but other recent Gachinko Fight Club uploads are still on YouTube – tens of thousands of views are already being collected there. In a blog post last week, Billboard Japan noted that other older songs from the West also showed unexpected appearances on the chart. As long as Japanese TV fans rely on YouTube to satisfy their nostalgia, these songs are likely to appear in unexpected locations.
One secret remains why YouTube has recommended the Gachinko Fight Club to so many users last month. Did the show – as some speculated – simply resume the news? Has a pirate suddenly uploaded the episodes after years of unavailability? Or has YouTube's algorithm gone crazy this year for boxing shows only? Asked for their own theory on the recommendations, @kyabetu_aomori said to Gizmodo: "I have no idea at all."
Gizmodo turned to Billboard, YouTube, and Dinosaur Jr.'s management for a comment. We will update this story if they answer.