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The number of sample playbacks revealed the promotional prowess of the record company behind the singer and the composer. But whether the audience could be turned captive, whether they would splurge on a download, that depended the song itself. Undoubtedly, this song had legs.

It was close to the end of the season, and though the extended delay put the song at a disadvantage, its meteoric rise drew a lot of attention, especially people who paid close attention to the music industry.

No one would notice a leap from the bottom of the charts to the top 200.

Nor a leap from the top 200 to the top 100.

But you couldn’t ignore a song that made the top 50 in three days.

For a newcomer’s single, the rapid rise of "Hehe, My Dear" dropped jaws among those who followed the new talent chart.

Most of the people who listened to the song were students, but among them were also veteran musicians who studied composition and arrangement, such as Prof. Zhou, who had his students analyze the arrangement in a test. That made the students both love and hate the song.

However you looked at it, the song was a success.

Just as Du Ang had predicted, the stars had aligned for that song. Even though it was a late entry, it wasn’t that late, and it had enough momentum.

Since Fang Zhao’s song was launched, Du Ang was glued to the new talent chart from dusk to dawn. His other newcomers weren’t raking in that many more downloads and had started to taper off, stagnating on the chart. The key was Fang Zhao’s release. It would determine whether Du Ang would get a raise or a promotion.

At Du Ang’s office at Silver Wing Media, things had quieted down as the new talent competition drew to a close. He didn’t have any more songs produced. The heavy lifting was left to marketing and sales.

So all Du Ang did was monitor the chart. He watched as Fang Zhao’s number of downloads went from zero to three digits, then to four and five, and then to six.

It hit 1 million on the ninth day after its release.Even if they hit 1 million downloads, many new releases would taper off, but not Fang Zhao’s. It saw J-shaped exponential growth as it crossed the 1 million download threshold and kept surging.

Glued to the data on his tablet, Du Ang’s eyes, covered in bloodied veins, barely blinked. From the moment he arrived at the office at 8 a.m., apart from meals and toilet breaks, he was obsessed, constantly staring at the download tally on his screen. Every muscle in his body was taut and his brain remained in an orgasmic state.

None of his nine other interns had had Du Ang this on edge. Fang Zhao was an exception. He was quite surprised and eager with anticipation.

Even though demos differed from the final product, differences were minimal. But Fang Zhao’s arrangement in the final cut had even the demons over in the arrangement department impressed."Maybe I will get promoted this time," Du Ang mumbled. Between a raise and a promotion, Du Ang naturally preferred the latter.

Du Ang’s three assistants could hear him mumbling whenever they entered his office. Initially, they weren't able to make out what he was saying, but after a few trips they realized Du Ang was chanting as he stared at the download counter, "Promotion! Promotion! Promotion!"

It wasn’t just Du Ang. The staffers who worked with newcomers were also glued to the chart; they also wanted Fang Zhao’s release in the top 10. The only thing was that No. 10 had already hit 1.8 million downloads.

Eight hundred thousand downloads was too big a gap.Fang Zhao had to close a gap of 800,000 in 10 days. No, he had to chalk up at least another million. After all, the 10th-placed song would garner more downloads, so probably 1 million more downloads were needed to crack the top 10.

Was 1 million more downloads possible for a newcomer, considering what promotional channels were in play?

He thought it was impossible, and yet he hung on to a sliver of hope. That sense of hope grew and expanded as the days passed.

What a rapid ascent.

It had just cracked the top 50 the day before yesterday. Now it was in the top 30.The song at No. 30 was released by a small company. Their goal was to crack the top 50. Low and behold the newcomer they signed went all out and clinched the 30th spot. What a pleasant surprise!

The composer was likewise delighted. Considering the season was coming to a close and the chart rankings had more or less settled—he had a considerable lead on No. 31—he was quite relaxed and had been celebrating with friends the past few days.

He was hungover and fast asleep at 2 in the morning when he was awoken by repeated reminders. His bracelet was set to "Do not disturb" mode and most calls were blocked, but calls were put through after a third try.

Three calls from the same number meant an urgent matter.

Frowning, he rolled on his bed and announced in a foul mood, "Put it through."His bracelet put through the call after confirming his command. Before he could say anything, the caller started shouting.

"You’ve been crowded out!"

"You’re the one who’s been crowded out!"

The composer was still groggy but the caller had touched a nerve, which prompted the sharp response. After he rubbed his forehead, he froze and exclaimed, "What did you just say?"

A crisp voice emerged from his wristband. "You’re really being crowded out. I’m not kidding. Hurry, take a look! Check out the newcomer chart. You’re going to drop out of the top 30."

The composer got up instantly, turned on the screen on his wristband and scanned the chart. Indeed, he had dropped to No. 31.

"F*ck! Who did this?"

He hadn’t been paying attention to the chart the past few days and didn’t pay much heed to the other songs on the list. Every day he would check his own ranking and the five songs above and below him. How did he drop out of the top 30 in the blink of an eye?

No. 32 to No. 36 were the same, and the gap between them hadn’t changed much. He shifted his attention to the songs ahead of his. He recognized No. 30, No. 29 and No. 28 – it was the same three songs that had edged ahead for some time. But No. 27 was a fresh face."‘Hehe, My Dear?’ From Silver Wing Media?"He was curious and puzzled by the last-minute challenger, so he clicked for more details.

It was released on June 11. So late."What’s wrong with Silver Wing Media, waiting until June 11?"As he was complaining, the composer’s fingers shuffled, scrolling through other details about the song. The more he read, the more he freaked out. After tracking the song’s movement over the past few days, he took a deep breath. It resembled a hormone injection, the way it jumped from 500,000 downloads to 1 million in a few days. And counting.In two days, the song had risen from around No. 50 to the top 30. An increase of 400,000 downloads. Now it was eyeing the top 20.

The gap between No. 25 and No. 30 wasn’t that big. No. 30 had 1,403,952 downloads, while No. 25 accounted for 1,437,756. If it were early in the season, a gap of 30,000 was nothing, but it was near the end of the season and most of the songs had peaked. Even a hike of 10,000 downloads was difficult. Low and behold, this song broke into the top 30 and upended the existing order in a few days.

What kind of song could manage such an amazing feat?

Curious, he clicked play.

A long silence followed.

He studied the details of the song with a confused look on his face. This wasn’t just a matter of marketing muscle, it was also a function of the quality of the song.

"I’m a lesser composer," he admitted to himself.

It had been more than two hours since he got word that he had been crowded out and started studying the song and everything about it. Daylight began to seep in.

It suddenly dawned on him that he knew the composer who wrote No. 25. Yesterday his friend was still praying that the chart stay unchanged. He was quite happy with 25th place.

Now a dark horse had emerged, he reached out to his friend.

His friend was also sleeping. He figured he had been partying the past few days as well. The friend answered with a sleepy voice, not bothering with a videoconference. All he heard was a slurred voice saying, "Who is it?"

"You’re being crowded out!"

"What? Don’t joke about something like this." The voice on the other end sounded panicked.

"I swear, I’m not lying."

Bam! Smack!

A series of jumbled noises followed. After a while, his friend’s voice re-emerged. He sounded distracted.

"I’ve been… crowded out already."

"What? That’s impossible." When he got word of his decline, Fang Zhao’s song was only at 27. How could he have cracked the top 25 in two hours?

He refreshed the newcomer chart in disbelief. Indeed, there was new entry at No. 25.

A bit of research revealed that a famed late-night radio host that gave relationship advice had recommended "Hehe, My Dear" around midnight. A flurry of downloads ensued.

"This isn’t the end of it. It can’t be." The composer shut the screen on his bracelet and checked the time."

There are seven more days left in the competition. Many other composers are going to start losing sleep." Framing the problem that way, he felt a bit better about being squeezed out of the top 30.

He couldn’t sleep anymore. He washed his face and contacted his agent, who was still asleep. He couldn’t afford to take it easy these last few days. If he persuaded his company to launch one last marketing campaign, he might be able to reclaim the No. 30 spot. If he did nothing, he might not even hang on to No. 31.

The storm that this dark horse had brought would impact the entire chart.

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