So you’ve seen this, right? I’m not sure who hasn’t; I think like 10% of my Facebook friends reposted it with some kinda caption like “OmgggGGGGggggggg!!!!! S00000 TRUE!”
Essentially the premise of this article is to outline the successes of popular music artists such as Rihanna, Creed, and Katy Perry and explain how bizarre and unjustified it is that these artists have had more success than celebrated artists like REM and Michael Jackson.
Aside from the last point which I will address in a moment, the eleven other points deal with sales records. Not ratings, not airplay, album and/or single sales. The point of this piece is to make some kind of overture about how unjust it is that current artists are more popular than “legit” artists of the past, or more pointedly, that current music consumers are idiots for stupidly and unreflectively liking the artists that are available to us today.
Uh, let me let you in on a little secret two-word explanation. THE INTERNET.
Like are you kidding me? Obviously the internet/iTunes/etc easily explains the high sales data for these artists, rather than the public’s total loss of ability to judge good music from bad?
Consider this: I’m not that old, okay. I’m probably a dickload of years older than you cuz you are inevitably a teenager if you’re reading this on Tumblr, but I’m still squarely in the middle-ish of my twenties. I first became aware of popular music when I was in ninth grade (which I realize was late but I blame my evangelical parents for not ‘letting’ me listen to it until then) and my favorite band was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was the year 1999.
They had two singles on rotation at the time (“Scar Tissue” and “Otherside”) and since I wanted to be able to listen to these songs at my discretion, I would listen to the radio and carefully wait til these songs came on, frantically run to my boombox, and press record on the blank tape I’d gotten from my mom. When I finally was able to tape most of both songs, I think had a very roughly put together, extremely low-quality mixtape that I would listen to whenever I wanted to hear a lil RHCP.
Could I have bought the album, Californication? Yes, I could have. It would have cost roughly twice what a digital album costs now, and I would have had to take a gamble that I’d like the dozen or so non-single tracks to make the purchase worth it. Could I have purchased the physical single? (Yes, that’s a thing you could do in those days.) Sure, but it still would have been about four dollars, and I likely could not have gotten both tracks on the same disc (instead I’d get one single, three mixes and a shitty B-side in all likelihood, so I’d have to buy two, provided the record store even had it).
What would my reality be if I was a ninth grader in 2011? I would go on iTunes and download both tracks for 99 cents each. I would probably also indiscriminately download any other Top 40 track that caught my fancy, since they cost less than a dollar. I’d probably even be more likely to take a risk and buy the whole album, since even though it’s been twelve years the album itself would probably cost half the price it would have at Sam Goody back in my day.
Furthermore, I’d argue that though my fourteen-year-old self didn’t have any more expendable income than the average fourteen-year-old of comparable socioeconomic status today, the difference is that music-buying is much more commonplace these days than it was before, and is seen as more akin to a “basic necessity” (in the way that makeup and movie tickets were a decade ago) and thus parents are more willing to assist their kids in making these sorts of purchases. I have a high school aged brother and our parents allow him limited use of their credit card for approved music purchases and buy him iTunes giftcards for each holiday. I can’t imagine this being the case when I was his age.
My point is this: it’s no surprise that internet-era musicians are shattering sales records of artists whose careers–even spanning decades–ebbed, peaked, and waned before the internet and online-music-buying was even a “thing”. It has nothing to do with our inability to discriminate between “Teenage Dream” and “Billie Jean” or the fact that people of our generation are so dumb we will indiscriminately buy shitty music because Clear Channel tells us to. No, maybe there is an external variable guiding these statistics.
I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years an artist of the callibre of Michael Jackson comes along and shits all the fuck over today’s Top 40 artists because accessibility and talent will come together rather than be singularly compared side-by-side. For now the records will be skewed, but it doesn’t mean that American music has lost its value and integrity. Plus, for real, who doesn’t love “We Found Love”?
One final postscript–the last point (“This guy exists” re: Justin Bieber) is awful and unfounded. Just because you hate the YouTube memification of da Biebs or because his fanbase and high pitched voice and purple sweat suit irritate you, he is talented as shit and anyone who has followed his career trajectory and/or seen his documentary can’t deny that. Aside from Beyonce he will be the only Top 40 artist of today to transcend the next ten years, I will bet you my paycheck.