This one is for the young artists and creatives. In fact, it really applies to anyone who has ever chased a mainstream audience.
How do you feel? Thousands of labels are spending millions of dollars to find that out and cater a specific product to you — potentially making billions of dollars. Of course, there are hundreds of misses for every home run, à la Robin Thicke for every Ed Sheeran.
This formula can obviously fail. Many today (it was just my friend, Milton, to be honest but he got my brain rolling) complain about the inorganic state of modern music. I like to call it Processed/Gloss Pop but is it really that bad? It's definitely it’s got glories and failings… but here is why the potential pitfalls of a mainstream audience should have artists thinking twice.
Two things can be true at once:
- Billie Eilish is truly talented, has great vocal ability and made a good album.
- Her album, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” was the most processed thing I’ve heard in a while. She made being sad sound as clear as it's ever been and makes music everyone can relate to rather than a specific crowd. However, in the same vein, Joji is an artist who makes her sadness appear genuine although it is processed. It's not playing to you, it's relating to you.
Her album is dark, spacey, jittery and a banging success. It probably has Interscope executives milly rocking to the bank in celebration. A focused group album of this magnitude, able to be played for moody young adults who feel a confusion about life. It was arranged to be heard by as many people as possible and follows an outside-in formula. It’s heard intensely on the radio and on other outside media platforms (like advertisements or pushed intensely on social media) and now, consumers are playing it on your phone. It's the modern Pop formula. You see it with DaBaby (“Suge”), Camilla (“Havana”) and Shawn Mendes (“Stitches”). My mom doesn't know any of these dudes by name or face but she knows these songs, so we can't criticize the formula success but we can attack it on moral grounds.
Here's the issue with this mainstream formula for the artist — not the label. The formula is something anyone can do if they sit down and try. It makes the artist an expendable part of the formula. A face to carry out a message but they face can change yet the message can't.
Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” masquerades as a powerful positive Ballad about self-love and just picking yourself up when you've been knocked down too many times buuuuuut… consider this, at which point does Katy open up about a personal struggle? Or focus group her lyrics? She can’t do that. The industry formula seeks to cast as wide a net a possible. Any inclusion of YOU in your music jeopardizes the formula.
If you were to try make a $100 million, would you seek a 1000 dollars from 100,000 people or $10 dollars from 10 millions? Labels favour the later and need to hit with everyone. To make their hundreds of millions of dollars, they need 10 dollars from millions of people — they can't alienate any potential audience member.
"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting thought the wind
Wanting to start again"
That is a beautiful way of saying nothing. She basically asked us whether or not we have ever had a shit day before. It's so surface deep that you could hit your head on the floor looking to close yet, needles to say, the song and the accompanying album, “Teenage Dreams” sold like fucking hot cakes. Songs like “Last Friday Night," “The One That Got Away” and “E.T” reached millions of people and made hundreds of millions of dollars.
Fast forward to today — where are those millions of people for Katy now? She's so desperate for the reach that she'll make an awful off brand decision like “Bon Appetit” with Migos to try and garner traction. Essentially she’s saying, "Like I know you came with that but please stay for this, it's way better". I sound like I'm criticizing Katy but honestly, I believe she is very talented and is truly the victim here. She's a bubbly Pop star, who makes love and heartbreak ballads. Yet what about “Come eat my pussy” says any of that? She wants to be herself but she leaned on the formula too heavily and now, she can't stand on her own two feet as an artist.
She can barely crack the top 30 Billboard Charts… what happened? What has changed?
The Mainstream audience changed. By 2014, Katy was the Titanic. The generation of teens she pandered too were feeling the effects of the ‘08 financial crisis in their own lives, now pushing a bubbly set of optimistic kids into dejected youths, who felt everything was against them.
Two years later, a kid who went through artist development at fucking Apple releases her first of 2 singles. It was called “Ocean Eyes”. It was made by Billie Eilish. The mainstream formula is undefeated. Industry heads will switch the face but never the formula — never the message. They have to simply pander to and reach as many people as possible.
“Teenage Dream” is a well-crafted by the formula, not by Katy. To appeal to one of the most hopeful generations temporarily? A forest fire for 3 years then deadwood? Or a consistent fire led by a group of devout Katy fans, who'll carry the flame their whole lives, à la Prince which one you think she wants in retrospect?
Billie’s latest album is meant to appeal and pander to that same generation after the financial crises that heavily affected parents, who had their kids watch them suffer to provide and inspired them to get into work early to help out. As such, bringing greater stress and leaving them feeling sad, dark and dejected. No one in the world seems to get them, they are odd and tend to alienate themselves. Look at Billie again and think about that.
This is where Katy sunk and her music audience disintegrated in the blink of an eye. In one moment, “Teenage Dream” had 9/10 year olds screaming “Last Friday Night” and now, those kids are 19/20 listening to artists such as Billie and NF. They are extremely conscious of their surroundings, pushing artists such as Kendrick to the forefront. Where there’s space for “Fireworks” in one of the most introspective generations, there’s also space for bubbly Pop music in a world where “Look At Me” by XXXTentacion can be a billboard smash.
Katy has an audience — it’s not as big as she initially thought but that’s not enough since she's been to the mountain top, where Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Rihanna reside, and she can't just go back to being a focus group artist. It's sad to see her suffer but what's worse is how her lane is just gone! Her audience seemingly outgrew her while she was still alive… What must that feel like?
With Billie, she's a product. She’s part of our generation and feels these same things but she's just a face to push a message but again, what happens to her when the message changes?
I said this was for the creatives and I actually meant it. You’ll change your art to fit everyone, making it shallow. When people actually start looking for depth from you, the same people which you changed for will criticize you for pandering. Look at Katy. The majority of her audience has moved onto an artist with real depth. Unless you're Beyoncé, it is incredibly difficult to have depth and fit millions of people at the same time. So when I look at Billie, I get sad – I see someone being championed now but who will be laughed at later? This generation will change and funny enough, I think we're headed back to bubbly Pop. What will Billie do in a bubbly pop world, fam? What will become of her? Will she make a positive ballad in the vein of “Fireworks”?(I just threw up a lil in my mouth from the thought)
When the majority of her audience leaves the sunken place where her music echoes loudest? What happens to her when we grow up? One thing, you don’t have to wonder if we ever return to bubbly Pop. Don’t be surprised by the “Katy’s Back!" articles, the formula moves with or without you. Why move with it at all?
Written by: Elijah Mwamba | Twitter @ElijahMwamba24
Edited by: Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @Dithekgom