I’m better than Michael Jackson because I got more streams/likes/views/awards?

To understand what this blog is about, please click here. Last week’s article ‘Dave and Fredo’s Funky Friday is #1 because of streams, but is the streaming era paying anyone’s bills?’ is here as part of my Black History Month series.

[To have your playlist/work/business featured please get in contact – tweeterortalent@gmail.com]

Comparison culture in music 

I’m sure we’ve all seen an artist hailed as ‘the new XYZ’, and with the growth of streaming and the accessibility of its data, it appears these comparisons have grown. In the past, there might have comparisons within genres, such as labelling all white rappers as the ‘new Eminem’, but now the comparisons are based on streaming, likes, views or awards.

These comparisons attempt to justify why one act is better than other based on ‘true’ facts and not opinions. However … are there consequences in believing that getting more streams/likes/views/awards guarantees musical superiority?

Michael Jackson vs Post Malone?

Post Malone was compared to Michael Jackson and as Malone’s debut album Stoney spent 77 weeks in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B and Hip-Hop chart, a week longer than Jackson’s 80s album Thriller(Wang, 2018).

I really enjoyed Stoney and my issue isn’t with Malone’s artistry or talent. But Malone and Jackson are not only different artists, but made music in different eras. Unlike Thriller, Stoney’s sales data came from downloads, streaming, radio airplay and physicals (Ditto Music, 2018). These are complicated to measure; even whether a listen is from a paid or free subscription impacts how the stream is counted.

Additionally, there are common-sense reasons why these comparisons don’t make sense. The population size has grown massively, and with music being more accessible than ever, it seems logical that the amount of listens on the average album is higher than the 80s.

This might explain why we see records broken so often and albums going to #1 not long after their release, even if they aren’t the best quality or the most popular as you would expect from a #1.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 11.53.53.png
An idea into how many people are listening to music today (IFPI, 2017)

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 11.54.06.png
Music industry streaming figures and growth (lIFPI, 2017)

This might explain why we see records broken so often and albums going to #1 not long after their release, even if they aren’t the best quality or the most popular as you would expect from a #1.

idea means that charting could have little meaning today, as Eames said (2017):

“A frankly boring and forgettable song [can become] one of the longest-running number ones of all time, making a mockery of the chart’s venerable 64-year history.”

Are music industry charts fake news?

Another reason for challenging charts is because they can be the product of manipulation. Cato and Maddox showed how easy it is to manipulate rankings, getting “the worst piece of music” (2017) to chart through buying Spotify plays.

Because of Spotify’s algorithm, the high level of streams meant the song experienced a snowball effect – it was added to popular playlists which encouraged further streams.

Therefore, does it make sense to compare sales when so much has changed? It’s not fair to Michael – we don’t know how Thriller would have performed under current circumstances. Our data comes from how the music industry was before, which  isn’t the case anymore.

Stans in the music industry

Elsewhere, Taylor Swift broke Whitney Houston’s “previously-thought untouchable record” for the amount of American Music Awards won by a woman (Rashad, 2018).

Again, my issue isn’t with who is the better vocalist. The AMAs were voted by fans, and once again the idea of manipulation is present. Diehard fans, ‘stans’, can have aggressive, yet extremely well-planned and impressive techniques for ensuring their fave gains achievements.

For example, Beyonce’s BeyHive and South Korean group BTS’ Army formed an alliance to increase streaming numbers (Hussein, 2018) (this could also be considered manipulation of streaming data). If this idea is applied to the AMAs, are Taylor’s wins a true representation of the people’s votes (Southern, 2018)? Or is this fine because others could have voted against her if they wanted?

Clever marketing or tricking listeners?

On YouTube, Kanye West and Lil Pump’s I Love It had the biggest-ever global debut for a hip-hop video and beat Childish Gambino’s record (Price, 2018). Eminem’s Machine Gun Kelly-targeted diss track also had the biggest YouTube debut among rap songs (Leslie, 2018).

Kanye and Lil Pump’s success was helped by the video’s bizarre visuals becoming memes (Price, 2018). This produced virality, a common music marketing trend and something used to break into the music industry like Big Shaq. Eminem achieved this too, as people wanted to comment on the rap beef and could only do so by listening to the disstrack.

And back to Post Malone, his Rockstar video ft 21 Savage was accused of manipulating listeners. The song spent 3 weeks at #2 and was boosted to #1 by a YouTube hack (Tanzer, 2017) where the song’s chorus was on a 3:38 minute loop, the same amount of time as the full song.

Viewers were led to believe this was the full song, although the rappers’ verses never appeared. At one point, the video had over 1 million views daily. Personally, I don’t think the track is Malone’s best, so it’s success was annoying to me, especially if it came from a ‘hack’.

While some labelled the move a “clever marketing scheme”, others call it “tricking listeners who think they’re hearing the song as advertised”. The clip has since been taken down, so maybe Malone’s team felt a type of way about it.

What do you think? Should we continue to make music comparisons or are they damaging for the music industry and it’s artists?


SOURCES: https://www.thefader.com/2018/06/20/beyonce-bts-streaming-party, https://www.thefader.com/2017/10/17/post-malone-youtube-rockstar-chorus-loop, http://www.digitalspy.com/music/feature/a801321/streaming-and-ed-sheeran-have-ruined-the-charts-forever-heres-why/, https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/j5dqdx/streamify-spotify-buying-streams-cl1ckba1t-digital-music, https://www.dittomusic.com/blog/how-are-the-music-charts-calculated, https://urbanislandz.com/2018/09/19/eminems-mgk-diss-killshot-broke-youtube-record-for-hip-hop/, https://www.complex.com/music/2018/09/kanye-west-and-lil-pumps-i-love-it-breaks-youtube-record-biggest-hip-hop-debut-week, https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/music-news/american-music-awards-taylor-swift-breaks-whitney-houstons-record-for-number-of-wins-by-a-female-37403575.html, http://thatgrapejuice.net/2018/10/taylor-swift-has-broken-whitney-houstons-record-the-amas-most-awarded-female/, http://www.xxlmag.com/news/2018/08/post-malones-stoney-album-breaks-chart-record-held-by-michael-jacksons-thriller/, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/post-malone-broke-a-34-year-michael-jackson-record-how-705514/, https://www.ifpi.org/downloads/GMR2017.pdf

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