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a reflection on chart success | music

Chart success in the age of the internet has become more complex than it was before streaming existed. We’ve since seen the rollout of multiple charts across multiple genres, countries and music stations. Furthermore, the music industry feeds off a cycle of success, no longer ranked predominantly by how good something sounds but by how lucrative something has the potential to become. (Brand deals, advertisements, followers on social media: all stemming from the music industry). Anyone can watch this play out in the music charts themselves. Each step further we take into the digital era shows us just how more relevant these numbers are despite how much more nuanced it has become. For many artists, increased public and media attention comes alongside chart success.

This poses the question:

What are the effects of the public and critical success that follows chart success?

The media and general public are notorious for turning their backs on successful artists once they’ve had their fill. Artists are churned out like a product and we as a listener become desensitised to this pattern. An era defined by public image has ushered in an era of viral hits that some deem less credible when compared to the past when chart success was far more exclusive and difficult to attain.

Measuring success based on numbers has evolved significantly since the chart system was first introduced in 1952, with radio plays playing a far more vital role than they do now.

Charts were once ranked strictly by sales. Walking into a store and buying a physical copy; the act of investing in something you liked. Whereas now the popularisation of the download has altered our view of success and whether a song play equates to genuine interest. Streaming has introduced a new popularity contest that may not even be based on listening out of interest but instead on viral content itself. The power of fandoms has allowed people to rally together to ensure their favourite artist reaches number one simply by replaying a song regardless of if they want to listen to it in the moment itself. Streaming has ‘broken’ the system, ushering in a new set of rules of how to rank popularity. It’s also ushered in an era of resentment for what hits the coveted number one spot.

Has streaming allowed us to believe that music is far more disposable than it once was?

In a way, yes. We don’t hold physical value to a download or an online stream; it’s easier to turn our backs on. Yet there seems to be a pattern forming; once an artist reaches a certain level of success the public grow tired of them. They become old news, now overplayed. These artists, too, become disposable. In turn, admitting you like a popular artist suddenly isn’t original. They’re seen as a sell-out as opposed to a genuine artist. The media resents ‘too successful’. It’s not interesting anymore.

Do charts matter? Well, yes. Whether that equates to long-lasting success is a different story. One hit wonder seems an outdated term, but in 2020, anything can become a hit. However, it’s triggered resentment towards those who have a viral hit, as though their success is less valid. In 2020, reaching the top of the charts does not guarantee longevity, in due part to how the media perceives artists.

The further the foray into streaming the more outdated a simple one-system ranking becomes. It’s a well-known idea that once an artist reaches the peak of their success people are watching and waiting for their fall. In some cases, it affects an artists’ credibility when the general consensus is that they’re overplayed. Most popular can quickly turn into most hated and we’ve seen it happen. Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Doja Cat and most if not all boy bands. The list goes on. They have to ‘redeem’ themselves, not for wrongdoings, but because for some reason their success and female fan base deems them “less credible artists” in the eyes of many. We’ve been fed the idea that female rappers must compete with one another whilst male rappers are allowed to share the space and female pop artists have to reinvent to stay relevant.

2020 has had a host of hits that have stood firm on the hot 100 throughout the year. Occasionally, a viral hit swoops in unexpectedly, but this year we’ve had some constant players. The artists currently dominating the top ten have of course earned their credibility, but this doesn’t exclude them from falling victim to the same fate. We have to hope that the industry and media become less resentful of successful artists, more so successful women.

Visuals by Gemma Lewis

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