Business Matters: Vacuous Pop Music Was Never the Problem
Business Matters: Vacuous Pop Music Was Never the Problem

Vacuous Pop Music Was Never the Problem
-- The weakest criticism of the music business is the prevalence of vacuous pop music is responsible for its sorry state. In fact, a year doesn't go by in which that statement, or something similar, is not been uttered.

When revenues were at their peak and boy bands sold an unprecedented number of CDs, vacuous pop music was killing the industry. Now that beat-driven pop music dominates the charts, vacuous pop music gets the blame for poor CD sales, fallen revenues, unwanted mergers and anything else currently reshaping the record business.

You see, vacuous pop artists only put one good song on an album. Now that people can buy tracks rather than CDs, the industry continues to rely on vacuous pop artists to its own detriment. Or so the story goes.

An image was been floating around Facebook and the blogosphere that suggests "terrible writers and producers," as the RouteNote blog put it, are behind the sorry state of pop music. The image lists the lyrics of Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" next to those of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." We're told that "Run the World" and its simplistic, repetitive lyrics required six songwriters and four producers while just one songwriter and one producer crafted "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The message is clear: today's vacuous, factory-produced pop music is killing the record business. But the truth is most pop songs have not aged well. "Bohemian Rhapsody" mustered only No. 18 on Billboard's list of top songs of 1976. Wings' "Silly Love Songs," Elton John & Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and Johnnie Taylor's "Disco Lady" were the year's top three singles. Whenever people talk about the glory of music in the '70s, they conveniently forget about disco.

Today's chart doesn't look all that different from 1975. The main difference between 1975 and 2012 is today's consumer has more options than ever before. File-sharing. YouTube. Pandora. In spite of these options, however, people keep going back to the kind of vacuous, beat-driven pop music that people have long claimed is killing the music industry.

(My use of the term "vacuous" is tongue-in-cheek. My role is not to judge the merits of popular songs, but I will use the derogatory language of pop music critics when writing about those songs.)

To cite examples of two songs that some critics might consider vacuous, Carly Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" has sold nearly 4.3 million units in the U.S. in 20 weeks and has topped the Hot Digital Tracks chart eight weeks in a row, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Jepsen's record label, Interscope, is hardly holding a gun to consumers' heads. Nor are they holding a gun to the heads of radio programmers. "Call Me Maybe" has been on the Billboard Radio Songs chart for 15 weeks and is currently peaking at No. 2. Songs don't get to No. 2 by brute force alone. Listeners need to like the song. Their 4.3 million purchases prove they do like "Call Me Maybe."

Carly Rae Jepsen Still No. 1, Nicki Minaj Makes History On Hot 100 Chart

Last week many people opted to buy Katy Perry's latest single, "Wide Awake," instead of something that might parallel "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 27 years. "Wide Awake" has sold nearly 1.2 million units. Other tracks off Perry's latest album "Teenage Dream" have sold an astounding 18.1 million units. "Teenage Dream" itself has sold over 2.3 million units even though every song resembles "Silly Love Songs" more than "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Even some album purchases defy "Bohemian Rhapsody" logic. Before the arrival of Napster and iTunes, consumers would have had few ways to experience the 1998 equivalent to "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz. They could simply buy the track and save most of their music budget for a "real" artist that makes "real" music. Nothing against Mr. Cruz, but his is the type of album critics complain has one good songs and 11 tracks of filler. Yet 289,000 Americans with near-infinite choice have purchased "Rokstarr," the album on which "Dynamite" appears.

All of this is a long way of saying pop music and the quest for hit singles isn't destroying the music business. If the record industry survived a year in which "Silly Love Songs" outperformed "Bohemian Rhapsody," it will survive whatever singles-driven artist rules the chart this and any year. Consumers have more power than ever to choose the music they want. So let them choose.

Nielsen: Android Sales Healthy
-- If you follow the smartphone you might have noticed that Android usually beats iPhone handily when Apple isn't releasing a new version of the iPhone. Nielsen found that Android had a healthy head in ownership and recent purchases. Android's share of the U.S. smartphone market stood at 51.8% and its share of acquisitions (in the last three months) was 54.6%. iPhone was 34.3% overall and 36.3% in recent acquisitions, respectively. Consumer interest in BlackBerry clearly continues to wane: BlackBerry has 8.1% of the U.S. smartphone market but just 4% of recent acquisitions.
( NielsenWire)