There are winners and losers in pop’s attention economy, but most acts fall into the latter category
Artists are lucky if they get a burst of attention the week of release before our attention wanders
Beyoncé’s Lemonade may have dominated 2016’s discourse, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 2017 release with such an impact. Photograph: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
With six months of the year gone, there are plenty of best-albums-of-the-year-so-far lists around to gauge the current lie of the land. Looking through them, one thing is clear: plenty of major releases came and went quickly.
Artists are lucky if they get a burst of attention the week of release before our attention wanders elsewhere. Beyoncé’s Lemonade may have dominated 2016’s discourse, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 2017 release with such an impact.
For example, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn hasn’t had the same momentum as To Pimp A Butterfly. Jay-Z stymied his chances of making a splash with 4:44 by initially curtailing its release to failing streaming service Tidal.
Lorde may have returned with a bang in the shape of Melodrama but she’s lucky if anyone is still talking about her a few months after release. We really are on to the next one before you know where you are.
Add those surprise album releases into the mix and you’ve another reason why pop’s attention economy is so skewered. I interviewed Jack Garratt last year about his debut album and he was concerned about the possibility of James Blake and Frank Ocean putting out surprise releases that could have clashed with his record.
Three months later, Blake brought his own album forward a week to avoid going head-to-head for attention with Beyoncé. A week after Lemonade appeared and sucked up all the promo oxygen in the room, Radiohead stuck out A Moon Shaped Pool and everyone went off in that direction.
Like with everything else in the new music industry, it’s the established headline acts who are the winners in pop’s attention economy. It’s far easier for everyone to write and talk about Radiohead’s new album, for example, because they know the band’s history.
It’s harder to devote the time to finding out about and writing about a new band’s debut or second release. So you have an increasing number of albums that are released and sink without trace because something from one of the more established acts came along, attracted everyone’s attention and few people spent the time required to decipher the new act’s work.
Over-supply is also a factor. There is only so much bandwidth, time and space to process all of these releases. The superfans and the BeyHive will go all in on a new album as soon as it appears, but it’s a different matter for the vast majority of music fans.
While the kind of massive choice a streaming platform such as Spotify offers is a godsend for many of us, it can bamboozle and baffle the less committed. No wonder they take refuge in the safe music of their youth and/or Kings of Leon.
On the positive side, all of this choice means that the dominance of old has been destroyed once and for all (bar Beyoncé). Suddenly, it’s all up for grabs and the surprise hits (which still occur, as we saw last year with Christine & The Queens) can come from anywhere. That can only be a good thing.
FÓGRA: This is my final column for The Ticket. Thanks to all the editors who’ve put up with me for the last 850 issues and the sub-editors who’ve ensured it all makes sense. Biggest thanks of all to you, the readers, for keeping the faith and letting me know what you liked and didn’t like about On the Record and its previous incarnations. I’ll see you down the road.