So, Olivia Rodrigo is a big deal now.
So I was going about my business one these days, scrolling through twitter and I saw a tweet, I forget who from, with the caption “what we’re listening to now” (or something like that).
It was a picture of a woman with her arms crossed, looking as uninterested as she could manage, with a whole bunch of stickers(?) plastered on her forehead, cheeks and four on her tongue that spelt out “SOUR”. I could tell it was an album cover because it had the “Parental Advisory” disclaimer at the corner of the image.
For me, seeing this, it was one of those moments when I didn’t know I’d been seeing it until I saw it. All of a sudden I remember seeing the image somewhere in the thumbnails of recommended YouTube videos, suddenly I remember seeing it in the corner of my eye on the Genius App when I came in to check the lyrics of something. Now, I’m thinking “what’s all the fuss about?”.
I crack open the Genius app and, sure enough, her face is there and they’re talking about why Taylor Swift has a writing credit on one of the songs from her new album. Now, I was pretty sure it was a Pop album before but that left no more doubt in my mind. I didn’t bother to read the article on Genius about a song I didn’t know on an album I hadn’t heard yet by an artist I also didn’t know and its relation to another song I probably wasn’t too familiar with. However, what I did get from that was that the album was new and the vibe in general is that it’s a new artist coming through with her debut album.
I typically like this type of stuff, you know? getting to experience an artist’s debut album and all that. So I went in blind (especially as Anthony Fantano hadn’t dropped the video on it yet) and while I was listening to it, the song “driver’s license” came on. When I hit the chorus I thought “Oh! This is that TikTok song. She’s the one that sang the TikTok song”.
At that point all the pieces fell into place in my head. I listened to the rest of the album and I thought it was great, especially cos it’s her debut album. It is brimming with teenage energy, every song has its genuine highlights. Its main themes are the topsy-turvy, uncaring and often wicked nature of young love and even if you’re not in that emotional space you can always take a seat and enjoy some of the impressive vocal performances.
However, the album itself is doing very well, streaming wise. Like historically well, having reportedly surpassed Drake’s “Scorpion” earning the biggest second week streams for an album by any album in Spotify history logging over 321 million (?!) streams.
Now a lot of people seem to have seen this and found a way to multiply 2 by 2 and come up with 5.
If you don’t know, Aubrey “Drake” Graham is one of the most popular and successful artists of the last decade. His worldwide appeal, his superstar personality and his ability to churn out unreal stats every time on every single project is the type of stuff that puts him at the very top and very recently won him a billboard award for artist of the decade.
Now, taking Olivia’s new stats into consideration, the fact that she seems to be sliding on Drake’s level like that has a lot of people shook. “Does this mean that she’s a bigger artist than he is” they think, subconsciously, because that’s the very same line of argument they use when comparing Drake to other artists because surely being able to put up bigger streaming numbers has to mean he is a bigger and better (?) artist than whoever else. (Kids, financial success does not equal artistic validation)
So this kind of internal conflict leads to a reaction. ‘What if we could just reject the cold hard stats?’ Thus, we have the Industry Plant Theory.
I mean, a theory that allows people to ignore the actual reality of the figures in a way that blames big businesses? It’s beautiful. It is, by and large, a way for people to be calm in the knowledge that their fave isn’t putting as much numbers as someone that isn’t their fave or someone they don’t know at all. A way for people to be calm despite the knowledge that Kendrick Lamar doesn’t have as many monthly listeners as The Kid LAROI (I’m not making this up).
I’m not gonna talk about the plant theory just yet because it has no back or front and it doesn’t make too much sense if you think about it. There are simpler version of the same sentiment like some guy is getting bots to stream his stuff and padding his numbers that way. That makes sense, that’s simple.
But let’s forget about all this and strip all the BS away. We’re talking about getting streams, right? So let’s talk about streams. The thing with this and most other urban legends is the answer is usually quite simple. For example, why does James Harden get all these foul calls? why is Olivia Rodrigo putting up all these numbers?
(a) because he gets fouled, a lot.
(b) because she’s getting bare spins.
It’s that simple.
Remember when I said “all the pieces fell into place in my head”? That’s because she’s the one who sang the TikTok song. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how powerful TikTok really is.
Just doing a bit of research, TikTok’s app has been downloaded over 2 billion times, was the most downloaded app in 2020, has about 700 million active users worldwide and is the 7th most used social network. These numbers are merely and probably should be much higher, but let’s use them. These would have it at higher than Twitter and Snapchat in usage but lower than Instagram and YouTube. That doesn’t seem like such a huge deal, but here’s why it is.
Unlike a lot of other, arguably more popular, social media outlets, TikTok damn near encourages you to tack on popular songs to your videos with no copyright infringement repercussions. What this means is that there’s a lot of music playing on the app. The way content creation works on the app is that these songs end up being attached to some trend, whether it’s dancing or some types of jokes. It’s not difficult to find a lot of videos in the same trend and just like that, the song is all the way exposed. Now the song is getting spins, now it’s getting chart positions and careers are getting made.
“The TikTok song” is not a position that Olivia Rodrigo created, mind you. Just recently Lizzo was put on by a complex web of factors that involved a TikTok challenge with her song “Truth Hurts” and now she’s a multiple Grammy Award winning artist. SAINt jHN’s “Roses (Imanbek Remix)” was a TikTok favorite and has now won a Grammy Award. You know why that is? Because besides all the extra around it, the music is good.
Olivia Rodrigo is a trained vocalist, a competent songwriter, an emotive performer, already a part of the entertainment industry (because she is an actor) and someone who, fundamentally, looks the part. She’s bound to do numbers guys, c’mon.
Now, it seems like people are quick to call an artist an industry plant when their rise doesn’t follow the traditional curve of talent + exposure + opportunity as they have come to know it. When they don’t feel like audiences have had a genuine connection to these acts before their meteoric rise to stardom. However, they don’t appreciate that TikTok and social media in general have effectively flattened that curve, streamlined it, evolved it or whatever. And still, this doesn’t mean that the very same principles aren’t still very much at play.
Sometimes it’s Kylie Jenner randomly posting a snap with Khalid’s “Location” playing in the background and now he’s got multiple Grammy noms or it’s TikTok challenges that launch the artist into the public consciousness. In all of those circumstances, there is evidence of talent, exposure and the resulting opportunity.
Stating that someone like Olivia’s place as an actor would lend her certain advantages over some other up and coming acts is probably a very viable argument that bears proper consideration. However, as an artist, even though it could seem like this doesn’t feel as organic as the traditional process of an artist’s discovery and upward progression, there isn’t a trick to it. she’s talented and she’s experienced some proper exposure.
Add that to the fact that she took advantage of the opportunity and made good on her promise of an album while her name was hot (which is exactly the way to do things) and she’s the biggest thing in music. People are listening and the numbers will reflect that.
Talent, exposure, opportunity.
One of my problems with the “Plant” tag is the fact that this brand seems to be slung around on basis that are intentionally insulting to the artists themselves.
It would seem like people find it much easier to call an artist a Plant if the quality of music (production-wise) is good or creative. This is the only logic I can come to for people trying to brand Khalid a “Plant”.
It also seemed to me that people branded Raury an “Industry Plant” simply because his “Indigo Child” was just too damn good to be his first project (If you haven’t, listen to “God’s Whisper” and don’t ever come down).
I find this all to be very, very weird.
“SOUR” is such a well produced debut project.
However, I think in this case the perception issue stems from the fact that Drake has been brought into the conversation just as a yard stick for the success of the album’s release thus far. And this tells me a lot about Drake.
As I’ve already said, Drake is one of the most successful artists of the past couple of years and one of the most successful to have ever done it. He has also had a huge hand in making Rap a much more popular genre of music because of his dominance on the charts and the inevitable trickle - down effect.
It’s not rocket science, though. He has been able to put up these numbers due in large part to the fact that he has no problem borrowing from the Pop music sound on a number of his more recent tracks.
Songs like “In My Feelings”, “Nice For What” and “One Dance” (or most of what turned out to be Drake’s Views From The Six album) feature heavy Pop and Dancehall influences and cannot be, honestly, referred to as Rap music and they’re some of his biggest tracks ever. You add all that to his ridiculously large fanbase and that superstar personality I mentioned earlier and you have a recipe to destroy billboard records at will,
and boy does he destroy them.
His dominance in that aspect is so expected and consistent that we kinda just pretend like it doesn’t happen or it doesn’t matter like that, it’s so inevitable. So, like I’ve already mentioned, the fact that somebody they don’t even know like that is sliding on his level has a lot of people going through it. However, there’s a fundamental problem here…
Drake is a Rap artist.
I know a lot of people don’t quite feel that way right now (myself included a little) and Drake himself would never want to be pigeon - holed but that’s the fact, if we’re being real.
At the very base, he’s a Rap artist that appeals to a Rap audience (and then so much more). Meanwhile, this is what Pop music does, dominating charts and putting up numbers. This is their element. Add that to the fact that Drake’s “Scorpion”, even according to some of his most overzealous fans, is not his best work, the fact that people expect Drake, with this, to favorably go blow for blow with what is a veritable Pop SENSATION, is proof of just how much of a force of nature this man has become.
But let me calm you all down, it’s not Drake vs Olivia Rodrigo.
Calm down, take some water.
We’re dealing with a supremely talented singer-songwriter who has dropped an entertaining, emotional, cautiously experimental and well produced album after one of her singles blew up and is rightfully getting the plays she deserves. It may not be picture perfect but you might wanna get used to it. There’s probably a lot more to come.
Anyway, listen to “favorite crime” and “deja vu” off the album (that part in “deja vu” where she asks her ex if he almost says her name when he’s calling his new girl is lowkey gangsta lol).
*spongebob exit theme plays*