Clout Privilege in the Music Industry: Who is Responsible?
If you have a TikTok account, or the slightest degree of pop culture knowledge, then surely the name “D’Amelio” rings a bell. Charli D’Amelio is a 16-year-old dancer and social media influencer with over 100 million followers on TikTok. Her sudden rise to internet stardom paved the way for her family in the public eye. There is no doubt that Charli is a great dancer with an even greater online personality — around 100 million people would agree — but what does that mean for the older sibling who was launched into fame by association?
Apparently, it means becoming a signed artist within a matter of months.
The other day, I was scrolling through my TikTok feed, and as it does, my FYP (“For You” page) presented something that overwhelmed my brain with too many thoughts: Dixie D’Amelio has more monthly listeners on Spotify than Phoebe Bridgers, UMI, Remi Wolf, Cuco, and other notable artists who have made huge strides in the industry these last couple of years. Popularity is not as important as substance and sustenance, and perhaps I was shocked because these are all artists I listen to. But this raises the question of internet clout and privilege in the music industry. Are labels prioritizing the wrong acts? Or is it a smart business move to sign an artist when they’re an established, relevant personality?
“Clout privilege” exists in the industry, and this isn’t anything new. Growing up in the early 2000s, I witnessed Disney’s attempt at turning each child actor into a singer, and once the 2010s came around, I noticed that several Viners had decided to transition from six-second vlogs to recorded songs. (Seriously — the amount of Genius interviews with individuals who I only ever knew as Viners is insane.)
This isn’t to say that D’Amelio is not deserving of her fame — perhaps making music was an interest that she now exploring with the help of new opportunities and resources. I am not one to critique the successful career of a 19-year-old; I am interested in exploring and questioning the viral acts that the industry is seeking out. Artists with internet fame are receiving more praise and exposure than artistically developed artists, so what exactly does this say about the music industry?
The longevity of an artist’s career, as well as their merit and originality, are more important than numbers brought upon by a viral moment. Think about it: would you rather have 100 loyal fans willing to fill an intimate venue and buy merchandise, or 10,000 followers who aren’t guaranteed to fill seats? How does one achieve a sold-out show or merchandise sales? Merit and originality. (And good design skills). This is where influencer-turned-artists fall short: their music is not that great and they are just as new to their “artist story” as their fans are.
Nowadays more than ever, fans have the ability to make or break an artist, so it is important that artists build a personal connection with their fan base. It’s no secret that a label will be attracted to an artist with loads of fans, such as D’Amelio and her millions of followers. D’Amelio’s team is operating under the assumption that a portion of the fans are loyal enough to follow her career from TikTok over to DSPs, and eventually, live performance venues. D’Amelio has nearly 49 million followers on TikTok and around 8 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Both are grand amounts for their respective industries, but in hindsight, only a small fraction of her fans are loyal enough to support her on multiple platforms. Obviously, 8 million is still a huge accomplishment, but I am not hopeful that D’Amelio’s career as an artist is a lasting one — at least, at this point in time — solely based on her manufactured musicality and originality.
While the ethics involved are questionable, it does make sense to pursue an artist during the peak of their virality and make the most of the internet clout while it lasts; however, artists and labels need to be wise. Artists should take the time to create music and a story that will propel them further than the label of a one-hit internet wonder. Can you name one PSY song that isn’t “Gangnam Style?” Labels have a history of signing “viral” artists assuming that these acts will be defined by more than their internet fame — i.e. Mason Ramsey — but oftentimes these artists remain known as “The Walmart yodel kid” or “That girl from TikTok.”
The video that sparked the idea for this article is an argument about unfairness rooted in the number of monthly listeners certain artists have in relation to others. Perhaps the conversation isn’t entirely reflective of labels or the industry after all, but rather a culture that chooses to make certain people famous. D’Amelio’s listeners could be indicative of a society that cares more about art produced by viral and relatable personalities than actual, established singers who are passionate about their craft. Then again, who’s to say that D’Amelio is not a passionate artist? D’Amelio’s demographic is predominantly younger individuals who are familiar with her online persona. Meanwhile, listeners of artists like UMI might have a more creatively informed approach when it comes to their musical preferences. Ultimately, there are markets for both types of artists, but one side seemingly offers more potential.
It is my hope that certain industry folks scope beyond what’s currently popular and seek out more of what is going to be popular. Certainly, fans play a big role in who will be the “next big thing,” but it doesn’t seem fair to passionate artists with no-skip records that an individual with a formulaic single and internet clout is given the majority of the attention. While situations like these simultaneously do and do not make a whole lot of sense, the aforementioned artists are curating their own special and well-deserved routes to success.