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The rise of the 'pop posse cut'

Signal of change / The rise of the 'pop posse cut'

By David Finnigan / 22 May 2018

In 2017, producer Calvin Harris released Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1, an album which drew attention partly for the sheer number of celebrity appearances (21!). Almost every song has at two or three guest features.

In 2005, Chris Anderson wrote a book called The Long Tail. In it, he argued that the internet would shift the focus of the pop music industry away from big hits, and towards the 'long tail' - artists with small followings. Because the internet means fans can have direct access to the music they love, there'll be less emphasis on a few huge stars and more room for a broader field of artists operating in their own smaller niches.

That hasn't happened: 13 years after Anderson's book, a greater share of the profits in the music industry is going to a smaller number number of artists. Last year, 77% of the profits in the music business were accumulated by 1% of the artists.Even with access to a constantly expanding field of musicians, the big hits are bigger than ever. The situation is increasingly winner-take-all.

With so much at stake, producers and managers are stacking the odds in their favour with what Stereogum writer Chris DeVille describes as 'pop posse cuts' - three, four or five artists piling onto a single track like a superhero team-up. 


So what?

The rationale for record labels and producers is simple cross-marketing. In an industry where there's no room for anything but smash hits, it's tempting to just keep piling on artists in the hope that audiences will recognise at least one of them.

What's interesting is that it moves pop songs away from being stand-alone pieces of music. Increasingly, a pop song functions as an advertisement, referencing and linking you to related songs and artists - similarly to the way that the Marvel comic book films have been described as ads for other films in the series.

What does it mean when cultural items like songs and films no longer function as stand-alone experiences, but operate as nodes connecting you to countless other artists, products and events?

It points to a future in which we don't experience music (or any other cultural form) on a song by song basis, but as a heavily hyperlinked experience, where every chorus, hook and verse invites you to jump to related content. The question is, who decides the journey?


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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