We've Passed Peak Pop Star


In recent Decline of the West news, record sales have fallen off a cliff.
Record sales are being touted these days as on a comeback. All you hear is: streaming will save us.
But things are pretty dire. For example, Justin Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods,” touted so highly on the Super Bowl and a hit in its first week, has been a total sales stiff. As of this week, “MoW” has sold just 285,000 copies.
Contrast this with Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience,” which was the best selling album of 2013 with 2.5 million copies. (Luckily, Justin had a smash single last year with “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”)
Even worse: U2’s “Songs of Experience” has taught us nothing. It had great songs, like Timberlake, but they didn’t save the situation. “Songs” has sold just 250,000 copies total. Remember U2? Their sales used to be huge.
 As a matter of fact, I remember U2 quite well. Regular readers of this blog are aware that I was quite the fan of the Larry Mullen Band in my day.

Friedman's article connects a number of dots scattered among multiple posts on this blog. Take this one, for example, which explains why there will never be another Biggest Band in the World. U2 themselves held that title for decades after inheriting it from The Who with a brief interregnum presided over by The Police. It's fitting that Friedman used them as an example. 250k copies does not a megastar make.

A major red flag that should have alerted everyone to the current pop music decline was that one band dominated the market for so long. There were plenty of contenders for the title over the years. Record label PR, MTV airheads, and sensationalistic trade magazines all assured us that acts like Jesus Jones, Smashing Pumpkins, Live, etc. would be the new face of rock & roll.

To be sure, all of the bands I listed, and many others, achieved some success. But none became the new colossus standing astride the pop landscape. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came within a hair's breadth of the mountaintop, but the whole scene fractured and contracted under their feet. If they'd come along just five years earlier, the outcome may well have been different.

What exactly happened to shatter the former pop music monolith? The Z Man proposes an explanation.
A 15-year old can go on YouTube or Spotify and find fifty versions of the current pop hits, gong back before their parents were born. They can also find stuff from previous eras that was remarkably well done and performed by people with real talent. Justin Timberlake may be very talented as a singer, but no one is confusing him with Frank Sinatra. It’s simply a lot easier for young people to see that pop music is just manufactured pap from Acme Global Corp.
That’s another thing that may be plaguing pop culture in general and pop music in particular. When I was a teen, your music said something about you because you felt a connection to the band. In the sterile transactional world of today, no one feels an attachment to anything, much less the latest pop group. There’s no sense of obligation to buy or  listen to their latest release. Supporting a type of music or a specific act is no longer a part of kid’s identity. The relationship is now as sterile as society.
The Z Man has hit upon something here. But how did it come to this? Read on.
That is the funny thing about pop culture in our Progressive paradise. It is a lot like the pop music of totalitarian paradises of the past. The Soviets manufactured their version of Western pop, but it was never popular. Just as we see at the Super Bowl, comrades can be forced marched to an arena and made to cheer, but no one really liked it. There’s a lot of that today, as every pop star has the exact same Progressive politics and uses their act to proselytize on behalf of the faith. That’s not a coincidence. It is by design.
The specter of message fic looms large over yet another dying industry.

The lesson, as always, is that Progressives can't create. They can only subvert, deconstruct, and mock what came before. And they always do so in the service of their totalitarian ideology. Our current cultural wasteland is the result.
The great philosopher Homer Simpson said, “Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”  There’s a lot of truth to that as per capita music sales peaked in the 70’s and began a decline until CD’s forced everyone to repurchase their music. But that peaked in the late 90’s and there has been a precipitous decline ever since.
Here, Z Man brings us full circle to an epiphany I recently chronicled here: 1997 was the year the music--and Western pop culture in general--died.
Pop music is not art, but like art it does hold a mirror up to society. In the heyday of pop music, the society it reflected was one that was optimistic and happy. Today, the society it reflects is the gray, featureless slurry of multiculturalism and the vinegar drinking scolds who impose it on us. It’s not that it is low quality or offensive. It’s that the music is a lot like the modern parking lot. It is row after row of dreary sameness. Like everything in this age, popular music has the soul of the machine that made it.
The converged manufacturers of Western culture have destroyed the rich patrimony bequeathed to them by past generations. Happily, a new generation of creators are turning back to the great works of the past and finding inspiration to build the pop culture of the future. We can't make it happen without your support!

Move over Dark Tower. There's a new level of fiction in town.
Souldancer - Brian Niemeier


  1. Most pop songs in 2017 were sound effects, drum machines, and speaking. No harmony, no melody, no baseline. Even bands who play actual instruments instead chose this crap. No kidding, sales are down; there's only so many copies of the same song anyone needs.

    1. Earlier today, a buddy gave me the exact same assessment of current pop music that you just did.

    2. Reminder that Thriller sold one million copies A WEEK at its peak. A big hit selling 2.5 million is barely average even for the '90s.


      Thriller was a microcosm of everything '80s at the time from rock to dance to soul to pop. It succeeded because it cast a wide net and yet kept the songwriting compact and focused.

      That is never happening ever again.

  2. Brian,

    I myself haven't bought an album for years. I have downloaded many albums that groups offered freely on their websites. It was great as I came across groups I'd never hear of. I enjoy listening to their music and it's nice to enjoy it again.
    I'm not a fan of Spotify only because if you decide not to renew the subscription, you lose the ability to keep your music.
    In any case music is a lot like books: the musicians will need to market their music/songs. It'll be tough but so much more rewarding.
    The Music industry always struck me as an exploitative fraud. Prince was right: why should musicians slave in the studio while the execs spend the day at the beach with their kids and then drive home to their McMansion on the mountaintop?

  3. I mostly listen to metal (hey, the new Judas Priest album is actually really freaking good!), so I find a lot of these pop music travails amusing. We've been saying this stuff all along - it's just the world was so slow in catching on :) Not that metal doesn't have its own particular problems...

    1. I respect metalheads, but I've never been able to get into metal despite several tries. We just listen to music for different reasons.

    2. Evenescence is pretty metal.

  4. Pinkerton by Weezer took half a decade to reach gold sales and half a million. It was considered a major flop at the time and almost got them dropped from their label if they didn't have a contract. It had no hits or radio play either.

    The album came out in 1996.

    Looks like ejecting all those artists and bands back in the late 90s is coming to bite them in the rear. Manufactured pop grown in a lab isn't working anymore. Momentary gain, long term loss.

    Don't care anymore, though. I can listen to old Gene Vincent tunes and download the new LeveL-1 album on bandcamp. These people have nothing left to offer that people can't get anywhere else.

    1. JD,
      Yeah. The music execs and the agents really look out for the best interest of the artists. NOT!
      It's tragic for the artists on the one hand that they got squeezed like an orange and then dumped but at the same time, the artists can now really look after their own best interests without the agents or execs sucking them dry.
      I look forward to the music industry's demise

    2. Something sinister happened across pop culture in the late 90s, and I'm starting to think it was deliberate.

    3. "Evil" is likely what happened, in many areas of CA and our society. As both Chesterton and Lewis allude, when Evil gets overconfident and begins to over-reach, they often destroy their own plans. The unraveling can happen quite quickly once the lie is unveiled.

    4. There was an interview with Rick Rubin I read years back where he went on about finding new talent, and it was essentially all about image and molding it to fit a uniform image.

      Coming from the ma who produced Licensed to Ill and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, that set off warning bells in my head.

      And well it should. When was the last time he produced anything above competent?

    5. Coming full circle, Rubin produced what was supposed to have been U2's follow up to No Line on the Horizon, but they ended up ditching all the tracks from his sessions and starting over with Songs of Innocence instead.

    6. I wonder if evil became entrenched and like a vampire sucked out the good and the beatutiful.
      I wonder how much the entertainment elites embraced the occult

  5. I think the problem is even more foundational. The era of the pop star, of the movie star, of the famous for being famous celebrity—it's all top down uniculture pushing on every region, and every subculture within the West (and beyond), so there's no true organic, grassroots support for it.

    Plus, there's the fact that they're merely entertainers. Few of whom have the proper humility to honestly realize their proper place in society (I'm always impressed by John C. Wright's take on this when he makes it.) The era of the pop star, the rock star, the movie star, the celebrity who doesn't accomplish anything other than presumably being kind of charming, is a historical anomaly in the first place.

    1. You're on to something, there. The power to anoint the biggest band/movie star/author in the world only existed as long as the record labels, movie studios, and big NY publishers had monopoly power. Now those monopolies are fading.

    2. The music industry has always been a lousy place full of cheats and drunkards, but they were at least competent at their job.

      Their bid to seize and strangle the music world in the late 90s is what led to all that is currently happening. Remember that they were the last to embrace MP3s and downloads because, like Tradpub, they wanted to strangle it in the crib.

      Am I disappointed that there will never be a big band ever again who can unite various disparate groups? Yes. But I made peace with that 20 years ago when the labels chased kids like me away.

      They wanted this outcome and they've gotten it. Good and hard.

    3. Don't forget the coke.

      Good point about MP3s. SONY or Warner Bros. music should have invented the iPod. If I'd told you in the 90s that Apple would be the biggest music retailer in the world, you'd have laughed me out of the room.

    4. Brian
      Sony did in fact have an Mp3 version of the walkman. Unfortunately the founder died and the company reverted to type (i.e. typical Japanese reticence for innovation and it was the founder's pet project)
      Also don't forget how heavyhanded the Mpaa was torwards Napster and the realky insane sue everybody and hos brother for digital musoc downloads
      Like Nokia had the components for the smartphone


  6. Creed had some big success in the 90's and early 2000's.


  7. How does this thesis account Ed Sheeran's staggering sales? Or Taylor Swift's? This seems to be a bit of looking in the wrong place.

    That said, I do agree that there has been a fracturing, but it appears to be more because of the rise of other genres.

    1. It's the rise of other options. You can find hordes of people who have never listened to Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift, or any other pop star, because they aren't interested in major labels and have found indie labels or whole scenes like RetroWave.

      There will never be another Michael Jackson, Madonna, or the Beatles. The major labels don't have the draw or interest in pushing artists who break from the norm, because the labels want the norm they manufactured. This is why pop music is exactly as it was when N*SYNC and Britney Spears first showed up on the scene 20 years ago.

      A lot of us hated that norm, so 20 years of it is a good way to assure we're never coming back.

    2. I've never even heard of Ed Sheeran. Probably not my scene :) Even in the early 90s, the switch to the Soundscan method of tracking sales indicated that there was some disparity between the hype and actual sales of massive stars like Jackson and Madonna.

    3. The rise of other genres, particularly hip hop, did play a central role in the fracturing. The initial decline in record sales in the mid-70s coincides with the rise of hip hop.

      Friedman mentions Taylor Swift as an example of the current drop off. Her current album peaked at 2 million sales--after her previous album sold 5 million.

    4. Taylor Swift's new album is a lot of sound effects, drum machines, and vocal processing.

      Her other stuff was music, ofc this one isn't doing well.

  8. When I first attended college, I entered into an acoustical engineering multi-major program around the turn of the millennium. One of my professors, who worked on a few of Madonna's and MJ's early albums, spent a lot of his time in the masterclass discussing the psychology of music listening. He didn't call it that, but he used terms developed by Erikson, Bandler and Grinder (the guys who developed NLP). It was not so much info about what made good music so much as what gets the average person's attention and what keeps them listening and wanting to hear more or hear it again.

    Now this was when digital had just fully taken over analogue in all forms in the music industry. We discussed that the future of music production was going to be computer software, with my professor even mentioning that pitch correction in a concert would be a real thing within a decade. Being good as a musician was no longer a necessity. It was clear that the future was mostly going to be computers and algorithms making the music with a pretty person being the meat puppet to tie the illusion all together. (Our second major was Computer Science for a reason.)

    He mentioned they had already been doing this charade for a while now, using Madonna as his example. When he worked with her he said she was completely tone deaf. It was painful to hear her sing in the studio. He said they would hire a professional studio singer to sing the songs and then play that recording in Madonna's headphones while she tried to sing and match the pitch (that incident of a studio musician claiming the studio mixed her voice with Madonna's years later makes more sense). Then, since it was analogue, he'd spend 72+ hrs in the studio pitch correcting her errors. "Why was she taken on as a talent if she couldn't sing?", we asked. "Because she was one hell of an entertainer and she was sexy to boot."

    Anyway, pop music is the radio equivalent of the television, which is the visual equivalent of candy. All these do is rot out your body and mind. It's best to just dispense with it.

    1. I knew there was a reason I didn't like Madonna. She was the first to really start that whole trend.

      Thanks for sharing!

    2. I bet these execs look forward to AI, if only to avoid having to a pay a meat puppet to market their electronic noise. Can't tell what's worst, real cone bras or digital ones?

      Anyway, happy to share. The revelations in that class were what lead me to look elsewhere, as I wanted to do acoustical engineering to be a studio engineer, but the future of the industry was clearly software and speaker/amp/mic design. It was obvious then that the first thing that was going to die was the studios due to the software. And Napster was making it clear that the music execs monopoly days were numbered, even if the execs/companies were to win the the lawsuit (which they did). Then Youtube showed up and the writing on the wall was very clear.

      Another fun recollection that might interest you guys: I think it was during a discussion of MJ's song Thriller, the prof had us listen to it and write every sound we heard in the song: MJ's voice, synth: horns, electric bass, etc. Some of us students kept hearing a weird subtle sound that we couldn't identify. When the prof cut the song, he has us list what we heard. He had a smirk on his face when a few of us asked about the odd sound. "It's a cymbal crash, but in reverse. We found in our study that including that sound in the background, just faint enough to be heard, increased the listeners' focus on the song by 23%." (or some percent close to that.)

      They know exactly what they think they know they are doing, and are unaware that they will kill the industry with this managerial approach to music creation.

    3. "I bet these execs look forward to AI, if only to avoid having to a pay a meat puppet to market their electronic noise."

      May their future digital slave-creations rise up and slaughter them whole-sale.

      Sharon Apple may have been bat-shit crazy, but damn could that pile of circuits sing.

    4. Maybe it's worth risking a homicidal vocaloid or two if we get Valkyries.

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