WTFN: Are Superstars Sucking All of the Air Out of the (Listening) Room?

It feels like there is never a week that goes by without a new song or album coming out from one of the top stars in the business. Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Drake, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande. There are simple a handful of major stars, most in the pop/R&B/rap space, who consistently debut songs in the Top 10 of Billboard’s charts and albums go right to number one. And when these artists have a project drop, sympathies to any other artists releasing music that same day.

Obviously, there have always been music superstars and there always will be, but what’s changed is the frequency in which these stars release new music. In the current age of streaming, artists are encouraged to release music CONSTANTLY, or else risk losing relevance and the love of algorithms on all platforms. Due to this, we are constantly being inundated by new music from the top recording artists out there. To fans of those artists, it’s wonderful – they never have to wait more than a years (it seems) before getting new music to listen to.

My first question: is this healthy for artists? Rihanna can’t go anywhere without being questioned and pushed about releasing new music (but she did give fans a respite last year with two new tracks on the WAKANDA FOREVER soundtrack). If an artist isn’t feeling creatively inspired, they have to deal with the fear of falling out of the zeitgeist if they don’t keep making music, or released half-baked new tunes that don’t truly reflect them or the art they want to make. So obviously, unless you’re Taylor Swift and just have an endless flow of creative inspiration dripping out of your pores, I’d say this is certainly damaging to the mental health of any artist.

But here’s my big question: Is the constant release of new music by this small handful of superstars hurting the chances of newer artists from being discovered and achieving the same level of success as these other big time artists? People only have so much listening time in their daily lives; so when Harry Styles drops his latest album, is it more likely a young fan is going to listen to his new album along with sampling music from some artists they haven’t heard of, or will they just stream Harry’s new album 100x? Look sat the streaming numbers of Harry’s House and you’ll have your answer. Even established artists like Arctic Monkeys, who have a number of songs that have passed the 1 billion mark on Spotify, couldn’t hope to get as much listening time from fans when Swift’s Midnights was dropped on the same day.

As I write this, the Billboard Top 10 is made up of Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, SZA, Metro Boomin, Sam Smith & Kim Petras, David Guetta & Bebe Rexha, The Weeknd, Morgan Wallen, Beyonce and PinkPantheress & Ice Spice. Almost all of these artists have previously spent time in the Top 10, with the exception of PinkPantheress & Ice Spice who are enjoying their very first major hit. Of course, streaming isn’t the only barometer for what makes up the Top 10 – radio play still plays a part, but we all know by now that radio playlist space is limited, and stations are far more likely to add in tracks by tried & true stars than taking a shot with adding in up-and-coming acts into their playlists. And especially in the Top 40 space, the most influential format, the competition for airtime is brutal.

My argument would be that because of the consistent release schedule of major artists, less new artists are being discovered and receiving the type of attention/streams/sales/airplay they could get if the big guns weren’t always there. That’s not to say that there have been no new faces to rise up in the last few years; Olivia Rodrigo launched herself into the stratosphere, Bad Bunny has become an unstoppable Latin force, Steve Lacey is a major talent finally crossing over into the mainstream, Zach Bryan has become one of the best and freshest artists in the country space in ages, and while rock still struggles, Maneskin have manages to dent the charts enough to get the genre some attention again. It’s not impossible for new artists to blow up – just maybe a bit harder to stay at the top.

TikTok has also helped democratize things by letting music fans have more control over what tracks achieve virality, and in turn, get pushed into the mainstream. This has had some surprising results, catapulting older songs back into the Top 100, and helping some indie artists achieve gold records without getting radio play, press coverage or spots on major festivals.

So what if we had a year where NONE of the big music superstars released new music. Not a single song. And no touring. Do you think fans would seek out new artists, or dive into more classic catalogues? Or would they just keep streaming the same hits from the year before until new songs came along from those artists? Would radio become more adventurous and look for new hits, or just keep their golden hits in recurrent rotation? Would people go out to see more small shows since there wouldn’t be any massive $200/ticket concerts to go broke from?

Look at your own listening habits: when a month goes by with no new music from your favorite artists, are you more apt to go back to older releases you loved, or give a spin to a new artist or album you haven’t listened to before?

None of the above is an attack on the major artists; If they have the desire to create and release new art, they are allowed to. And there’s no faulting their fans from eating up whatever they release. But would other artists have a better chance of reaching a larger audience if they weren’t constantly competing with new releases from superstars? Food for thought. You can see Spotify’s Daily Top 50 Playlist below to get a sense of the music being streamed the most daily:


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