I feel duped.
I went on Spotify to check out the US Top 50. I knew the song we heard in our Uber the other night would be in the playlist, but I couldn’t find it.
I had a feeling the song’s title would be obvious, and that it wouldn’t be by an artist I’ve heard of before. Turns out I would be spot-on with my first feeling, dead wrong with the second, but I wouldn’t find that out just yet…
I glazed over all of the names in the list: Drake, Rihanna, Adele, et al. None of those could possibly be the artist whose song I’m thinking of.
You’ve probably heard it. Because it’s everywhere. Pop dominates right now, and nothing will change that overnight.
“Baby, this is what you came for
Lightning strikes every time she moves
And everybody’s watching her
But she’s looking at
It’s catchy as hell! But I didn’t see it in the list, or at least, I didn’t think I saw it.
So I clicked instead over to the Discover Weekly playlist, and after 30 seconds or so of the first track, I skipped to the next…
“She’s Looking at You” by Everything But You.
There it was! The song I was looking for!
But…not exactly. The words were the same, as was the tempo. But it was in a different key, and the “you-ou—you-ou—ou-ou” wasn’t as chopped up as what I had heard over and over again.
So I Googled the song and what came up??
“This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris, featuring Rihanna.
And that’s when my adrenaline spiked.
I first heard this song in May, once I had finished reading The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook, and the day after I saw Drake host and perform on Saturday Night Live. I spent that Sunday listening to all 50 songs in the US Top 50 in order to immerse myself in what the current mainstream culture is listening to these days on the most widely-used streaming site.
I navigated back to the list and sure enough, there it was, sitting at #4 with 852,388 daily plays.
Understand: there are no bands in the US Top 50 on Spotify.
Playing the song got me even more upset. Because even though the original song by Everything But You employs the use of AutoTune (most professional productions these days do) at least the singer is close. And the Rihanna version is positively dripping with AT.
Because she can’t sing. At least not like Whitney Houston, or Mariah Carey, or Adele, or even Maya Rudolph. Rihanna’s talent is looking good, playing the part of pop queen, being an identity for a global brand, and recording songs crafted for her by others. And she knows it.
According to Seabrook, at an impromptu audition in front of a major label songwriter vacationing in Barbados, a young girl named Robyn Fenty arrived wicked late, and her singing was very pitchy. She was part of a three-girl group of wannabe pop stars, of which one had a mom who was friends with the songwriter’s wife.
But she was late because she was taking time to perfect her outfit and her makeup. And it paid off, when the songwriter offered her an opportunity to come live with him in New York and make a demo record. He didn’t care for the group, but thought, with the right polishing, he could make Robyn a star.
Fenty was desperate to escape an abusive father in her home in Barbados, and essentially said “I’ll do anything you want, I’ll sign anything, just get me out of here.”
Fast-forward to today, and she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, going by her middle name: Rihanna.
So when I found out that the song which is permeating the airwaves of radio, streaming, and TV (I distinctly remember hearing the song at a commercial cutaway during the NBA Finals) is, in fact, a complete sampling and remix of another song, performed by a fabricated pop star, I got pissed off.
You see, unless you are already commanding a great deal of attention, it’s incredibly difficult to break into today’s mainstream consciousness.
Music is not the only industry for which this is true: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both been in the public eye for around thirty years, and Bernie Sanders was a relatively unknown senator less than a year ago. Now, at the last minute, we’re being introduced to Gary Johnson and Jill Stein as viable options.
Too little, too late — the public is going to vote for who they know, and they don’t know these third-party candidates the way (they think) they know Trump and Clinton.
And the public is going to listen to Rihanna, not Everything But You.
Because it’s much easier for a record label to take a good song from a new or up-and-coming artist and repurpose it for one of their already-successful stars, than it is to spend time and money nurturing and growing that up-and-comer’s budding career. Labels want sure things, not what-ifs.
The 1970s are gone. And so is the record labels’ way of doing business back then, when artists would be signed to development deals, with the understanding that the first album may not reach the public consciousness, but over time, as their talent was honed and their fan base grew, their catalogue of work would create an impact, and therefore, sales.
Today, if an artist doesn’t sell right out of the gate, if they don’t make an immediate and measurable impact, they are cut. Done-zo. The bottom line is the most important priority in deciding what music to release, and labels can’t afford, in this freemium culture, to take a chance on an unknown. There’s too much to lose.
More and more, even as the world becomes super-connected through the internet, we are identifying with individuals. People to whom we can relate, who share the same struggles as we do.
And sadly, too many females can relate to getting the crap beat out of them by their boyfriend. But most of them don’t end up getting their own line of perfume.
I’ll still listen to the song, but I hate that it’s Rihanna and not the original artist.
And I’ll still vote for the Democratic Party presidential nominee, but I hate that it’s Hillary and not Bernie.
Baby, this is NOT what I came for.
“She’s Looking at You”: https://open.spotify.com/track/6skvUcjOmyE5ADFDW7St6z
“This Is What You Came For”: https://open.spotify.com/track/0azC730Exh71aQlOt9Zj3y