You’re only paranoid if it isn’t true.
The inner-workings of the music industry are so complex and opaque that they can make the government look like a beacon of transparency; just imagine what the CIA could think up if it was under intense pressure to produce a number one Justin Bieber single.
Predictably then, the music industry has proven to be fertile ground for all sorts of conspiracy theories, and without exaggeration we live in the most globally paranoid era in human history. There are over 6 million videos about the Illuminati on YouTube alone, many of which have likely been produced by the Illuminati themselves in an attempt to help fund the new world order with YouTube ad revenue.
While the jury’s still out on whether or not there really is a secret society bent on controlling the world through Beyonce dance moves, there are some music conspiracy theories that we can easily write off as only truly believed by the most black helicopter minded among us.
- Paul McCartney is dead: Spoiler alert, Paul McCartney was not dead.
- Celebrity Clone Replacements: A hidden cloning center run by lizard people whose entrance is at the North Pole has been secretly replacing celebrities with clones. Likely clone candidates include Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Chris Brown, Andrew W.K., Kris Kristofferson and many more. Noted believers in the clone conspiracy include B.o.B.. Noted non-believers include just about everyone else.
- Stevie Wonder is not actually blind: The problem with pretending to be blind is that once you start you have to continue throughout the course of your decades long career. Or, alternately, Stevie Wonder really is blind. It’s an either/or situation.
And that’s just scratching the surface. I haven’t even touched on the Michael Jackson’s death as a means to end the Iranian Revolution, the C.I.A.’s murder of John Lennon or the Elvis and Tupac’s secret hideout, but while those might be good for internet fodder, there are some music industry conspiracies that are completely, verifiably, absolutely true, and there are some valuable lessons to be learned in them; namely, that Industry Rule #4080 is in effect at all times.
So let’s take a trip down the rabbit hole, no tinfoil headwear needed.
Mainstream Radio Made Iggy Azalea Famous
The first three singles that Iggy Azalea released in the lead up to her major label debut album - “Work,” “Bounce” & “Change Your Life” - all performed reasonably well but didn’t provide any real indication that the young Aussie was on the cusp verge of superstardom.
And then Clear Channel stepped in.
The largest radio group in the U.S. with over 800 stations and over about 200 million listeners per month, Clear Channel execs decided to launch a program they called “On The Verge,” in which they’d select a song and then mandate that each station in their network play that song at least 150 times over at least a six week span.
Why 150 times? According to their research that’s the minimal amount of times a song needed to be repeated in order to hook a significant listener base and thanks to “On the Verge” America was soon hooked on “Fancy.” The song propelled Iggy to her first number one single, generating a wave that she rode throughout a summer when she suddenly seemed inescapable. Whether or not Iggy would have succeeded without a push from Clear Channel is a question we’ll have to leave up to philosophers, but it’s safe to say that, at the very least, she wouldn’t have become as famous as quickly without “On the Verge.”
The Takeaway: You’re not paranoid or bitter, mainstream radio really does play the same song over and over again until it buries itself inside your brain.
The Streaming Wars Go Covert
Traditional radio aren’t the only ones making behind-the-scenes maneuvers.
Recent reports have alleged that Spotify intentionally overlooks music that has been first exclusively released with their direct competitors Apple Music and Tidal, systematically keeping that music off their hugely popular playlists - which like “On the Verge” now have the ability to make or break careers - and burying them in search results.
For its part Spotify has denied manipulating search results although didn’t respond to the allegations of playlist exclusion, and reports from artists, managers and labels have supported the claim, with many reporting that they’ve cancelled appearances on Beats 1 radio, part of Apple Music, in fear of incurring the wrath of Spotify.
The war is far from one-sided. Apple’s fought off allegations that it unfairly refused to include Spotify’s most recent update to its app in the Apple App Store, and as long as we’re here, it’s worth mentioning that Apple’s recent decision to kill the headphone jack in future iPhones comes with its own conspiracy.
Headphones and ear buds were only dumb conduits of sound, but the wireless Lightning-empowered headphones will be smart enough to register the source of the audio, technically enabling Apple to cut off any source of audio that it chooses - like, say, for example, a rival streaming service.
The Takeaway: Massive companies are predictably using every tool in their arsenal to win the cutthroat streaming wars, hurting fans and smaller artists in the process. Drake’s popular enough to demand special treatment from Spotify regardless of his Apple Music ties, but smaller artists could be forced into an either/or situation, giving them another maze of musical politics to navigate on their way to simply getting their music to the people.
Major Labels Are Secretly Signing Artists Who Continue to Pretend to be Indie
As I’ve written previously, the thinking goes something like this.
An independent artist builds a significant fan base who become invested not just in the music but grow to feel like they’re a direct part of that artist’s authentic, grassroots success. They buy two copies of every album because they think they’re supporting their hero-artist-friend directly, not some massive corporation. The artist’s success is their success, the artist’s struggles are their struggles.
An artist capable of generating that kind of powerful relationship with their fans is exactty the kind of artist a major label would want to sign, but why risk ruining that already successful “indie” dynamic?
So instead major labels have been secretly signing artists, providing them with budget resources and backing while the label and artist keeps that arrangement completely under wraps - from the outside their continued fast-rise appears to still be completely organic.
It’s a strategy that likely began far earlier but first came to the light about three year ago, the first wave of artists including now established, openly signed stars like Logic, Young Thug and Kevin Gates and has continued to include Bryson Tiller (signed to RCA long before it was announced), Kehlani (signed to Atlantic long before it was announced) and D.R.A.M., who is also signed to Atlantic although you’d be hard pressed to find that information listed anywhere in his music.
The Takeaway: If you’re looking for music-related paranoia, you’ve found it. The next time an “indie” artist explodes seemingly out of nowhere with a viral hit, it’s worth wondering just how truly indie they are.
MF DOOM & Performance Imposters
Those other examples were more large-scale, but let’s close out by honing in one specific artists.
While the clone-replacement set believes that the music industry is rife with artists who are not actually themselves, there are a few real world examples.
DOOM (aka MF DOOM, aka Metal Face) has maintained an unwavering devotion to his donning his metal mask in public, and in the past few years he’s apparently realized that his commitment to hiding his face would allow him to “perform” on stages across the world from the comfort of his own couch. Debate has ensued around whether stand-in performances rips fans off who presumably paid to see the “real” DOOM or is a natural extension of his anonymous ethos, but there’s no doubt that DOOM’s pulled off the bait and switch move several times now.
DOOM’s a remarkable example of artist performing with alternate identities, but not the most remarkable. That honor would belong to the story of JT Leroy, whose reach crossed literature, movies, TV and music.
In the early ‘90s JT Leroy became an overnight sensation, a seemingly teenage boy with a deeply troubled background who was also an astounding writer. Leroy was quickly befriended by a host of celebrities, from Bono to Courtney Love, Madonna to Billy Corrigan and beyond, but in reality Leroy didn’t exist at all - not in any usual sense. The author or those books was actually Laura Albert, who recruited a friend, Savannah, to pretend to be LeRoy in public, with Albert posing as his assistant/manager, Speedie, a guise that lasted for over a year until Albert was outed.
Many have tried to reduce the story to a mere hoax or scam, but according to Albert, Leroy was an extension of her, a “real” person that she was channeling. It’s a story that’s confusing and fascinating and by all accounts one of the most prolific and bizzarre conspiracies to ever be carried out in the world of music and entertainment.
The Takeaway: Your favorite artist may not be your favorite artist at all.
Again, these examples are only scratching the surface. The Monkees became massive successes while not playing their own instruments, which was mirrored by Milli Vanilli’s GRAMMY-winning lip synching success decades later and folds into recent debates around the use of ghostwriters.
Labels have been caught buying back their own records to boost chart positions, and in more modern times have set up a barrage computers to endlessly stream select music and boost numbers.
So the next time you’re tempted to launch into a rabbit hole investigation of the Illuminati’s influence as revealed through Taylor Swift lyrics, remember, there are more than enough real world music conspiricies floating out there to keep the interested occupied for decades. Just remember, in your search for the truth, trust no one, even me.
[By Nathan Slavik, aka @RefinedHype]