On being popular

Posted on April 22, 2011

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Ah, yes. Being popular. Since I figure that most of you reading this are adults, you’re (hopefully) not really captivated with the idea of being popular like you might have been in your younger days.  But recently I’ve been thinking about how unpopular popular stuff is, and how misleading numbers can be if we don’t really think about them.

Obviously, we live in a different time where we can get most of the music we love for free when we really want to. But it blows my mind to see that while Michael Jackson’s Thriller album sold well over 100 million copies world-wide, Lady Gaga, the self-proclaimed queen of Monsters and the Twitterverse can only muster 32 million fans on Facebook and nearly 10 million on Twitter. (If Facebook and Twitter existed during MJ’s hey day, I wonder how many followers/likes he would have had.)

Of the supposed 500 million people who are active on Facebook, only 32 million have “Liked” Lady Gaga. According to my calculations, that’s between 6 and 7% of the people on Facebook. Of the 300 million people in this country, over 6 million of them have paid to download Lady Gaga’s most popular song, Poker Face. In other words, 2-ish% of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that WAY more than 6 million people listen to Lady Gaga every day. But even if you said that 20 million Americans listen to at least one Lady Gaga song every day (a generous estimate, in my opinion), that’s (ironically) still only 6.666667%  of us.

Is that what passes for popular? Musicians, children, and immature adults are throwing their lives away, worshipping at the altar of popularity so that they can matter to a whopping 10% of the country and .0007% of the world? If I may speak freely, that’s pathetic. Our extreme needs for the attention of others are even worse than I thought.

Sure the pop acts garner huge crowds in sports arenas when they roll through town for one night, but I’d be curious to see an A-list pop artist set up shop in a city like Denver (not too big, not to small) for 5 years straight, do 80 concerts a year and see if they outdraw the Colorado Symphony during that time. I don’t know or care who would win, but I sure would be curious to see the results.

Believe me. I have nothing against any kind of “popular” music. Anyone who knows me knows that I like a lot of it, that I still listen to it, and that as a classical musician I actively support and listen to local hip-hop artists here in Denver. I just want to point out to anyone who hasn’t thought of it this way that the numbers that get thrown out there about how popular an artist is or how many people do or don’t listen to a particular kind of music can be terribly misleading. If we aren’t careful, the presence of certain artists on radio and television can make us believe that they are far more popular than they actually are. Don’t be fooled. If you’re a music lover, if you follow your heart and follow special people in your community,  you will find music you love. Follow the 6.6% around the country, and I guarantee you’ll miss out on at least one kind of music that you would have really loved having in your life had you only given it a chance.

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Posted in: Life, Music