With an exponential increase in new bands and artists in the last decade and as the quest for originality becomes harder, many artists have fallen into the category of commercial music. But what is commercial music? The Oxford dictionary describes the word commercial as something with profit as its primary aim, rather than an artistic expression and this is exactly what happens to music when it becomes commercial. It becomes about making money rather than music and ends up becoming so popular that everybody knows it, which in turn leads to an array of other negatives.

Music is best when in its new, raw and undiscovered form, free from any pressures to make money off of it. A young guy picks up his guitar, writes a few lyrics and adds a set of melodies and out of nowhere we have music in its purest form. Although this said guy might be influenced by the artists he admires, he is still making music for the sake of making music and he has not yet felt the need to make money off of it. This is not to say that all music that makes money is commercial; rather, it is when music loses its raw artistic form in order to be more profitable. There are some cases, such as Bon Iver and Ben Howard who have managed to become commercial in the popular sense of the word, but have kept their artistic flair. Their music remains unique, deep, meaningful and anything but shallow. One can only hope that they will remain this way and not get sucked into the curse of commercialism.

There is a certain “cool” factor surrounding commercial music, but with two opposing sides; feeling exclusive for knowing undiscovered bands and artists versus feeling in with the crowd for knowing all the popular songs. This raises the question of what is actually cool. Any hipster would argue that knowing music that hasn’t been heard yet is the height of cool while other social groups might deem one as “uncool” for not knowing the latest hits. But this raises another issue. One needs to be careful of confusing cool with commercial. Just because an artist has made millions off a hit track does not mean that they are “cool”. They might be liked by the masses but everybody’s definition of cool differs and thus commercialism in music has hardly anything to do with an artist’s “cool” factor.

When artists make the transition into commercialism their whole dynamic shifts and a whole entourage of people jump on board. They gain a team of managers and producers who end up controlling every detail of their musical career. This is actually hard to avoid as almost every artist or band needs a manager of sorts in order for things to run smoothly but the problem arises when these managers and producers become the  brains behind the music and the person we see jumping around on stage is merely just a face and a voice. So many so called “musicians” don’t even write their own lyrics, buying them from writers or employing various people to write for them. What this does is turn them into a business, no different to any company, with a CEO, a team of staff and a face for the brand. For example, Nicki Minaj has become so commercial that she is no longer just a rapper from Brooklyn but an entire brand, raking in the millions with, shows, business deals, signings and appearances. One cannot view people like Nicki as individuals; they come as a branded package.

In this day and age, where the internet plays such a major role in our everyday lives, it has become hard to ignore the cult status that some artists reach due to their commercialism. Social networking platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, make it easy for millions of fan-made accounts to be made. You Tube makes music videos, interviews and live shows easily accessible. People are able to interact, talk about and experience their favourite artists whenever they want, which was not possible in previous years. This is all good and well until one considers the fact that this amount of love and attention leads to a culture of hatred. An artist becomes so popular that a group of haters forms and it suddenly becomes “cool” to hate on them. The number one example of this is Justin Bieber. With 20,849,649 followers on Twitter, a regular trending topic about him and a cult of “Beliebers”, Justin is no longer just a guy who sings. He has become a global phenomenon with a huge following and an even bigger group of haters. His music video for ‘Baby’ might be the most watched video on You Tube but it is also the most disliked. What this proves is that becoming too popular and commercial ends up detracting from your music. As sickly-sweet and corny as his songs may be, he still has an amazing voice which is now overshadowed by internet wars on whether or not he is worth listening to. I would even go as far as to say that the music is completely disregarded and it changes from a debate about the quality of the music to one about whether you either love or hate the guy.

Probably the biggest issue concerning the extreme fame that some people reach in the music industry is that of drugs, scandal and the paparazzi. Many artists, today and in the past, have become so caught up in their fame, and in an attempt to cope with millions of fans and the constant harassment from the paparazzi, they turn to drugs and alcohol.  Their private lives become huge news and scandal becomes them. Fans no longer care about their music but are rather more concerned about who they are sleeping with. This detracts from the music, changing them from musicians into figures of public concern. I can’t help but wonder if Amy Winehouse would still be alive today had she not become commercial and popular. Yes, it was her choice to get involved in drugs, but when she first started out as a musician, she was a healthy young woman with an amazing voice, and the world watched as her increasing popularity paralleled her decline in health.

All this, brings one to the conclusion that commercial music and artists becoming too popular, is not a very good thing. Music should be about an artistic expression, bringing people together, based on how the music makes one feel rather than on how cool or popular the artist is. Next time you’re singing along to a song on the radio ask yourself a very simple question: Do I actually like this song or do I just know it because I’ve heard it so many times? – Jean Jacobs

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