Chris Blackburn dot com


My Music
Other Projects
The Mixes
Who Am I?

Contact Me

Bright Eyes, or The Story with the US Singles Chart, Keep Your Hype to Yourself

January 7 2005 01:39 AM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

Haven't had a good reason to rant in a while, so here's one.

In November, Bright Eyes nabbed the top two spots on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

As we near the release date for the two albums relating to those singles, I'm reading more and more stories relating that accomplishment, making grand assumptions about Bright Eyes' popularity and his/their potential for far-reaching success.

For the record, I'm not much of a Bright Eyes fan. Not because I hate his stuff - more that I just haven't heard much of it, and what I have heard of it doesn't really appeal to me. The point of what I'm writing here isn't to bash him. It's more to bash music journalism stupidity.

Here's the deal: in the week that Bright Eyes took the top two spots on the US Singles chart, each single sold about 7,000 copies.

Yes, you read that right: 7,000 copies.

In the UK, 7,000 copies will barely get you on the singles chart. The number one single on the UK Singles chart typically sells about 50,000 copies. And, yes, the population of the UK is about a fifth of that of the US.

In fewer words: the US Singles chart is a joke.

To be perfectly honest, it's been that way for a LONG time. For years, I've wondered why they even bother reporting the thing, as it's almost completely meaningless.

Ever since the ascention of CDs, singles have been cursory items in the US music scene. Major labels have generally only manufactured them for hip-hop and pop singles. The US simply is too fragmented in terms of popular music genres: it's not worth making enough copies of a single to have them in every major music store in the country. Make that many and fail to sell them, and it's a huge loss. (Plus, convincing someone to buy the whole album at $15 for the one song they want generates significantly more revenue.)

The problem with the US Singles chart really became obvious with the dawn of popular alternative music in 1992. Until that point, Top 40 radio and the Singles chart had pretty much gone hand-in-hand, meaning that the Singles chart was a solid arbiter as to what the country was playing, hearing, and buying. In the years that followed, though, there were many, many popular songs in the alternative format (that still get regular airplay today) that were not released as singles, so they never charted.

In 1992, Boyz II Men broke the then-record for consecutive weeks at the top of the US Singles chart with "End of the Road". MTV News decided to send a reporter out to survey people to see how popular the song really was. None of the people they interviewed could identify any lyrics of the song beyond the main title line.

Sure, that's anecdotal. But the fact that a single that sells 7,000 copies can be number one should tell you a whole lot more.

I'll add: that an indie artist can sell 7,000 of anything in a week is a solid accomplishment.

But Bright Eyes at #1 is not some signal of impending success. If anything, it's closer to the moronic overhyping of certain specific indie bands, as has been the case in the last couple of years. Every couple of months, some band is given the crown of "next big thing" and hyped all to hell.

The Strokes, Interpol, Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes: NONE of them are/were the "next big thing". Yes, I know your local alternative station is playing a bunch of these. And you're "cool" for having heard of them and bought their albums. But in terms of gloried "Billboard success", there's not a platinum album between them. They are niche bands deserving of niche hype, not this overblown "we just found the key to the universe" type bullshit.

It was vogue circa 1992 to look to the future and "the next Nirvana". Well, guess what? In the thirteen years since, we never found it. There have been a number of brilliant bands since then (including some of the list in the last paragraph), but none of them reached the mountaintop of "the next Nirvana". So why are we still looking? Why are people still actively seeking that holy grail?

I applaud the efforts of the indie community to get unknown bands heard, but this has become ridiculous. Music journalism has become so unbelievably fucking LAZY that once somebody utters a name, everybody goes bezerk and anoints them music's "savior". It's HYPE, just as bad (if not worse) as what the majors are doing with their "bands".

The worst part about it is the wholesale abandonment of these artists once their moment of hype has passed. Am I the only one who heard the regular drops of "Interpol? Them again?" before their recent album release? If their first album was so amazing, why did so many people roll their eyes when their second album was announced? And why so did many people feel the need to defend their enjoyment of the new album?

This is everything I hated about working at college radio multiplied by five thousand. (Play random tracks from a new band's album six or eight times in a week, rave about how awesome they are, then ditch them like yesterday's leftovers within a month.) At least then it was local. Now we have national scenesters. And guess what? They still suck.

Seriously, just enjoy the tunes and tell your friends if you like them. Tell the hype-driven kids to shut the fuck up.

Oh, and now that you've read this, read the NME's flaming turd about Bright Eyes. (I should probably let them off the hook 'cause they're from the UK. Nah, they should know better.)

Discuss this on the Comment Board
Previous Blog
How I'd Forgotten
Next Blog
The Ashlee Malfunction