This past week, Taylor Swift had a #1 album and single review with “Evermore” and “Willow,” respectively, making her the first person to have a song and album debut simultaneously at #1 twice in a single calendar year. Next week, “Willow” is expected to record a record drop from #1 to another position, breaking the record set earlier this year by the long forgotten 6ix9ine song with Nicki Minaj, “TROLLZ,” which itself had the worst chart run of a #1 song until the failure of the recent BTS single “Life Goes On,” which had an even more regrettably short #1 run. One of the more notable aspects of the world of pop music in 2020 has been the blatant manipulation of remixes and bundles and discounted single sales in order to push inorganic hits to #1 so that they can be said to have a high peak position. The natural result of inorganically pushing songs far higher than they would have gone naturally is large collapses from their peak position as well as short chart runs because those who had any interest in the song or singer would have already spent their money to buy digital/physical copies early on and not enough people wanted to stream the song or listen to the song on their radios to bring a lasting and successful chart run.
Does a song’s peak position ultimately matter very much? It depends. To be sure, any chart position is going to be used to promote albums by music labels and can be used to discuss the legacy of an artist as having a certain number of #1 hits or top five hits or top ten hits and so on. Yet in a sense such things are irrelevant unless the song involved manages to catch on with people listening to a song. And it is here where the fragmentation of the world of music consumption (and the consumption of anything else) has a role to play. Ultimately, a song does not become remembered widely and fondly unless it moves beyond the community of stans and supporters of an audience to a wide audience who is willing to listen to it on the radio or on their own devices in streaming. And for songs that are propped up by artificial sales pushes in their debut weeks, that simply does not happen. Passionate fans of a group buy singles in the first week to give it a good peak, and then no one else wants to hear the song other than those who already have it.
This is not only a problem in music. A creator of any kind has no idea how those creations will linger on and resonate with other people. Most of us–and this is certainly true of me–create out of our own heads and hearts and place our creations before the world in such a way that others may take them or leave them without any great skill in marketing and promotion, and while often what is created remains obscure, sometimes something resonates with a much larger audience. It might be possible to push content before other people and pressure others into reading something, but it is impossible to coerce people into liking and appreciating something, even if we may force them to “consume” it by placing it before their eyes or ears, What we hope is that when people see what we create that they like it and think about it and reflect about it and that it influences what they think and feel and understand and that it gets shared by others. Ultimately, no matter what promotion and marketing efforts we may have, we have very little control over what people think and feel about what we create. We create for our own reasons, but other people consume our creation for their own reasons, often far different than what we had in mind.
I think that terrifies many creators. There are people who are used to being appreciated by large audience who find it frustrating when their popularity drops far lower than it was at its peak, and some of them desperately try to remain in the public eye and regain their mass popularity and become a parody of themselves. Those of us who toil away and create largely in obscurity seem less bothered by the relative swings in popularity of what we create. A great many people create in obscurity during their lives and are ultimately not recognized until after their death. Many more times that toil in obscurity and are never recognized as being creative or influential or important. Ultimately, most of us are writing in sand, or singing into the wind, or are trees falling in a forest that no one sees or hears and so it is argued whether we make a sound at all. And whether that is terrifying to us or viewed as just a part of life, it is an aspect of reality that we have to deal with, and whatever popularity we achieve and whatever numbers we have on various charts are simply numbers, whether they fill us with joy or with a great deal of frustration.