Why are pop stars releasing less and less records?
«Music’s biggest stars are not actually focused on music» the Wall Street Journal recently wrote: for years, the most famous contemporary singers have indeed tended to release increasingly fewer records than what they used to, and to devote themselves mainly to parallel activities – such as fashion, beauty products, or television.
Rihanna, for instance, has been one of the most successful artists of the last twenty years, and between 2005 and 2012 she practically published one album per year, but from 2016 onwards she did not release any songs. The same goes for Justin Bieber, who has not produced an album in five years, for Adele, whose last record dates from 2015, and for Lady Gaga, who, tellingly, published Chromatica (2020) four years after Joanne.
Music’s biggest stars are not actually focused on music.
We are therefore witnessing a sharp “scatter” of record releases by the most famous pop singers, who once published a new record every two years. Several artists have indeed set aside their most demanding projects, which define their musical careers; in some cases, popstars continue to perform on tour even if they do not have new songs, but sometimes they suspend their tours altogether.
Since music is mostly listened to in streaming, and digital records are rarely sold – not to mention CDs or LPs – concerts remain one of the main sources of income for artists, who consequently keep on organizing tours: but it is difficult to gather tens of thousands of people without new releases. Moreover, the Coronavirus pandemic will lead de facto to the interruption of all the big concerts for a year, or likely more. Because of this, many albums have been delayed, and artists will probably be discouraged to release new ones in the short term.
According to various managers of the music industry, contacted by the Wall Street Journal, right now the share of the artists’ earnings that comes from things not directly associated with music is between the 20 and 50 per cent – ten years ago, it was between the 10 and 20 per cent, according to the estimates by artists themselves. Rihanna, for instance, has devoted herself mainly to her cosmetics line Fenty Beauty; West got himself into fashion, launching a successful line of clothing, while Katy Perry has acted as judge in the television talent American Idol in the last years.
To conclude, a visible, general tendency can be identified, strongly linked to the huge transformations brought to music by streaming, which has made records meaningless from a commercial point of view in just a few years. A single release that remains permanently on top of the charts and, above all, in the playlists’ rotations, can represent for an artist the equivalent of what once was a well-sold record, from an economic point of view.