There was once a stigma surrounding the idea of the manufactured pop star. We’d lament the loss of identity, the squandering of artistic progress, or, quite simply, the soullessness of it all. Maybe it was poptimism, or maybe it was just an evolution in taste, but that’s certainly not the case anymore. Today, the question of authenticity in pop doesn’t matter; rather, it’s about the character, the idea, the message, the presentation. A fascinating new piece on The Ringer explores the ultra-modern approach producers are taking in crafting pop icons in this day and age using 14-year-old Missourian Bryson Morris as a lens.
Morris is touted by management as a “rap god” worth “literally, fifty to one hundred million dollars.” These claims come based on the release of just one song, “Louis Gucci,” which even includes its own making-of video.
Author Sam Rosen flew to Houston to spend a few days with the budding pop star, where he meets the six-man crew “whose professional lives now revolve around the rap career of someone who was born during the same summer that Nelly released ‘Hot In Herre.’”
What’s most fascinating is in just how little the music matters. Sure, this concept is old hat, but what Morris’ team is doing is essentially science. They need to figure out how to market a pop star to kids “who have never known music without streaming” and “think in playlists, not albums.” For this, they use “proprietary traffic intelligence tools.”
Hugo Aviles [a digital marketer] is working with Bryson Morris because he thinks the music industry is filled with pathetically outdated approaches and ripe for disruption. He thinks, for instance, that it is dumb for artists to record entire albums without knowing if any of the songs will resonate with consumers. Aviles’s vision, instead, is a model that harnesses the real-time feedback of the web to tell artists what’s working and what isn’t. An artist, he explains, could post a video that gets lots of views, but has a high bounce rate—people clicking away before the video is done.
What Aviles envisions is a kind of Moneyball for music—letting internet data, rather than creative intuition, reveal which artists and sounds are worth investing in and pursuing. “We don’t want to fall in love with Bryson,” he said. “We want to fall in love with the numbers, with what it can be if everything is properly executed.” There’s little room in this model for artistic integrity. The market decides what kind of artist you are—specifically, the slice of the market that you can most easily monetize.
Rosen describes how Morris’ team describes the boy as “a stock,” “a startup,” “an app,” and “a technology company” right in front of the kid. Morris doesn’t mind, though. He gets it. He repeatedly describes himself as “a product.”
“Bryson is best understood through Silicon Valley jargon,” Rosen writes. “Specifically, like a promising internet startup with lots of VC funding but no revenue.”
It’s a long read, but an illuminating one. Our best goes to young Morris, but this article points to a future where even the pop star itself will become obsolete. Why use a living, breathing human when you configure a floppy-haired android to the specifications that best reflect its target audience?