The network effect on critical darling music is fascinating.
If you don’t already know what that term means, you’d be justified in thinking it refers to a network’s tendency to aid in the discovery and amplification of niche material. That’s very applicable to music.
That’s not what “network effect” means. The actual definition is subtly different.
A network effect is where each subsequent owner of a thing makes owning the thing more valuable. The classic example is telephones – they weren’t very useful until a critical mass of people owned them. The same holds true for any social media platform. Sure, we might like niche platforms where the cool kids are, but each incremental cool kid makes it that much more desirable.
It’s the second, actual meaning I’m thinking of when it comes to critical darlings. Our networked world relies on shared meaning. We don’t want to have just languages in common, but context. The network works best when all of our slang, emojis, animated gifs have caché Memes rely on being shared not only for their viral spread, but for people to get the joke and subsequent use as a reference.
Music is a part of that landscape of shared meaning, too. Each subsequent listener to an under-the-radar critical hit increases its cache as a signifier.
Case and point: Carly Rae Jepsen. She achieved ubiquity in 2012 with her debut hit “Call Me Maybe,” which achieved near-instant meme status in a way only summer singles can. Follow-up single “Good Time” was top 10 in the US, but never hit meme-level penetration in America. That left Jepsen adrift in potential one-hit wonder-dom.
Then, a curious thing happened. Jepsen’s 2015 sophomore full-length Emotion failed to generate another massive “Maybe” sized hit. Yet, the audience who stuck around for it weren’t the long tail of listeners who played “Call Me” repeatedly until it transformed into shrill self-parody in its ubiquity. Nope. It was a specific subset of taste-makers and hipsters, whose fluency with the disc (see “network effect”) spawned another meme for “Run Away With Me.”
Suddenly, Jepsen was a signifier of a totally different kind. Everyone knew her “Call Me Maybe,” but if you knew the source of the meme without being told you were in a secret in-club of hip kids who love unapologetic pop music. [Read more…] about Song of the Day: “Body Language” by Carly Rae Jepsen