Not only does he dominate upon release, he’s constantly stretching the form. His late winter mixtape was a revelation. Forget the Meek Mill beef, that’s just a sideshow, where there’s a hit there’s a writ, and when you’re on top others try to take you down. But Drake keeps lifting others up! He’s the quintessential artist of today, leading, testing limits, but still part of a scene, helping others. Furthermore, Drake knows it’s not about the album, but a steady stream of material, to satiate the audience. Monetization comes last. There’s enough money if people are listening, via streaming, sponsorship and live gigs.
2. KENDRICK LAMAR
Because he’s got hearts and minds. It’s music first, business second. People believe in Kendrick, and he’s not batting us over the head to pay attention, he’s just doing the work. You read about him plenty, but it doesn’t look like hype, you don’t get the idea he’s behind the promotion.
3. JUSTIN BIEBER
That’s what’s great about life, it surprises you. Bieber should have been done, like every other teenybopper act before him, but now he’s bigger than ever. It’s Bieber who takes artistic chances, and no one in the marketplace this often hits home runs so frequently. One smash after another. Bieber made the hit “Despacito” ubiquitous. In an era where that’s nearly impossible. People will remember “Despacito” long after “Look What You Made Me Do” is gone. “Despacito” will be played at weddings and bar mitzvahs… And before that was the collaboration with DJ Snake, “Let Me Love You,” and before that “Cold Water” with Major Lazer and before that his hits “What Do You Mean?,” “Sorry” and “Love Yourself.” You only think you hate Bieber, but listen to these songs and if they don’t appeal to you, you’re just a contrarian with no friends, believe me, the little girls are right on this, they understand.
She makes records, and live is an afterthought, so the 150 gigs she did were a mistake, the manager and agent should be shot, just because the most money is on the road that does not mean you should gig ad infinitum. Furthermore, her third album was nowhere near as good as the second. She’s wiped out from touring but she should be back in the studio. She’s got enough money, she should stop thinking about cash. Rather she should put out ONE song right now, a top caliber item that will gain press and attendant streams. She’s been too rearguard, she now needs to be up-to-date, like other twentysomethings. It would be great to see her atop the Spotify Top 50, the only chart that means anything today. Just one song. About anything. But if it was about the world situation, she’d have a victory lap heretofore unseen, eclipsing that of Michael Jackson, because she lets the music do the talking, and when she does talk, it’s not phony I love everybody crap, but patently real.
5. TAYLOR SWIFT
It’s all about her. She’s positively Trumpian. Blowing back with falsehood when attacked. Hell, the ticket boosting scam is about neutralizing scalpers? Come on. She’s too old to do “Aw, shucks” and I don’t see any of those purported “friends” coming out of the woodwork to defend her now. She’s got an audience. But Taylor doesn’t stop telling us how successful she is. Her UPS stunt is almost as offensive as U2’s deal with Apple. But that’s hit artists, they think they’re singing about real life but they’re completely disconnected.
6. ED SHEERAN
They turn on you. Too much success and the public revolts. But Sheeran knows it’s about melody and creates singable songs in an era of beats. He paid his dues and collaborates/gives away songs to others, your hatred is misplaced.
7. CHANCE THE RAPPER
Because he illustrated you don’t have to do it their way. For the entire century labels and artists have been bitching about the internet and cash. But Chance makes no deal, gives his music away for free, and then sells out stadiums. Never forget, infrastructure is secondary to the customer. Think about the customer first and then you’ll be all right.
8. MAX MARTIN
Oh, he’s an artist, and the consumer knows his name, despite Max doing almost no press. His work speaks for itself. Max is first and foremost a musician. Second, he changes with the times, he cannot only do one thing. And he knows a song is worthless unless it’s a hit. That’s right, a track has to grab you immediately and stay in your head, you cannot help but play it again, like eating potato chips. Too many people confuse themselves by denying the rules of hits, they satisfy themselves and a few acolytes and then bitch that they’re not bigger. Now, with radio so limited and behind the times, anything will work on streaming services, nothing is holding you back if you make irresistible music. You should beg your fans to subscribe. So if you do something great, the listens will accumulate.
9. KENNY CHESNEY
There are nearly as many happening country artists as rappers. It’s positively astounding. But Chesney sustains, sells out stadiums and has hits. But never forget Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line. You may think they’re irrelevant, but they can sell tickets up the wazoo. Zac Brown Band too! Right now there are no female artists at this level, which has something to do with radio exclusion (radio still counts in country) and women unsure whether to play the boys’ game or their own. You can rock hard, like Miranda Lambert did a few years back with “Gunpowder & Lead,” or you can be sensitive, but in between is death, chart-wise anyway. Then again, Miranda’s pretty big and so is Carrie Underwood, even though Ms. Underwood is a two-dimensional voice. In country, whether you wrote the music or not, we want to believe you did.
10. CALVIN HARRIS
Because he transcended his relationship with Taylor, because he came back with more hits, unlike Avicii, who stumbled. Electronic music is not quite at the peak it was a few years ago, but to deny its influence is to be wrongheaded. DJs have morphed into producers. And if you don’t think computers are the future of music, you haven’t checked Gibson’s sales.
You’re supposed to be done quick in pop, but Pharrell sustains. He seems to have a handle on what is a hit. Sure, it’s a youth business, but by pop standards Pharrell is OLD! You can never count him out.
Built her career in the internet era, without the benefit of video play on MTV or VH1. Her secret sauce is the ability to write songs, never count anybody out who can. She does minimal publicity, but the audience knows who she is, this is a triumph.
Because of impact. No, the Vermont band is nowhere near as big as anybody on this list, but their audience is more rabid than any other act’s. You’d think Madison Square Garden held two million people, based on the buzz their Baker’s Dozen shows created. They’re a niche. Which is not gonna get much bigger. But the band has impact, since it keeps changing it up and taking risks when everybody else seems to pray at the altar of the producer, overthinking their work as if world peace was involved.
They should have been done. Who’da thunk Chris Martin would have outlasted Gwyneth Paltrow? Can nice guys finish first? Got to give Martin credit, he makes it all about the music.
Metal isn’t as big as it was, but to those who live for the sound, James, et al, are their Beatles. They put out a double album themselves, which did quite well on Spotify, they sold out stadiums, Metallica may be off YOUR radar, but not the target audience’s.
How can he sell so many tickets without a hit? To tell you the truth, I don’t know. He blew up his career, but then went to work with the Dead and stopped boasting and somehow it all works, I guess we do need a guitar hero.
Between projects, but no one embodies the rock and roll ethos in country more than Church, and he seems to be able to write one hit after another and can sell a ton of tickets to boot.
A Ton Of Rappers
There are too many to mention. And it’s unclear who will last. Is Khaled just for today? And maybe it was a mistake to leave Jay Z off the above list, but he messed up by going Tidal only and his songs don’t dominate the chart but hip-hop does, so Jay Z won, as did his compatriots. You see they know they’ve got to reinvent the wheel each day, can’t rest on their laurels, and music is a team sport where you need support and collaboration can pay dividends and you must embrace new technology to succeed not only today, but in the future. You can make music on your laptop and distribute it yourself. And in between there are a ton of choices, but it’s undeniable that music is an on demand item which is portable. If you don’t think streaming won, you haven’t seen the usage and the paychecks.