The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: Rachel Platten Feels The Power Of The Taylor Swift Bump

Last year, when the likes of “Trophies,” “0 To 100,” and “How ‘Bout Now” proved Drake could score a massive radio hit simply by uploading a song to SoundCloud, Gawker’s Jordan Sargent proclaimed him “the Taylor Swift of rap.” Sargent’s thesis was that in an environment where even established stars have trouble getting heavily promoted singles on the radio, Swift and Drake are able to do it without even really trying. They’re both dominant forces on Billboard’s singles chart, landing deep cuts in the Hot 100 on the strength of ceaseless purchases and streams from a voracious public fanbase that seems to include everybody at this point.

That’s not all the two musicians have in common: Both withstood awkward teenage stardom and rampant public mockery to become punchline-resistant superstars. Both write songs as hyper-specific commentaries on their microscopically analyzed personal lives, each track the equivalent of a detail- and subtweet-laden social media update. And both use their massive influence to nudge other artists into the mainstream, to the extent that in 2015, an endorsement from either artist is the surest route to fame and fortune.

One of the most common ways Drake does this is by showing up on other people’s songs, sometimes without the other artist knowing about it ahead of time. Future, the Weeknd, Migos, Soulja Boy, iLoveMakonnen, Tinashe, and Fetty Wap have all benefitted from this phenomenon to some extent. As our own Tom Breihan explained in yesterday’s Status Ain’t Hood column, the 6 God one has become rap’s most powerful curator: “He runs his career like a Tumblr, picking all this excessively tasteful shit and displaying it in the best possible light. It’s why his music works as well as it does. He’s listening.”

Swift’s taste isn’t nearly as exquisite as Drake’s, but she exerts even more pull — whereas Drake tends to help his fellow musicians get off the ground, Swift uses her clout to launch them into the stratosphere. Consider the ways she’s shaped the recent pop cultural landscape: Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith’s 2014 albums remain in or near the top 10 more than a year later, this after Swift publicly befriended and stumped for them both when they were still semi-anonymous fledgling talents. Kendrick Lamar, whose work Swift has tirelessly championed, scored his first and only #1 single last month by jumping on her “Bad Blood” remix. Turgid singer-songwriter Vance Joy cracked top-40 radio rotation after Swift invited him to open for her on tour. The other opener on Swift’s current jaunt is gleaming California pop-rock trio Haim, all of whom now attend parties with Jay Z and Beyoncé and attract red-carpet coverage at awards shows largely thanks to their friendship with Swift; I’ll be shocked if their next album doesn’t hit big at pop radio. Both Haim and Joy also have songs on the soundtrack to preordained teen blockbuster Paper Towns, which stars supermodel Cara Delevingne, one of Swift’s ever-expanding clique of celebrity BFFs. When Selena Gomez debuted “The Heart Wants What It Wants” at the American Music Awards, the biggest story was that it made Swift cry, but that alone introduced the song to a far wider audience. The mere suggestion that Tobias Jesso Jr. was dating Swift — a rumor that turned out to be patently untrue — grabbed the talented piano man exponentially more headlines than his music nabbed on its own.

The Taylor gang is a real phenomenon. Swift has successfully positioned herself as the mostly benevolent ruler of a rapidly expanding community of performers. Her much-dissected “Bad Blood” video (the main impetus for that “mostly” up there) aligned her with umpteen it-girls plus Kendrick Lamar, a high-budget manifestation of her Instagram feed’s parade of celebrity buds. After Lorde became one of many high-profile guest stars to appear on stage during Swift’s 1989 tour, the young Kiwi tweeted that Swift “is the leader of a great and beautiful galaxy that I’d live in forever.” Setting aside the likely reality of genuine friendship, it’s weird to think of a rising star in her own right willfully entering the orbit of a would-be peer — that is, until you realize that Swift’s can’t-miss bankability rubs off on anyone in her vicinity. Being part of her crew is today’s most reliable form of music industry career insurance. And if you’re just starting out, an endorsement from Swift can mean everything.

All of which brings us to Rachel Platten, a long-gestating 34-year-old whose breakthrough single “Fight Song” rises to #8 on the Hot 100 this week and holds steady at #3 on the iTunes chart. Platten is one of those upbeat adult-contemporary singer-songwriter types, the latest in a long line of plucky white girls with dreams that includes Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat, and Ingrid Michaelson. Until Swift’s glossy 1989 makeover, her pop-country songcraft made sense as part of that lineage too, and she’s long been an advocate for the likes of Michaelson. So of course she took a liking to Platten — sample lyric: “This is my fight song/ Take back my life song/ Prove I’m alright song.” It feels like a more climactic version of Swift’s own “Welcome To New York” as performed by the younger, rootsier Swift, a sentiment that struck me when Ezra Koenig and friends offered up this mocking plot summary: “the strong white girl, she’s packing up the car to go to NYU, she’s from a small town, she has a guitar over her shoulder, ‘I’ma show you guys! You guys don’t believe in my dream of being an art major but I’ma show you now!'”

It’s possible “Fight Song” would have made it to the top 10 without Swift’s help. Like Koenig and company, I tend to scoff at that sort of vanilla inspirational anthem, but there’s a vast audience out there hungry for vanilla inspirational anthems. (As someone who has felt the wrath of Bareilles fans, I assure you, they are legion.) It’s the same reason people made generic romantic comedies for so many years, the same reason Chuck Lorre sitcoms flourish, the same reason Hallmark movies are still a thing: A lot of people love that stuff. And a lot of people were already loving “Fight Song”; it was up to #25 on the Hot 100 by the time Swift invited Platten on stage with her in Philadelphia last month, simultaneously plastering her adoration for Platten all over Twitter and Instagram. Still, plenty of songs crap out around that range. Landing a top-10 hit is a rare and difficult achievement — just ask Kendrick, whose own biggest single as a lead artist, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” topped out at #17. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “Fight Song” has pulled off that final leap from famous to ubiquitous in the weeks since Swift anointed Platten. She is the latest beneficiary of music’s most powerful A&R deciding to add more attendants to her royal court.

CHART WATCH

The record-tying reign of “See You Again” has come to an end for a second time. Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s Furious 7 hit was temporarily bumped out of the #1 spot by Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood” remix on the 6/6/15 chart, but it rebounded to match Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” as the Hot 100’s longest-running rap #1. Now, after 12 nonconsecutive weeks, “See You Again” has been dethroned again, this time by OMI’s three-year-old “Cheerleader.” Billboard reports that OMI’s victory comes largely on the strength of sales — specifically, 276,000 downloads over the 11-day tracking period. (Billboard allowed for one extra-long tracking period to accommodate the switch from Monday-Sunday to Friday-Thursday chart weeks.)

“See You Again” falls to #2, and it might fall farther if the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” keeps rising at this rate. The MJ-inspired track climbs three spots to #3 this week, matching Abel Tesfaye’s career best chart ranking after “Earned It” topped out at #3 earlier this year. The Weeknd’s “The Hills” is also up to #12, so he could have two songs in the top 10 soon; who would have ever thought this guy who traded on a mysterious creeper image would be a massive pop star who guests at Taylor Swift concerts? Speaking of Swift, next up is “Bad Blood” at #4, followed by Silento’s “Watch Me,” falling to #5 after whipping and nae-naeing all the way up to #3 last week. Two top-10 fixtures at #6 and #7: Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” and Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance.” Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” reaches a new peak at #8, bumping the Skrillex/Diplo/Justin Bieber jam “Where Are U Now” back down to #9. Lastly, at #10, is the David Guetta/Nicki Minaj/Afrojack/Bebe Rexha behemoth “Hey Mama.”

There are no new entries in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart this week — in fact, there were so few new releases last week that the highest-charting debut is Jake Miller’s Rumors EP, which tallied 8,000 copies for a majestic entrance at #118. Per Billboard, the 11-day tracking period includes figures from the previous chart, so it’s no surprise that Meek Mill’s Dreams Worth More Than Money continues at #1 for a second consecutive week. Taylor Swift’s 1989 (up to #2) and Miguel’s Wildheart (down to #3) swap places, followed by Ed Sheeran’s x (#4), Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (#5), James Taylor’s Before This World (#6), Breaking Benjamin’s Dark Before Dawn (#7), the Magic Mike XXL soundtrack (#8), X Ambassadors’ VHS (#9), and Maroon 5’s V (#10).

Karmin – “Didn’t Know You” Video (Week In Pop Premiere)


Last month I had positive things to say about Karmin’s momentous, percussive “Didn’t Know You.” Its Western-themed video adds further bombast to the proceedings.
The clip stars Adi Shankar, Lamorne Morris, and Britni Sumida, with choreography by Comfort Fedoke (Missy Elliott, Michael Jackson tribute tour, So You Think You Can Dance, Footloose). I like it a lot better than Johnny Depp’s The Lone Ranger, that’s for sure.

TRACK CITY

Echosmith – “Let’s Love”
Late-night TV shows are notorious for bad sound, and indeed, the Fallon treatment did no favors for Echosmith’s least memorable single so far. Still, the studio version is significantly more appealing.

Nate Ruess – “Great Big Storm”
Nate Ruess loves getting rained on!

Jordin Sparks – “Right Here Right Now”
Sparks is all grown up, and the sweltering, Sade- and Janet-influenced “Right Here Right Now” makes me grateful that she’s left the kiddie stuff behind. Total jam right here.

Halsey – “New Americana”
This song is so corny, and it’s going to be so huge. Chorus: “We are the new Americana/ High on legal marijuana/ Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/ We are the new Americana.”

Leigh Nash – “The State I’m In”
The charming lass from Sixpence None The Richer has gone country, and not just pop-country. “The State I’m In” is pure squaredance music, replete with generous fiddle, pedal steel, and Mariachi brass. It doesn’t much move me, but I’m impressed by her dedication. (Listen here.)

Sevyn Streeter – “Shoulda Been There” (Feat. B.o.B)
Still loving Sevyn Streeter’s pop-R&B chops, still hating her choice of collaborators.

RØMANS – “Uh Huh”
RØMANS are a recent Roc Nation signing. “Uh Huh” is basically a cross between Sam Smith and that “Hey! Geronimo!” song, but I find it more endearing than that description suggests.

Gin Wigmore – “Written In The Water Live However”
Normally raspy Janis Joplin vocals are a turnoff for me, but Wigmore’s scratchy blasts sound like heaven here, and the music is a retro groove worthy of peak Nick Waterhouse — piano plinks, horn blurts, and a bopping beat that will have you air-drumming.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Armed men ransacked Chris Brown’s brand new L.A. home, holding one of his relatives at gunpoint. [ABC]
  • The CEO of Taylor Swift’s record label says he didn’t know she was going to write her open letter to Apple. [Fortune]
  • Martha Stewart interviewed Justin Bieber, whom she roasted earlier this year. [Interview]
  • Zayn Malik called producer and recent collaborator Naughty Boy a “fat joke” on Twitter after Naughty Boy allegedly leaked Malik’s “No Type” video. [E!]
  • Lady Gaga’s American Horror Story: Hotel character will be evil (by her own request), and part of her role involves fashion. [NME]
  • Ryan Seacrest signed a lucrative new deal with iHeartMedia. [THR]
  • One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson is going to be a father. [People]
  • Brandy sang a song from The Wiz on the NYC subway and nobody recognized her. [Miss Info]
  • Tyga is starring in an action comedy alongside Bruce Willis. [Billboard]
  • Kelis, whose last album was called FOOD, is releasing a cookbook. [Fader]
  • Don’t know if I’ve ever seen a less reputable representation of whiteness than Luke Bryan and friends covering Maroon 5. [YouTube]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME