by Adam Yorkshire
Every album release cycle gets the pop heartthrob it deserves. This season has given us new albums from Charlie Puth, the man competing for Justin Bieber’s throne. Puth started on YouTube, before he went to music school, got a +1 and wrote a hit song for Furious 7.
Even in a cultural landscape where surprises have been in no short supply, and anyone’s proven capable of righting their own ship of public perception, before this year it seemed that Charlie Puth would ever achieve critical redemption. After building low-level industry buzz through the always-churning YouTube circuit, the 27 year old singer first gained exposure to the world at large through his co-write and deathless hook on Wiz Khalifa’s interminable Furious 7 soundtrack single “See You Again” in 2015, a massive hit so dreadful-sounding that not even its own explicitly funereal theme could shield it from derision.
It has been certified quadruple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and it has been streamed over 1.5 billion times worldwide. “See You Again” remains at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts for many weeks.
Pop music is a crazy industry, even more so in our fractured age. With the new pop stars in 2019, it is crazy how many songs can be blowing up in some corner of the world, offline or online, without ever spilling over into the mass consciousness. It’s crazy how many of those songs actually do spill over without some of us realizing it.
How many songs you can know from the grocery store or wherever without even realizing you know them. It is crazy how quickly the artist’s songs can go from obscurity to household name if they know what to do with their time. It’s crazy how many different points might originate from: well-played sync on a Netflix show, a random streaming playlist placement, a social media post from an influencer and radio rotation mandated from on high.
Will Charlie Puth and the New Pop Stars of 2019 Last?
There are different factors at work here. The kind of huge album sales which once served as the benchmark for pop stardom has been disintegrating since the explosion of MP3s and online platforms. Also the public, as opposed to record labels can choose hits by simply streaming them or creating a viral meme. And radio play, while still a big factor in chart position, is just a piece of a bigger pie which includes social-media buzz, and, increasingly, streaming numbers.
This egalitarian environment allows a longer tail of pop artists to sustain careers, but it’s also a responsive one where it’s hard for any single to maintain the omnipresence critical to stars like Jackson. There are many times something can be compared to Michael Jackson. And indeed, 40 years is a long trend for something as constantly mutable, and indefinable, as pop music.