What Truly Determines The Hierarchy of Artistes?

In the ever-evolving landscape of the music industry, coupled with the vast disparity and striking differences between artistes, hierarchically ranking them becomes a tedious process. The Nigerian music scene, especially at this current time, has experienced significant evolution. On one hand, there is a proliferation of artistes with distinct personas and perspectives emerging almost daily, thereby reshaping the direction of the industry. On the other hand, the commercial performance of artistes has undergone substantial advancement, raising the benchmark for measurement.

In this article, we aim to highlight the various factors involved in hierarchically ranking artistes and the associated loopholes.

 Commercial Performance

On a general level, particularly in Twitter discourses, artistes are often classified based on their commercial performance. Higher positions on global rankings, monthly listeners, and total streams typically define a higher ranking. This also extends to musical works, where chart positions and unit sales are significant indicators, often overshadowing considerations of artistic quality. A prominent example is Rave & Roses, widely considered the greatest Nigerian debut album. While it undeniably possesses great quality, much of its acclaim is attributed to its widespread commercial success.

The major flaw with this ranking system lies in the significant obscurity of quality. In the current music landscape, any regular musical act, regardless of the quality of their work, can clinch the highest spot in commercial success, especially when there is a center of attraction for marketing, thanks to the influence of social media and the large control there is on commercial performances by high powers like major record labels. A notable contributor to this phenomenon is TikTok. It is widely acknowledged that once a sound becomes popular on TikTok, it often translates to astronomical success. However, the pattern of many hits from this platform stems from a broader project, where the song that attains commercial success may be inferior in quality compared to other top-notch tracks embedded within the same project. 

This example exemplifies a major loophole in using commercial success as a sole measurement criterion. Quality is frequently obscured, and a superficial view prevails. The current music landscape is such that anyone can achieve commercial success, sometimes at the expense of recognizing and appreciating true artistic merit. 

Quality Of Output 

Moving to another obvious parameter for determination, there comes the quality of the projects, singles, and general outputs related but not limited to their music endeavors, like album covers, merch, etc.

Delivering quality musical outputs in the form of singles and projects is the cornerstone of an artiste’s presence, the primary reason for their existence. Albums elevate the standards, requiring more than just quality music; they must be complete with a compelling story or message, perfect arrangement, and compatibility to form an immersive body of work. Often, other details like cover arts, merch, and miscellaneous aspects are overlooked, but in reality, the beauty of a comprehensive work lies in paying attention and doing justice to minute details.

The major loophole involved is the subjectivity of what is defined as quality. While there is a general consensus on what constitutes good quality versus mediocre quality, ranking these “good quality” works that later reflect in artistes’ hierarchy is mainly personally based. A rather shallow example is a well-executed rap album versus an R&B album; the hierarchical order on which they are ranked depends solely on the individual evaluating them.

Authenticity and Versatility 

The current abundance of artistes often leads to the oversight of the hierarchical importance of authenticity, which is, in reality, the backbone of a musical career. An artiste’s genuine originality and commitment to their craft reflect a sincere effort and intentional dedication to their passion for creating music.

On another note, showcasing versatility can provide a significant advantage. While there’s an argument for mastering a specific genre, true versatility isn’t necessarily about jumping across genres but rather about adapting to the current musical direction. In a vast sea of monotonous flows and predictable musical paths, versatility becomes a pivotal factor in elevating an artiste’s profile.

Problems of authenticity stem from blackballing, mainly when any minute resemblance or pattern appears from one artiste to another; the tag of copycat is almost automatically stamped, leaving out the fact that bearing semblance or patterning like an inspiration does not remove authenticity.

Moreover, versatility is generally a subjective quality that may not necessarily be as important to remove from an artiste who is not as versatile. The recognition of diverse styles and approaches in the music industry should coexist with an acknowledgment of the artist’s authenticity, avoiding the tendency to dismiss originality merely based on similarities or patterns.

Awards and Accolades

Accolades and awards have long served as hierarchical parameters within the music industry, with competitions like the Headies, BET, and our recently established fantasy Grammys frequently becoming central to discussions and debates. While these accolades are merit-based, their credibility is often questioned due to inherent biases and unfair practices.

One noteworthy instance is the widely discussed Headies Next Rated category, which has sparked conflicts involving superstars like Olamide and Burna Boy, who have expressed bitterness towards the awards, also raising allegations of bias. This sheds light on the high unreliability of awards as a measure of an artiste’s success, as it appears that only the “flavor of the moment” is nominated, and winning is often attributed more to luck, bias, or influence rather than artistic merit.

The crux of the matter lies in the subjective nature of awards, where personal preferences, industry politics, and external pressures can sway decisions. This subjectivity raises questions about the fairness and accuracy of awards in reflecting an artiste’s true talent and impact. Additionally, the emphasis on current trends and commercial success in award nominations may overlook artistes who contribute substantially to the industry but may not conform to mainstream expectations.

Stage Presence and Live Performance

More often than not, fans of artistes exhibit heightened enthusiasm to experience a musical piece performed live rather than through digital systems. This contributes significantly to the overall excitement and fervor surrounding live shows and concerts. The set deliveries of artistes during these performances serve as a crucial parameter, showcasing their actual talent, with enhancers like autotune often minimized or even alienated.

However, a notable loophole in ranking artists based on stage performance lies in the potential variability of live show experiences. Factors such as the acoustics of the venue, technical glitches, or even the artiste’s health on a given day can influence the perception of their performance. A flawless live show doesn’t necessarily guarantee an artist’s consistent ability, as the dynamic nature of live events introduces an element of unpredictability.

Additionally, the visual aspects of a stage performance, including choreography, stage presence, and engagement with the audience, can sometimes overshadow vocal abilities. This subjective interpretation of what constitutes an outstanding stage performance can lead to differing opinions among fans, making it challenging to establish a universally accepted ranking system based on live shows alone.

Burna At His Sold-Out Madison Square Garden Show
Burna At His Sold-Out Madison Square Garden Show

Cultural Impact 

Artistes across various eras and genres transcend the mere delivery of enjoyable music; they serve as instruments shaping culture through their music and personas. Many artistrs attain elevated hierarchical statuses by influencing popular culture, impacting lifestyles, shaping fashion, and contributing to social change.

The challenge with assessing cultural impact lies in the inherent subjectivity of the term. The disparity in defining “cultural impact” hampers the establishment of a standardized criterion for rankings in this realm. Individuals may prioritize different aspects of an artiste’s influence, making it challenging to create a universally accepted framework.

Geographical location further compounds this challenge, as the impact of culture tends to diffuse and concentrate based on specific areas. A compelling example arises in the discourse surrounding two legends, Olamide and Phyno, in the past. The trend observed was that individuals with predominant Eastern backgrounds aligned with Phyno, while those from Western backgrounds favored Olamide. This highlights how geographical location significantly influences an artiste’s definition of cultural influence and, consequently, their hierarchical placement.

Hierarchical placements, at the end of the day, constitute a nuanced and problematic discourse. Some artistes excel in certain aspects while lagging behind in others, and this duality, coupled with the subjectivity of individual opinions, creates barriers to establishing a universally accepted and correct hierarchical ranking.

A careful evaluation of various parameters and clear-cut considerations can, however, contribute to more informed placements of artistes within their respective classes. 

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