Lyrics about violence, raping under-aged women, swag and smoking copious amounts of cannabis – LA based rap/skate collective Odd Future is not exactly primed to perform at the next PTA convention. Nonetheless, this clique of teenage rappers has generated a lot of attention the past few months. They performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show, were recently featured on the cover of Billboard magazine and Odd Future captain Tyler the Creator signed a one album deal with XL records. Odd Future’s quick rise to fame is both bizarre and fascinating, eccentric and extravagant. However, there is one aspect of the group that I want to focus on and it’s summed up by Billboard writer Andrew Nosnitsky.
Nosnitsky says, “Some speculate that Odd Future will do to the polished hip-pop of Drake and B.o.B what Nirvana did to hair metal. The charisma, intelligence and sheer destructive impulse are definitely similar, spearheaded by hyper-creative music nerds who play the rebel role artfully. The members of Odd Future have of course yet to produce a “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and it’s unclear if that’s even their goal. Today’s media is perhaps too fragmented to even support such a big bang movement. Instead, Odd Future moves horizontally through word-of-mouth.”
This is the phenomena that I want to analyze. Years ago, Odd Future may have indeed sparked a big bang movement within the music industry. However, the current state of media and pop culture is definitely fragmented. I did a quick Google search on music consumption habits and discovered that 2008 was a watershed year for the music industry, many of the statistics I found were dated back to 2008 (However, I would like to include the most current data, if you have it feel free to leave it in the comments section of this article).
According to the data, the majority of music fans listen to music using a digital platform and over half of the music fans in America and the UK (65%), download illegally and this is coming from the reported statistics, not including individuals who did not participate in polls or poll participants who flat out lied. Personally I feel the number now is closer to three quarters of young music fans downloading illegally.
Moreover, according to ZDnet the majority of the people downloading are under the age of 24 and do so to “give in return to others.” Oddly enough, the actual price of the music being too expensive is one of the lowest ranking factors on a list of eight reasons as to why people upload music online. The top reason for why people do not upload is due to computer viruses, security/firewalls, and overall technical caveats that protect digital systems from being tampered with.
What is even more interesting is that the number of tracks legally purchased vs. the ones illegally purchased is almost half and half. In this particular scenario, I would say some of the poll participants definitely lied and these statistics may be skewed. However, these statistics do reveal much about music fans’ consumption habits and reveal a trend as to where these consumption habits are headed. Now how does all of this relate to Odd Future?
From a social perspective, big bang movements, specifically from pop culture and entertainment vantage point, are spearheaded by young people. These movements start for a variety of reasons, but these movements cannot exist in environments deleterious to the foundation of the movement. Moreover, the drive behind a social movement is contingent upon the appeal of a charismatic and authoritative figure, but also once the movement gains success, it becomes trendy at which point it gains more followers. The hardest part of making a social movement stick is disseminating the actual knowledge that exists at the core of the movement.
In the current media environment, it is highly fragmented. When I look at groups like Odd Future, I wonder what makes them stick- how can the mainstream be informed of this phenomenon and is it possible for young music fans (the Odd Future target demographic) to reach a galvanizing opinion on this collective?
Those are tough questions and I don’t have all the data and ground level research, however, I would bank on this not happening now, but possibly in a few years. Odd Future’s rise to fame reminds me of a young Eminem in his rebellious and cantankerous Slim Shady years.
Eminem dissed every possible celebrity figure, said everything you’re not supposed to say on a record and he became a household name. No doubt, he had a mega press machine behind him courtesy of a major label and he came out in a time where the national media outlets were a bit more united across all borders, television, radio and the press appeared to be in sync when buzzing about new music acts. You could break an act on TRL, have them appear on the cover of Rolling Stone and play their latest hit single on a mainstream radio station all in the same week.
We have found similar alternatives; however, I feel the demographics are much more widespread now. It may be easy to sell Odd Future to the 15 and 16 year olds who read the hypebeast forums, but what about the more traditional media outlets like Rolling Stone or David Letterman’s late night show which may have a very wide target demographic of 18-49. One can even look at the sales of Tyler the Creator’s singles “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches,” both have collectively sold less than 25,000 digital units on iTunes. I feel it’s harder for a movement to produce energy across all entertainment mediums before addressing this question, how do you define the “average” music fan?
Now you could challenge this assertion and say what about pop stars like Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus? Both of these music acts have managed to crossover from radio to television to film, their access and exposure amongst media outlets and age groups holds no boundaries. I would argue that these kinds of artists are manufactured to have the greatest possible appeal, yet their music is not created or steeped in the beliefs of starting a social movement or making a statement. Rather it’s about selling a fine crafted product, buying a Justin Bieber album is like buying a Coke, it’s not meant to challenge you, but leave you with a familiar and refreshing taste.
Music acts like Odd Future cannot be marketed as mere products, but they have to sold as a phenomenon that appeals to individuals in large societies who feel socially detached or insignificant. Moreover, they have to be exposed to people who feel that the industry is lacking in certain goods or resources. The overall discontent of both of these parties can generate a catalyst that springs forth into a social phenomenon, hence selling Odd Future as what appears to be a product, but is really a lucrative social movement.
I suspect that there is some sort of wizard behind the curtains acting as a source of funding and promotion for Odd Future. This source may have been present even prior to the release of Tyler the Creator’s stunning debut Bastard. I am curious as to how they will continue marketing this collective and what moves they plan to make in the next few months. Nonetheless, I’m going to be rooting for their Internet fame to manifest into real world success – SWAG.