Familiarity rarely breeds contempt, big names rely on promo less
In a heated debate on the subject, Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) Leslie Jones put it best: “Real Weezer fans know they haven’t had a good album since ‘Pinkerton’ in ’96.” But even so, the band is still filling big-name stadiums like Madison Square Garden and even sold out Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Theater in Connecticut for its upcoming album, “Black Album.” So how, and why, is a geeky 90s alternative band from Los Angeles still relevant in a music industry dominated by pop and hip-hop?
“Weezer? I didn’t even know they were still a thing,” said Rick, Beck Bennett’s character in the SNL sketch from Dec. 15, 2018. In the scene, neighbors sit around a dinner table getting to know one another when Weezer’s rendition of Toto’s original song, “Africa,” starts to play. Everyone in the room remains relatively unfazed aside from guest star Matt Damon. He excitedly praises the band’s upcoming work and defends it to the bitter end in an argument with the aforementioned purist, Jones.
It's because fans such as Damon’s character exist that bands like Weezer can maintain a following, even when characters like Bennett’s simultaneously exist. When an artist puts out something we like, whether it’s a song or previous album, it's likely that we’ll ask what’s next, and when. This is because “we connect positive feelings with familiarity,” according to Medium. It releases endorphins, and humans tend to be creatures of habit.
Because we attach the sentiments we felt upon first encounter with the content, grow familiar with it and hold it near and dear to our hearts, we trust that anything the artist or band will put out will be of the same quality. So — oftentimes, at least — we continue to support the artist throughout their entire career, even if we don’t really like their work as much.
This devotion — the support of the diehard fan — definitely has its benefits. It’s why Weezer could release the surprise that was “Weezer (Teal Album),” comprised solely of covers (and not necessarily well-done ones) and still make No. 7 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales for this past week. It’s a double-whammy of familiarity: a band that fans have come to know and love over the last 27 years, playing songs that have been popular for even longer.
Having a big, loyal fan base has worked for artists dropping short-notice original content as well. Take, for example, Frank Ocean. Four years after his debut album, “Channel Orange,” there were a series of missed deadlines and radio silence concerning his next release. Finally and unexpectedly on Aug. 20, 2016, Ocean dropped not only “Blonde,” but also “Endless” — a video album accompanied by 18 songs — a day earlier. It was the third-largest debut of the year, behind Drake’s “Views” and Beyonce’s “Lemonade," which were other albums that came as surprises, whether by delay or spontaneity.
Perhaps a reason that odd releases like this earned No. 1 spots on the Billboard charts for Ocean, Drake and Beyoncé was simply because they could do it. With a following formed collectively from Destiny’s Child and her own solo work, Beyoncé could release a recording of herself reading the phonebook and the diehards would still fall at her feet. Drake and Ocean alike have also garnered substantial fan bases. Needless to say, they have some clout in the industry.
That is a keyword in the success of the short-notice release: clout. By having already-established popularity and a good reputation, artists like these can achieve high record sales without the support of promotion. It’s why Weezer guitarist Brian Bell got away with singing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” and people somehow still paid money for it. But, this is not the case for all artists.
Gaining traction in the music industry is an uphill battle for many. It's one thing to have raw talent, but it's another to have the social and financial backings to support it. J.I.D, a rapper of the Spillage Village collective and under contract at J. Cole’s Dreamville label, took some time to claim fame. Though he independently released four mixtapes and an EP over seven years, it was not until J.I.D signed to Dreamville in 2017 that his work received critical acclaim.
While it's a struggle, this shouldn’t discourage anyone from a pursuit of music and happiness. Just think of it this way: Maybe one day someone will love you enough to buy your compilation of subpar covers.
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