Young female artists as 'industry plants' - pt. 1
Updated: Jun 17, 2019
The term 'industry plant' gets thrown around a lot on the internet. Chances are your favourite musician, at some point, has been accused of being given a helping hand by industry officials - even if they are open and honest about that.
There's a sect of people that can't seem to stand when a new artist gets famous quickly. That it's unfair that their favourite 'unique' almost-pop-punk band that plays 'real instruments' has toiled away without recognition for six years, while artists like Slowthai or Clairo gained fame comparatively swiftly. Inevitably, someone comments the idle 'industry plant' statement in a Reddit thread, and next thing you know the artist faces two or more Youtube videos titled '______ IS AN INDUSTRY PLANT? FRAUD!', in which a three-second snippet of a Teens React video is counted as legitimate evidence.
It seems to me that the biggest controversies surrounding industry plants tend to be directed towards young, female artists - particularly in regards to Clairo and Billie Eilish, and I want to explore why that is.
I'll say outright, for peak objectivity, that I neither love nor hate Clairo and Billie's music. They have songs I like, and songs that I don't particularly care for. This post is entirely a reflection on their position in the industry and their critics, and is not fuelled by any opinions on their discography, nor as personalities.
I: The use of 'industry plant' as criticism is often just pretty terrible
An industry plant is an artist that, from near the beginning, has had opportunities with record labels, marketing and big music publications presented to them at their doorstep - regardless of whether their music is of a good or bad quality.
That definition, however, leaves a lot of wiggle room for comment-section critics to accuse artists across the board of being industry plants.
The term can of course be used legitimately, but its baseless usage is most often directed at artists which (usually by chance) have a song garner hundreds of thousands of listens in a very short period of time. The artist in question is then signed to a record label as a result of their newfound fame, and the comment-section critic requires an explanation as to how someone with such shit music has become so successful - thus, an alleged industry plant is born.
Those critics view a musician's rise to fame in a traditional manner. Of course the most reliable way to get signed is to play a whole lot of gigs and hope a label agent loves what they hear, but in the streaming age, any decent artist has a (albeit extremely slim) chance of the Youtube/Soundcloud/Spotify/etc. algorithm boosting them straight to the top. Billie Eilish, Clairo, Post Malone, Boy Pablo, Half Alive, EARTHGANG - all of these and many more have received significant notoriety in this way. To deny the realistic simplicity of this method to fame is fairly old-fashioned.
Specifically regarding young female artists, it makes complete sense that record labels are chomping at the bit to sign those that gain massive streaming numbers in a short amount of time - the revenue potential is likely astonishing. Young female artists typically resonate hugely with the young teenage girl demographic, providing the artist with a dedicated listener-base that engages on social media arguably more intensely than any other social group due to Stan culture. This level of engagement is no doubt a pot of gold for labels, so of course the already-famous Billie Eilish-es and Clairo-s are going to have these opportunities thrown at them.
If they're making quality music, and the streaming numbers are already there, it would be ridiculous to expect otherwise.
II: The Billie and Clairo case studies
To gain context as to why it seems that young female artists are targeted the most, we need to explore the accusations around Billie and Clairo, and debunk their industry plant controversies that have blown so out of proportion.
Let's begin with Clairo.
The first accusations of 'industry plant' came from the spread of information that her dad, Geoff Cottrill, is a marketing executive, with potential connections to the large music magazine The FADER. Shortly after her first big song 'Pretty Girl' blew up on Youtube, she both scored an interview with The FADER and was also signed to FADER label, which goes without saying is a pretty huge deal for a new, young artist.
Of course, what followed was a wave of criticism claiming that Clairo's success story was not organic, that it was instead fabricated by industry elites.
I would argue that, despite the pretty clear connections she made use of, her success was absolutely organic.
The huge numbers on the music video for Pretty Girl preceded her relations with The FADER. As previously discussed, it's simply a function of capitalism that artists that blow up quickly on the internet will be jumped on by labels and publications. I don't see anything 'unnatural' in Clairo's success story - a musician with quality tracks that gain a lot of streams deserves to be signed.
So then it appears that the main gripe the comment-section critics have is with artists using their connections to gain streams and reputation. Man, that sentence was weird to write.
Why wouldn't they?
As an artist trying to make it in the music industry, the most useful tool you can use is your connections within the industry, no matter how minimally or massively influential they are. Clairo used hers effectively and rightfully-so once she'd gained significant standing as an up-and-coming bedroom-pop artist.
And it's in this context that Billie Eilish faces the world's biggest 'industry plant' controversy: Her brother produces her music.
What? Are you for real? That is why she's an industry plant? Are you sure it's not because you don't like how close to the mic she sings? Not because her Twitter following is a little fucking terrifying (which, yeah, I'll concede that it is)? Not because you don't really like seeing a 17-year-old girl succeed in her own right?
It honestly baffles me that some people legitimately view Billie as an industry plant because of this. Look at any other artist to top the Billboard charts in the last two decades at least, and you'll find that the vast majority have not worked solo on their music, as Billie is apparently expected to. For context, last month Tyler, the Creator became the first ever rapper to top the Billboard 200 with an entirely self-produced album.
Billie Eilish as a project is essentially a collaboration between her and her brother. They have never attempted to hide this, or to present Billie as the sole reason for her own success - in fact it's quite the opposite. In almost every interview I could find, she makes it clear that her brother has a very significant role in her career.
It is entirely a non-issue, and this argument has no basis in defining her as an industry plant.
I hope this section has provided some context as to the insubstantiality of the two biggest industry plant controversies in the past few years. It's recognising this that caused me to wonder - is this because they are young and female, and if so, why do those factors cause an increased scepticism towards the reasons for the success of the artist?
This post would be too long if I carried on here, so I've separated it into two parts; find my analysis of young female artists' position in the industry here.