Beyoncé and the New Face of Music Promotion

Last night’s Grammy Awards left one thing more exposed than Beyoncé‘s backside: the fact that the pop music promo game has changed. Queen B makes the rules and everyone else follows along, basking in her shadow.

It’s not really all that simple, of course: plenty of successful acts move through the usual channels when it comes to marketing and earned media. But when one reaches the heights occupied by the top of the pops, rules no longer apply.

For example, compare the Jay-Z/Beyoncé performance to six seconds of Katy Perry.

Same scale in terms of ridiculous drama, but which one were people really talking about last night while halfheartedly scrolling through their feeds? The same can be said of recent albums released by Perry and Lady Gaga, which posted disappointing sales numbers despite the fact that everyone heard something about them and they were still big hits by any other measure.

The point of an earlier Salon post on the shifting pop music game is that nobody really even knows what works anymore. The diversification of media has ensured that no one industry power broker has the leverage to guarantee that a record gets huge no matter how much money a company sinks into marketing it. In response, promoters just throw whatever they suspect will stick at the wall. Macklemore leading the way on gay marriage? Sure, why not?

Perry and Gaga’s teams went the traditional route with their releases, building up buzz and placing interviews in every available publication—yet unlike Beyonce’s surprise, they barely registered on the cultural GPS of any given person who doesn’t listen to pop radio all day.

In order to get the kind of attention reserved for Jay-Z’s more significant other, a performer has to be scandalous in some way. Even Lorde, who seemingly hit it big overnight, had to go controversial by dissing colleagues like Taylor Swift as “flawless and unattainable” before the two realized they had totally been best friends all along. It almost seems…what’s the word…manufactured. Just like your average pop star.

Basically, if you want to be huge in the music world you have two options:

  • Be risqué
  • Be Beyoncé

Speaking for future wannabe stars, we’re not sure we like those odds.