Have you ever, after following the hype and rave reviews of a product- restaurant, food, movie, song, found yourself cloaked in utter disappointment after splashing out on the said product? I have.
Disappointment could not begin to encapsulate the emotions that shrouded me after downloading and listening extensively to Small Doctor’s smashing hit song, ‘Penalty’ sometime last year. For someone not big on mainstream Nigerian songs (I usually find them mindless, devoid of content, and lewd and the ones I listen to, I listen to for their banging Rhythms and not for the words sung), I had high hopes. For months before I downloaded the song, everywhere I turned, the catchphrase “Penalty to throw-in” was thrown around and I thought to myself, “A mind that could devise a phrase as witty as ‘penalty to throw-in’ must be capable of producing a work of art that would appeal to all aspects of my being.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Song was beyond empty. The music production, to my non-amateur ears if I may say so, was bang average and no matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t find the ooompph quality that made the song so popular.
I listened to the song on repeat for weeks, trying to convince myself that I, not the populace was the one with the problem, but several months later, I have come to the conclusion that I was never wrong. All those who lauded the song were either paid, deluded or deaf.
Anyways, the song got me thinking about the idea of content especially when it comes to art and music. Why does a song whose lyrics go “Sokoto penpe is a knicker, Omi Garri is a water” seem to be more popular and more widely consumed than a song whose lyrics are “Little Femi doesn’t know why his neck is tied to the ceiling or why he’s ready to kick the chair from under his feet” with a similar level of production and exposure?
What drives the market to consume what it consumes?
Looking through ideas that have gone on to be trends, particularly in music, We see wide variations in the quality of content, production, marketing initiative and direction in different ideas that caught and took on lives of their own going on to burn brightly in the minds and hands of their customers before fizzling out. Contrast ‘Gangnam Style’, the 2012 pop song by South Korean Park Jaesang (Psy) and ‘Mans Not Hot’, the brainchild of British Comedian Michael Dappah.
While Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is an upbeat, colourful, carefully nuanced parody of upscale Korean culture portraying materialism as hollow sung almost entirely in Korean, Big Shaq’s mostly freestyle musical comedy lacks the bright colors, catchy beat and choreographed dance routines that made Gangnam style. Yet, despite the vast majority of the populace not understanding what exactly was being communicated in both songs, Gangnam style has gone on to garner billions of YouTube views and Man’s Not Hot attained a peak position of number 3 on the UK singles chart.
What turns that regular piece of art into a global masterpiece?
Have you ever come across a song, video or fashion on social media and shaken your head at the total absurdity of it before turning your head firmly to face your own business and two weeks later, that song, video or fashion style is everywhere you turn?
Wildfire is a word often used to describe fads, ideas and trends that seemed to originate from nowhere and in a short space of time become so popular that the originator is forgotten in the wave. The power of ideas is such that they can take on a life of their own, completely different from the course charted for them by their originators. One person hears a song, he likes it, or a line speaks to him and he recommends it to his friends. His friend recommends the song to their friends and within a short time, millions of people have heard that song.
As all a fire needs to spread is a spark- to start the fire and sufficient fuel to sustain it, so it is when one person sees a video or hears a song that has lyrics he can relate to, a catchy tune he cannot get out of his head, or a video he just can’t get enough of, he recommends it to his immediate circle and if enough people find something attractive or appealing in that song or video, they consume and recommend to their own circle and the cycle goes on till people get tired of that fad.
In the case of Small Doctor’s ‘Penalty’, you have the catchy line “O ti GBA penalty WO throw-in” and a dumb but catchy “gben gben gben, ri gben gben ri gben ri gben.”
In ‘Oppa Gagnam Style’, you have a very colourful video and a dance routine which was equal parts fun, silly, and awkward.
Accidents or deliberate marketing?
I am of the firm opinion that for every hit or trend that is an accident, you have dozens that are the product of careful, innovative, persistent marketing. Human beings are creatures of habit, easily influenced and very predictable, and time and again, successful businesses have taken advantage of these innate human traits to tailor products for specific market.
For example, take the reemergence of Nigerian great D’Banj. After a few years of near barrenness in terms of getting his music accepted by Nigerian listeners, the Singer was back in 2017 with a new album, several concert invites and singles. What has driven him back from the wilderness into the consciousness of Nigerian music lovers once again? Careful reinvention of his person and his style and a good strong finger on what the consumers desire.
Many Nigerians decry the local songs as devoid of content, yet Nigerian artistes stay raking in the millions , despite a huge culture of piracy and poor purchase habits of the end consumers. It appears that since the reinvention of Nigerian music and gbedu since the late 90s, we have experienced a definite shift from lyrical story-telling and social criticisms to mind-numbing banging beats and rhythms fit for dancing away our many sorrows. Music artistes and their managers understand this, and the result has been a visible increase in the amount and frequency of club bangers produced by our musicians.
The movie industry is not spared, as it appears to the casual observer that every major Nollywood movie that receives heavy funding and marketing must as a rule incorporate definite elements of overt comedy into the story.
While there still remain wildcards which make their way into our collective consciousness, the majority of our art seems deliberately engineered to be mind-numbing.
Even live performances of songs are no different. Gone are the days of assembling to experience the magical ambience of palmwine, Afro beat or Fuji music. They have now been replaced by artistes lip-syncing their gbedu records blasted over the speakers at arenas containing thousands of fans eager to gyrate, sweaty bodies to the beat.
So, as a fan of both music and marketing, I have nothing but mad respect for the likes of Small Doctor who despite the frequent poor quality of their lyrics manage to put out content that their consumers gulp down greedily.
Written by: Seun Afuye (Twitter: @phoenixafuye)
Edited by: Ose Binitie