Have you ever wondered why musical artists who are no longer with us seem to have an almost cult-like following? Or why an artist seems to become infinitely more popular after his or her death is announced? This trend has been evident all throughout history, from the 1970s to now, most recently with artists such as Pop Smoke and Nipsey Hussle gaining an immense amount of popularity after their deaths. Is this just a coincidence, or are there reasons that explain this common theme in deceased artists?
Dying young is almost a glorified action in the music scene of today, especially once the idea of the 27 Club was coined in 1994, after the death of Kurt Cobain. The 27 club is a metaphorical club, consisting of musical artists Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, who all died at the age of 27.
Giving this unfortunate group of deaths a nickname, on top of the fact that these artists happened to be extremely successful, made it seem like dying young from complications of the rock and roll lifestyle was something to be idolized. This caused many of the artists in our century to be placed on a pedestal and labeled as great, simply for dying, in turn, elevating their status and popularity.
Most dead artists from our decade did in fact die young, which is another reason why music fans seem to obsess over them once they are gone. It is human nature to imagine what could have been and because artists such as Lil Peep, Avicii, Juice WRLD and Amy Winehouse were all in their early to late 20s when they passed, that question could have a variety of answers.
The “what ifs” in this question are endless, making it a commonly discussed topic for music theorists or just the regular fan. Due to the fact that this question can never be rightfully answered, it solidifies the artist in a legend-like status. For all we know, said artist could have given birth to the greatest songs the world has ever known, or ended up flopping and ruining their legacy. However, music fans will always choose to believe the former, firmly establishing said artist as a titan of the industry.
From a sales perspective, the death of an artist immediately increases the value of their work. This is a trend labeled as the “death effect” and is more evident in the art industry, but it can be applied to aspects of the music industry as well. It was easier to measure an increase in sales before streaming services began to dominate, with audio storage devices like records and CDs, which always saw jumps in sales after the death of an artist.
Oftentimes, the death of a musical artist will spark news stories or reports if they were successful enough, which is another obvious reason why their popularity may skyrocket. There is no such thing as bad publicity, even from the grave, so that kind of news coverage could reach a whole new audience who will then listen to that artist out of curiosity, boosting his or her number of streams.
Finally, losing a loved singer or rapper is a sad event when it occurs, but it often brings the music community together to mourn. This mourning often takes the form of listening to the deceased artist's music for weeks or even months after their passing. This large influx of listeners grieving the loss of an artist can inflate the number of streams or plays he or she gets, making them even more popular than when they were alive.
While dying young is not something to be glorified and the 27 Club is not a goal that should be shot for, it does give some insight into the reasons why artists become even more beloved in their afterlife. Speculation towards what the artist could have become, while impossible to know for sure, is almost more satisfying than knowing the answer to that question and adds to the cultish allure some rappers gain posthumously.
As far as the logistics of a musical artist's career, the increased publicity due to their death and the value of their work growing every day they are not alive, are keys to explaining the sudden swell of popularity that occurs when the artist passes. Grieving together as a community does make you appreciate the musical artist being mourned, but I’d like to think they would be just as appreciated and loved if they were with us today, regardless of genre. Rest in peace to all the artists who have died over the course of music's history and may their legacies live on through their work forever.