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Industry Plants: What's the big deal?

Recently, artists, interviewers and entertainers with little to no social media presence or experience have suddenly appeared at the top of their fields, much to the wonder and dissolution of the public. 

Many are now theorizing about the content centered in the media. How are artists that most people have never heard of topping major charts? Here enters the conversation surrounding "Industry Plants." 

What is an Industry Plant?

There is no concise definition of what an industry plant is. In an interview with Complex, Bay Area rapper Guapdad 4000 said that an industry plant is an artist who experiences a sudden rise in fame but lacks the resume to back up their success:

"A person put in a position to look and perform like a star, that wasn't here last year. They get to cut almost every corner because they know one person who just runs everything in some spectrum (of the industry) and then everyone else under that person has to go to bat for the artist," Guapdad stated. 

Musician Kari Faux's definition focuses a lot on the corporate side of the music industry, putting the spotlight on artists, as if pushing a product, yet acknowledges how fleeting public appeal is: 

"(An industry plant) an artist who is being groomed and developed away from the public eye by a label—people are always expecting that follow-up. When that comes it's the real determining factor in whether or not you're going to last."

Both definitions highlight people who are inserted into the industry by a powerful hand. However, Industry veteran Noah Callahan-Bever disagrees with the concept entirely. 

Bever believes that people are naturally suspicious of artists not on their radar. However, this does not mean they do not deserve their rising accolades.

"Before you had the internet, it almost always felt like artists 'came out of nowhere' and then were down with this person or that person and had big connections—All of a sudden they're in The Source every month for three months in a row," Bever said. "But unless you were super plugged into the industry, it was always like, 'Who is this new person?"

The discussion of an industry plant can be complex and confusing, but growing universal themes can be conjured into somewhat of a definition. 

Who are they? 

Recently, American sweetheart Keke Palmer interviewed Bobbi Althoff, who has been under fire for industry plant accusations with her sudden rise as a celebrity interviewer. Althoff's first two interviews were with comedian Funny Marco and global superstar Drake.

Many people were extremely skeptical about her sudden push into stardom because she conducts interviews that many rising journalists who have been making similar content for longer dream of. 

In the interview, Palmer asked Althoff directly if she was an industry plant. Althoff playfully said yes but didn't truly understand what an industry plant is. She quickly dispels rumors of having ties to major corporations or entities. 

However, it is not as cut and dry for some musical artists. Billie Eilish, Ice Spice, Chance The Rapper, H.E.R., Lil Nas X and Cardi B are just a few names that have popped up in the past few years. 

Cardi B responded to the accusations against her, stating, "You can't buy the general public. No machine. No money can buy that! Having stadiums sing out your s—, you can't buy that!" 

Singer H.E.R would also rebuttal, stating, "I've seen so many bands and artists with a 'small' amount of followers sell out MSG and headline some huge festivals. Y'all think everybody's underrated or an 'industry plant' with massive success outside of Instagram."

Faking Views and Streams

FLAGRANT, a podcast on YouTube hosted by comedians Andrew Schulz and Akaash Singh, recently interviewed musical artist Russ about the complex system that goes into faking and inflating streams, views and playlist placements. 

Companies hire undisclosed people and organizations to build platforms with fake streams. Russ explained that this does not happen very often to artists who are not already in the mainstream commonly; they will inflate the number of already major or top charting artists: 

"They're not doing it with up-in-coming artists, who'd you never believe. They're doing it with people—Let's say your song has 500 million streams, organically, but with fake streams, you are at 900 million. No one is going to sit there and be like, 'This is more like a 500 million stream song'."

View and stream inflation is intended to make more money as inconspicuous as possible. Russ emphasizes that songs have to move around and spread organically, and the artists must also have a following. The inflation of streams has to look proportionate to the hype around a song or artist.

In 2021, Spotify made a statement on the growing rates of fake streams on its platform, setting a precedent by threatening the royalties of artists whose streams were being inflated. Spotify enforced guidelines to crack down on the faking of streams, including withholding royalties, correcting streaming numbers and chart placements and even removing artists' music.

Is this as big of an issue as it is made to seem?

Most of the conversation around industry plants surrounds women, particularly women of color. Social nuances make the idea and legitimacy of industry plants hard to define and validate. However, it is not unfounded that record labels take artists off the street, clean them up, give them a sound and market them to the public. 

Artist development was very prominent in the music industry before the 21st century. Even in recent years, the increasing consumption of K-pop music in the Western music industry shows the prominence of artist development. 

Training companies will scout people on the street and send them through years of dance, singing, media, acting and modeling training. Each company has a specific style and aesthetic they are known for and grooms their artists to reflect this. However, building skill sets and networking is supposed to be how artists create their brand and gain the necessary experience, especially in creative fields.

This conversation around what it means "to come up in the industry" shines a light on the validity of industry plants and the manipulation of streams and charts that push undeserving artists to the point of breaking records they have not earned. 

That itself is extremely concerning and shows how malleable the music industry truly is. 


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