Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Impact of Cross-Culturalism on American Popular Music (Part I)

Take a look at the 2010 yearend Hot 100 Billboard chart. Over 50% of the Top Ten hits are collaborations featuring other artists. Go back another 10-years on the charts and you will notice where in time that trend really begins to take off.

Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris is one of the latest examples of artists collaborating across cultures and genres in order to gain chart success; a chart trend that began with Santana’s comeback album Supernatural in 2000 when he featured Rob Thomas on “Smooth” and the Product B&G on “Maria Maria.” Why is it that Santana needed to cross-over to gain chart success or that Justin Beiber’s biggest hits are when he features Ludicris? Popular music is a leading indicator of the cross-cultural trend that is prevalent in today’s mainstream.

As popular music has become more fractionalized over the past decade or more, with so many sub-genres, it seems like these collaborations – bringing together the sounds, and the fan base, from different genres – may be a key to chart success. It’s interesting to note that an artist such as Justin Bieber, who’s very popular within his own genre, only sees chart success when he collaborates with artists from other genres.

Brands can learn a thing or two from following the pop music trends. Like popular music, advertising has become more and more fractionalized over time. Does your brand have crossover appeal to bring back together that desperate focus? It may need an injection of pop culture to reel it in, like Santana and Bieber did, to get to the top, or back on top? Is your brand still talking to the Woodstock audience or are they talking to Lollapalooza audience? Chances are your consumers are more in tune with a cross-cultural presentation than a segmented one, as indicated by the pop charts.

The cross-cultural trend has taken off as artists from other genres and backgrounds have been teaming up to attain chart success. Some of the notable collaborative examples over the decade to feature in the Top 10 year end billboard chart included Black Eyed Peas featuring Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland, Gwen Stefani featuring Akon and now Bieber including Ludacris on his hit “Baby”.

In order to understand the impact of cross-culturalism on American popular music, Ryan Herzog and Almond Loh looked at the top 10 hit songs on the Billboard charts for every year from 1950 through 2009. They then classified the artists who performed each of these hits as being either white, African-American, Hispanic, or multicultural – including groups with members from different ethnic backgrounds, or collaborations between artists from different backgrounds. What they found clearly illustrates the significant impact cross-culturalism has had on the music we enjoy as a society.

PLAYING NEXT: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! – Music from the ‘50s to the ‘80s (Part II)