Internet Killed the Radio Star, and Now Netizens Are in Control

Sleeper success of Lorde’s 'Royals' proves a great tune will play on, and on

Internet takes over Music Biz Lorde
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Yes, Katy Perry boxed on the VMAs. Miley Cyrus showed everything but her box. But the woman with the most infectious track, who neither looks like a model nor acts like one, who has not taken off her clothes, who has not worked with the producers du jour, has trumped them both.

Credit the Internet. Now a 16-year-old in New Zealand can become a worldwide smash just as easily as a denizen of L.A. The action online motivated Jason Flom to fly down and sign her. But it was the song, the record, and not manipulation. There’s been none.

Lorde’s debut is even more impressive than Alanis Morissette’s in the ’90s. Morissette was helped by a ton of video airplay. Ditto with Nirvana. Morissette was overwhelmed by her success and never equaled it. Kurt Cobain offed himself as a result. It’s not only a long way to the top if you wanna rock ’n’ roll, it’s hard to stay there. It’s even hard to stay alive — just ask Bon Scott.

Will Lorde be able to follow it up?

That’s to be seen. The video era is rife with acts who were one and done, whether it be the “Macarena” boys or Jimmy Ray. On the Internet, novelty disappears: Can you say Psy? But if for some reason you’ve got some talent, and you’re willing to continue to play, we’re all ears.

Yes, the Internet is the radio of the 21st century. And instead of programmers, it’s surfers who are in control. We’re the ones who make the hits. Almost always, radio is last. Oh, radio’s a rocket fuel that can propel that which is already successful into the stratosphere, but instead of breaking records, it gets onboard.

Furthermore, the Lorde track has all the elements that all the wannabes pooh-pooh. It’s instantly catchy, with plenty of hooks — and she can sing. If you’re boring us, we’re never ever gonna get to the chorus; we’re too busy looking for new gems online.

Also, “Royals” doesn’t sound like anything else. That’s the recipe for instant success, doing it different and well. We can’t even name the winners of the TV singing competitions, never mind the fact that they don’t have hits. Meanwhile, something from left field surfaces, because everybody gets to play today; there are no barriers to entry.

And the result is clutter. Which means if you’re not good enough, your music will be lost, never heard; you can put it up on iTunes and it won’t sell. But if you’re truly great … we’ve got people surfing the Internet 24/7 looking for you, masses eager to spread the word. You can go from nowhere to somewhere overnight.

So yes, lament the manufactured crap.

But know that now is truly your time. If you’re new and different, innovative and catchy.

Stay at home and hone your chops as opposed to tweeting and Facebooking. Lorde herself didn’t sell the track, the music did.

Note: Lorde’s “Royals” is No. 1 on the iTunes singles chart. It’s No. 2 on Spotify. It’s No. 10 on the Top 40 Mediabase chart. That’s radio, one step behind! More than ever, it’s about the moment, what’s happening now. And you find that out online.

Ear Candy: ‘Constant Sorrow’

The very first thing that crosses your mind as you listen to Avicii’s “True” is … how did he come up with this stuff?

Dan Tyminski has been hiding in plain sight ever since “O Brother.” His “Man of Constant Sorrow” was so satisfying, not only one of the best tracks of the year, but the most memorable. But did anybody capitalize on his talent? Did a label push him? Of course not; they just want 10-year-olds working with alta-kachers, believing that’s the only way to make the cash register ring.

But the real way to make money rain down is to do something completely different and wholly satisfying, something that makes you feel good just to listen to it. Like Avicii’s work with Tyminski, “Hey Brother.”

This is the album track for those who lament the passage of such music. Not filler, not made for the radio. It’s made just for you, listening at home.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at Lefsetz.com.