1997 provides us with an interesting cautionary tale about the pursuit of the next big thing and how it doesn't always play out the way we expect. From MTV's Year in Rock:
Music fans were restless, record sales were stagnant...Then, a new music emerged...one that captivated listeners, created new stars and dominated the charts. And that sound was...ska. Of course, 1997 was supposed to be the year that technofied dance music known as "electronica"...would reshape the American pop landscape.
It's fun to look back at '97 with 15 years of hindsight. That ska was ever-popular seems quaint. The real future, for rock music, at least, was in nu-metal.
While '97 was not the breakout year for electronica that many predicted, it was only the first part of the story. One name change and a few breakout artists later, EDM is a force that is reshaping the pop landscape -- and not just on the charts. Take a look at how, after a slow start, EDM has become a major part of our culture.
5. Commercial usage: Unless you're up to date on your British electronic songwriters, the name Alex Clare probably means little to nothing to you. Without realizing it, you've probably been exposed to one of his songs. It's his track "Too Close" that plays in the background of the above Microsoft commercial.
Microsoft has never been afraid to throw money around to advertise their product. The company paid millions to use "Start Me Up" by The Rolling Stones when it was marketing Windows 95. So why is a major corporation using music from an obscure Brit as part of the campaign for one of their flagship products?
Because they, like most companies, want to appear hip. Will Alex Clare's name get Internet Explorer 9 any extra downloads? Probably not, but his sound might. They're trying to rehabilitate their image now that consumers are aware there are other browser choices.
Microsoft tying themselves in to new trends in music is an attempt at making their brand seem cool.
4. The venues are getting bigger and better: Reliant Arena sits in the shadow of Reliant Stadium and has an estimated capacity of 8,000. That's a drop in the bucket compared to its big brother next door, but still three times larger than the Bayou Music Center and five times bigger than the House of Blues.
That someone has the confidence to book an act like Avicii at Reliant Arena (May 17) says they have faith in his drawing power and the drawing power of EDM. He may not have the crossover success of someone like David Guetta, but his current tour is being billed as the first North American all-arena tour by an electronic artist.
It's a far cry from the days when going to see your favorite DJ meant going to a club or going to a rave. Nicki Minaj is a huge name in hip-hop and has had two albums reach the top of the chart; Kaskade is a house producer whose album peaked at No. 17. They both have shows in July at Bayou Music Center.
Its artists may not have the same chart success, but promoters know there's money to be made in EDM.
3. Acceptance by new media: Anyone who goes to chain movie theaters on a regular basis is familiar with Fathom Events. They're a company that specializes in streaming niche programming to theaters across the country. They cover a lot of different niches, from opera to boxing to comedy to rock concerts.
Most of these events feature big, recognizable names. They streamed festivals featuring Metallica and Eric Clapton. They've shown archive video of The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. They'll be showing Mayweather vs. Cotto.
In March they did a broadcast of the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, one of the largest electronic music festivals in the world. There's no way of knowing how successful that broadcast was in terms of ticket sales, but that they were willing to spend the resources to stream it to theaters across the county says they thought the performance would be of some value.
They're not the only company taking a chance on EDM. SiriusXM have deals with the major sports organizations, Oprah and Howard Stern. The company also has three stations dedicated to electronic music. (Tiësto recently got his own online station as well.)
2. Fan infighting: When a genre is small, its fans tend to be very close and very passionate. As it grows larger and more people become involved, the community breaks off into separate groups. EDM encompasses a variety of different styles and the fans take their favorites seriously.
You may have read the story our friends over at West Coast Sound did about the controversy that erupted when DJ Fei-Fei Wang dared to play dubstep during a trance show. The amount of vitriol directed toward her because of her performance is silly but not surprising. It's even worse when someone starts the "brostep isn't real dubstep" debate.
Infighting is part of the growing pains that come with increased popularity. And in the same way some hardcore kids might not like emo or people claim that East Coast/West Coast/Southern hip-hop is better than all others, fans of the different EDM branches aren't looking for genre inbreeding. They don't want house in their drum and bass.
1. It's part of the establishment: We may not agree with all of the decisions of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, but it would be hard to deny the Grammy Awards' place in popular music. There are now three categories dedicated to electronic music at the ceremony: Best Dance Recording; Best Dance/Electronic Album and Best Remixed Recording (Non-Classical).
Much like the heavy-metal categories, the previous winners' list is pretty brutal; The Baha Men have a Best Dance Recording Grammy, after all. But times are slowly changing for the better.
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While it's true that Lady Gaga won two of the three awards in 2010, 2012 was a big year for EDM at the show. Skrillex swept all three Dance categories and was nominated for Best New Artist, while DeadMau5 performed on the show with the Foo Fighters.
It's hard to argue that something isn't mainstream when they're cosigned by a music organization that large. It's only a matter of time before an EDM artist gets an album-of-the-year nomination.