Today, solo acts dominate the charts, at least in the U.S. and U.K. While K-Pop remains a worldwide phenomenon, launching superstar groups like BTS, lone performers find increasing popularity in the West. Individualists like Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Brandi Carlile and Phoebe Bridgers set the cultural conversation, and music’s biggest icons remain one-name brands: Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye, Gaga. Last month, just three acts in Spotify’s Global Top 50 were groups: BTS, The Neighbourhood and the Internet Money rap collective.
What broke up the band? According to a recent article in The Guardian, a combination of factors did in the supergroup. Tastes shifted away from rock (and its need for a lead guitarist, drummer and bassist), favoring pop and hip-hop instead. Changes in technology enable one person to create an entire soundscape. Bands are expensive to put together, and need musical instruments and space to rehearse. It costs more for labels to “break” a band versus a solo act. The days of Simon Cowell or P. Diddy “making a band” on reality TV are long gone. And, perhaps most important, a star’s greatest promotional platform is social media, which favors the intimacy of one person’s candid photos, videos and messages over the artifice of a group doing a press junket.
Other creative factors favor solo artists. Mashups and “featured” performers are more popular than ever, so why should artists limit themselves to collaborating indefinitely with one small group of people when they can work with anybody at any time? It’s still very much the era of the superstar producer, so pop hits are more about a producer putting together a “group” of contributors for a song or an album, instead artists forming groups to control production. And in an era when everybody wants ownership, and Taylor Swift is rerecording her first six albums to control her catalogue, who wants to split ownership, royalties and creative decision-making five or six ways?
Brands have lots to learn from the breakup of the band:
*Collaborate creatively. Just as artists can “feature” anybody on a song, and surprising mash-ups can electrify fans, brands can do the same. Coca-Cola Freestyle lets consumers mix their own fountain drinks from across the Coca-Cola family, adding a splash of Fanta to their Sprite.
Or mash-ups can cross companies: General Mills teamed up with Mars for Starburst-flavored Yoplait yogurt, and with Nestle on Coffee Mate Cinnamon Toast Crunch creamer. (Disclosure: the author owns shares of Coca-Cola and General Mills.)
*Find a face of the brand. Solo performers are so compelling because they offer a distinct, omnichannel brand identity: Beyonce eventually transcended Destiny’s Child, and Harry Styles evolved beyond One Direction. Develop a similar identity for your brand that can exist across still media, audio and video, and consider tapping into the power of a unique solo performer to do so.
*Communicate intimately. Solo performers enjoy the advantage of engaging with millions of fans with each Instagram selfie, tweet and TikTok video, building an intimate, one-on-one relationship with every follower. Echo this communication style to build a similar bond with each consumer.
By following these best practices, brands can remain at the top of the charts for generations to come.