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News February 12, 2021

Got a spare $10 million? The Weeknd shows us how pop is an expensive gamble (Op-Ed)

Senior Journalist, B2B
Got a spare $10 million? The Weeknd shows us how pop is an expensive gamble (Op-Ed)

There’s a reason why your fave indie/boutique/bedroom imprints don’t do pop. It doesn’t come cheap.

The economics of getting a polished pop song with a fetching music video into the market and up the international charts is riskier than cryptocurrency.

Creating a pop hit is like owning a racehorse. From writing sessions to the artist’s makeup and hair, the production, plugging, promoting on TV. The entire process, what the punter doesn’t see, is a money pit.

The Weeknd splashed out big time with his Super Bowl 55 performance, and this time the world got a glimpse at the receipts.

The Canadian R&B star had the biggest hit in the world last year with ‘Blinding Lights,’ but still managed to get precisely zero nominations for the Grammy Awards and he remains an elusive character outside of his fanbase.

We know that, because social media and search engines were flooded with questions alone the line of “Who Is The Weekend”.

For millions of casual music fans, he’s the guy whose song was lip-synced by Tom Cruise on late-night U.S. TV. Oh, and he dated Selena Gomez for a bit.

So when the NFL came calling, Abel Tesfaye didn’t muck about. In just 15 minutes, he ripped out a medley of eight numbers, and put up almost A$10 million of his own cash to “make this half-time show be what he envisioned,” Billboard reported.

The NFL, the elite league of the ‘sport of kings’, historically doesn’t pay its performers. For The Weeknd, Prince, Springsteen and all the stars who’ve strutted the game’s big stage, it’s all about the exposure. That’s an excruciating anomaly worth a deep look, but not here.

The Weeknd, still smarting from his Grammys snub, took a punt. And took it to another level.

The Weeknd and Daft Punk performing at the 2017 Grammy Awards

The Weeknd and Daft Punk

Will he make the money back? Well, rich people would say you can never get that money back, but he’ll get a ROI over time.

In better times, The Weeknd would have announced a tour right after the final buzzer. We’re not in those times, so he’ll anticipate streams to do all the lifting.

As the roughest of guides, The Weeknd would need to punch 2 billion extra streams to make that money on Spotify. Other platforms pay at a higher rate.

It’s very do-able for a streaming superstar like The Weeknd, whose ‘Blinding Lights’ is closing in on 2 billion streams on Spotify, ‘The Hills’ has 1.13 billion, and multiple other songs are in the hundreds of million plays on the service.

To capitalize on his 15 minutes, The Weeknd released his 18-track The Highlights collection, which sits at No. 5 on the U.K.’s midweek chart. His total music sales lifted 385% in the U.S. soon after his 7th February performance, according to data published by Billboard.

Bear in mind, the mainstream advertisers who participate in the Super Bowl pay the highest advertising rate for any show, anywhere. He could snag a sponsorship deal with a brand through his Super Bowl association which would pay off that A$10 million outlay. 

If $10 million sounds like a lot, consider that’s how much it cost to make Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ a hit.

We got to study the score sheet back in 2015, when its songwriters were sued by Marvin Gaye’s estate.

An executive at Universal Music Group, which had released and distributed the hit, told the court that overheads to create ‘Blurred Lines’ came in at US$6.9 million, or roughly that A$10 million mark, a sum that covers promotion, marketing and taking Thicke and his entourage around the world to force that ear worm into folks’ heads.

It’s worth noting, Thicke had at the time made US$5.66 million from the song, while wingman Pharrell Williams made US$5.15 million. It’s also worth noting, ‘Blurred Lines’ is now canceled. And Thicke’s follow-up album stiffed.

There are exceptions to the rule. Tones And I’s ‘Dance Monkey’ was made on a shoestring compared with Thicke’s one-hit wonder.

With a great song and talent, the barriers of entry for pop are lowered. ‘Blurred Lines,’ however, is not the exception.  

So, next time you freak at the price of fuel or avocado toast at your local, consider the price of pop. It’s more than you’ve got.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.

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