Nigerian music: The problem with ‘hits’ in 2019 and the illusion of ‘numbers’ [Opinion]

In 2019, we have arguably not seen more than seven hits. We also need to understand that all hits are successful songs, but not all successful songs are hits.

Nigerian music: The problem with 'hits' in 2019 and the illusion of 'numbers' .[Instagram/WizkidAyo]
Nigerian music: The problem with ‘hits’ in 2019 and the illusion of ‘numbers’ .[Instagram/WizkidAyo]
It’s been a mixed year in Nigerian music. ‘Afrobeats to the world’ has gathered pace. Burna Boy leads the charge with a media charm offensive that no African artist has received in decades. Nigerian artists are getting paid in foreign currency as they sell out shows.
Wizkid, Naira Marley, Fireboy thrill the O2 Arena in London. (Twitter/MusicGuide)

Wizkid, Naira Marley, Fireboy thrill the O2 Arena in London. (Twitter/MusicGuide)

They are also getting features by heavyweights of various industries. But then, something has been lacking in Nigerian music; ‘Hits’. Don’t get it twisted, we have still had hits, but if we had a soundscan system or an adequate medium to measure songs by, 2019 will go down in Nigerian music as arguably the year with the lowest rate of hits.

If we are being honest, Nigerian music has not seen more than seven genuine hits in 2019 so far. Sadly, two of those songs were released in December 2018.

The genuine hits that we can genuinely get behind in Nigeria are; ‘Killin Dem‘ by Burna Boy and Zlatan, Jealous‘ by Fireboy, Dumebi’ by Rema, ‘Blow My Mind‘ by Davido, Soapy’ and ‘Opotoyi‘ by Naira Marley and ‘Dangote’ by Burna Boy.ADVERTISING

They are the songs that have had true staying power with a larger demographic and permeated a large percentage of the generation that determines social trends. This generation is Nigerians between 16 and 37. But due to how we have no trustworthy rating system in Nigeria, what is deemed a ‘hit’ is of as flexible connotation as what is deemed a ‘classic’ or who is deemed an ‘OG.’

But then, a hit is what is undeniable by anybody that truly matters. It will not be about likeness or otherwise – the song will find you. But sadly, most times people conflate what they like and what is popular with what is a hit. Thus, some will dispute this assertion and say that we have had a lot of hits this year, but that will be a lie.

Before we get into the argument of what is or what isn’t a hit, the fact is that anybody with an empirical sense to truly judge Nigerian music will understand that hits have been scarce.

Why have hits been scarce in Nigerian music?

A few months ago, Michael’s blog used Burna Boyas a focal point to examine the change of guard in Nigerian music. It is a sensitive time in Nigerian music – the industry is going through an evolution of acts and sound.

Its the most aggressive evolution Nigerian music has seen since 2010 which brings the current most successful generation which includes Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy and Olamide. That era was also the golden era of Nigerian Hip-Hop by success and discography. The sound also evolved at the time with mainstays like Tuface and D’Banj initially struggling to keep up.ADVERTISING

Now, the same thing is going on, but it’s made worse by the digital age during which the audience is more exposed than ever. A member of the audience can access music from the world and his ears have become selective. Equally until 2018, the sounds that brought our hits were recycled versions of other popular sounds over the 10 years preceding that.

But now, the audience is fed up. The industry isn’t just going through an aggressive change of guard, the sound is also going through an evolution. It’s the first time in a while that there’s no one formula to craft a hit song. Nobody knows what’s going to be good.

Sometimes, the song is good, but it just won’t ‘enter.’ By mid-2020, the turbulence should settle for more hits. But for now, listeners don’t know what they want, they’re attracted to nothing, anything and everything. Thus, it’s hard for acts to truly crack it. It is the gbas gbos in real time and nobody has the answers.

To address the argument that we have had a lot of hits…

What is a hit in Nigeria?

First off, it is hard to measure a hit in Nigeria. We don’t have a veritable system that accesses sales and inversion of songs into the mainstream to collate results. Thus, it is left for us to determine what is a hit and what is not. Sadly, people usually conflate what they like and what is popular with what is a hit.

What is popular can be hit, but heavy radio rotation is not a reflection of request from fans. It represents OAPs flexing their influence to make a song ‘blow.’ This comes from the verifiable truth that when people hear something for a long time, they will like it. It has happened with many a Davido song.

The problem arises because we don’t have a system that we can trust to truly give us results. So, when we have arguments, both sides have persuasive points but with little evidence to truly mark themselves out. That is why a lot of Nigerians will argue that songs like ‘Joro‘ and ‘Ghetto Love‘ by Wizkid, ‘Risky’ by Davido, Anybody’ by Burna Boy and ‘Reason With Me’ by Rudeboy are hits.

They are not hits. They are just popular and successful songs with healthy numbers. We need to stop conflating a ‘successful song’ with a ‘hit.’ All hits are successful songs, but not all successful songs are hits.

The issue of ‘numbers’

This brings us to the next point; numbers are no reflection of success or sometimes, even failure of a song. The greatest illusion in global music today is that numbers equate success. In truth, they can be an indication, but they can also paper the cracks of a flailing career till it suddenly goes up in flames.

A popular artist with a mega-following will always have healthy numbers. His songs are not going to fail while his fans are still loyal. Stan culture might be toxic, but it’s also built on loyalty. When an artist gets to a stage, healthy numbers are inevitable and radio will play them. Thus with them, it then becomes hard to truly measure what is successful song from what is a failure.

For example, ‘Dis Love’ by DJ Spinall featuring Wizkid and Tiwa Savage has 8.3 million views on YouTube as of today. It is not a even close to being a hit. In contrast, one of Nigeria’s biggest songs of 2019 is ‘Dumebi.‘ It has just 10 million views. Now is ‘Dis Love‘ is successful song? Oh yes. Is it a hit? No. Thus, all successful songs are not hits. Is ‘Dumebi’ a hit? Yes.

Dis Love‘ features Wizkid and Tiwa Savage – that is a default traffic puller. In this streaming age, superstars are like streaming magnets. When you feature them on your songs, the song gets a ‘star’ on Apple Music as a successful song.

Some will argue that if we go by my logic, nothing will be a hit because a ‘hit’ in say, America is based off sales (numbers) and plays for a song as measured by Nielsen Soundscan and certified by The Recording Industry Association of America. But then, in America, metrics are in place to certify that certain songs are truly successful beyond an artist’s fan base.

Thus, what is a hit is usually representative of the true state of the song, not just its acceptance at face value. That then brings us to the question of whether only truly successful songs can be hits.

There are grades to hits

Some songs are more successful and popular than others. Thus, in advanced industries like America, they have a chart where the success of songs can be graded. If Nigeria had a charting systems, songs like ‘Joro’ or ‘Ghetto Love’ will probably not be at the very top of charts, but they will be close.

Thus, there are grades to hits. However, if a song cannot truly permeate with the mainstream and have a staying power to constantly connote excitement beyond its maker’s fan base, it is unlikely to be in the class of genuine hits like ‘Killin Dem.‘ The problem is that what is a hit will be undeniable by anybody.

It will not be about whether they like it or not. The song will find them.

Do ‘hits’ matter?

But when you look at it, our current digital age suggests that hits are not material anymore. What matters is the success of a song. So, is it a good or bad thing? It is both. It is good because an artist doesn’t require a hit to make money. It is bad because it creates an illusion and people focus more on strategy than on making quality music.

The music matters more than anything else.

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