Indie alt-rocker Mackenzie Scott of Torres
tweeted earlier this week that, after neglecting to gain commercial success, she has been dropped from her label 4AD after her first album with them, despite a 3-album contract.
The album she released last year, Three Futures
, is a lush tour-de-force that has Torres dealing with everything from dropping a peach pie to death, and when you listen to it your first thought is not "chart-topper", but rather that she really bared her soul here. While these sentiments are sometimes synonymous, they are not always. You would think the label knew that when they listened to the record before they released it.
It's worth noting that Grimes
, who is also signed to 4AD, called the label "a piece of shit" in an Instagram post just a few weeks ago, and is planning on releasing one more album and then calling it quits with the label. Clearly, 4AD isn't doing all of their signees the greatest favors.
Torres is a moody, introspective artist with a distinct sound and a penchant for dark topics. While her second album Sprinter
did gain some commercial success and a place in the charts, this last one did not do that, which is presumably the reason 4AD didn't want to keep her on anymore. In their eyes, Torres had failed to create a piece of art that was worth listening to in the public's eyes, and therefore wasn't worth listening to at all. Or at least, wasn't worth keeping afloat in their business.
Unfortunately for 4AD, looking literally anywhere else online would give you a very different picture of the public's reaction to Three Futures
has never given Torres an album review rated lower than 8/10 - pretty high for a website that hardly ever gives out ratings higher than 7.0. Consequence of Sound
gave her album a B+ and said that "Three Futures
proves that Scott will continue to pursue...with poise and confidence". Paste Magazine
quoted Three Futures
as "one of the year's most thoughtful left turns", and fans of her music include tour mates Tegan & Sara
, and others
. And there are a ton of artists who technically "flop" even though critics love 'em - like Carly Rae Jepsen.
Two very different perspectives are painted here. On one hand, her label - the representation of the industry that purportedly supports her and makes her business successful - dropped her on claims that, basically, her music wasn't worth their time. On the other hand you have influential and highly legitimized news sources saying that her music is unique, defining, beautiful. She has a wide fan base and millions of Spotify streams, if no chart-topping songs this time around. What, then, does successful mean?
It seems like unfairly high stakes as a label to base your signees' success off of making the charts or holding a constant place within mainstream popularity. Mainstream commercial success eludes many artists, and many more are one-hit wonders, with one or two songs that make it big and no more than that. A chart doesn't always have a reliable bearing on a musician's caliber - on one hand, you've got the Kendrick Lamars
of the world, who sell out stadiums and could go platinum just by recording themselves eating breakfast. On the other end, you've got the Meghan Trainors
and terrible boy bands
of the world. The fact that they topped the charts is more the fault of overexcited tweens at slumber parties than the artist's musical prowess.
Ultimately, the algorithms for the mainstream are heavily curated and most likely stifling for musicians that want to push bounds, go beyond the norm. Progress was never made by sticking to the status quo, many great bands were considered "too weird" at first to ever be commercially successful, quote every Rage Against the Machine song ever written. To put it simply, there are few models that churn out mainstream art that also allow for change, growth and authentic creativity. 4AD is, first and foremost, a business - and no money equals not worth it, no matter what Pitchfork
has to say about Torres' "most ambitious work yet".
I guess the conclusion is an obvious one: success should be however you define it, should be based upon the emotion you have evoked in others and whether or not your art speaks honestly to your experiences, in whatever way you think best describes them. And if some big suit-and-tie is going to tell you that money is what matters, fuck ‘em. Keep doing you, Torres. In this case, the label ain't the message - the music is.