Former pop stars can't seem to call the tune anymore

January 11, 1993|By New York Daily News

Is it better the second time around?

Not for a startling number of pop stars. Lately, a host of musicians who beat the odds and broke through with their debut albums are teetering toward "Where are they now?" status with their follow-ups.

Plunging swiftly from the role of star to Trivial Pursuit answers are:

* Gerardo, the Latin pseudo-gigolo who hit in 1990 with "Rico Suave." Since his follow-up failed to chart anywhere in the Top 200, perhaps he should have titled it "Rico Stinko."

* Marky Mark, the breathing jeans commercial who went platinum last year with "Good Vibrations," found more people vibrating over his posters than buying his second album, "You Gotta Believe."

* Neneh Cherry struck gold in '88 with her first, "Raw Like Sushi," but has yet to get a nibble for her "Home Brew."

* Alannah Myles went from the 1990 hit "Black Velvet" to a black hole with her '92 release.

* Snap, which hit with "The Power" the first time around, managed a second big single with "Rhythm Is a Dancer." But their sophomore album got two snaps down on the charts.

And that's not all. While hardly bombs, other second-act disappointments have arisen lately. The debut of Wilson Phillips may have moved more than 5 million copies, but the trio's latest, "Shadows and Light," has so far sold one-fifth of that and their summer tour had to be canceled due to disinterest. And Deee-Lite went from hawking over a million copies of its debut to around 250,000 for the follow-up.

So who's to blame for this wave of thwarted expectations? Fingers point in a dozen directions if you ask industry experts. But all agree on one point.

"Too much of the music industry has become like the diaper business," explains Daniel Glass, executive vice president of EMI Records. "Get 'em, wet 'em and throw 'em out.

Which is why, Bob Chiappardi (head of Concrete Marketing, which builds careers for hard rock acts) believes, "It's harder to sustain a pop career now than ever."

Then again, maybe the key word in that sentence is pop. Looking over the list of failed follow-ups many observers point to the fact that most are pop acts which built their following solely on a hit, not on a solid band identity.

"To have a real career, you have to have some kind of personality that people can relate to," says Nancy Jeffries, a senior executive for Elektra. "If your success is based on a song, it's gonna be hard to come back. And a lot of these acts are kinda made up -- like Alannah Myles or Snap. They're really producers' projects."

Still other industry watchers say it's not the musical talent that's thin. They blame media outlets like radio or MTV for not giving these acts enough play. "The avenues of exposure available to these artists are constricting," says Mitchell Schneider, one of the industry's most successful publicists, who handles Alannah Myles and Wilson Phillips, among others. "MTV is no longer the given it once was for these artists."

Specifically, Mr. Schneider points an accusing finger at the network's increase in special programming, robbing time from general video play. "Heavy rotation [MTV's designation for the most repeat plays on a video] does not mean the same thing [now] as it did in '90. It's down." (An MTV spokesman says this is true only in isolated periods.)

Regardless, competition is up. During the past three years, scores of new record companies have sprung up -- like Zoo, Interscope, East West and Morgan Creek -- all pushing "product" to a limited universe of air time and print space. "The industry has way overexpanded," says Ms. Jeffries. "There just isn't room for all these artists to be huge."

Still, more than just record company expansion has played into the industry's new penchant for artist turnover. Many observers jab an accusing digit at radio. Says Mr. Schneider, "A lot of these DJs like to create artists so they can claim glory in their success. They'll pass on last year's artist and start spinning someone new just so they can gain credibility as a station that makes and breaks hits."

Which creates a vicious cycle, observers note. If an artist is known more for a song than a philosophy, it becomes hard for them to draw loyal audiences for a road show. And without going on the road, it's hard to build a loyal fan base.

With this in mind, the Black Crowes sought to reverse the syndrome. First, the Crowes were lucky enough to snare the opening slot on a slew of major band tours. Then they were willing to stay on the road endlessly. As a result they wound up as one of the few bands that broke in '90 that was able to zoom to platinum status with its '92 follow-up.

Ms. Jeffries and others caution media people not to write these artists off too quickly.

As Mr. Chiappardi explains, writing off an artist who's faltering on the charts can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When an artist's record starts to plunge down the charts, radio stations can start pulling the record.

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