the Second Single Fails
by Ken Napzok
Bam and bang goes the sound of a hot new single as it bursts onto the music
scene with flash and purpose. The video rules the airwaves, fighting for air
time with Carson Daly's stubble. Radio puts the single in heavy rotation and it
spins and spins it's way to the top of the charts. You find yourself humming the
melody in the shower, the car, and twice at work when you thought no one was
around. The band or artist gets catapulted into the spotlight. Entertainment
Weekly calls them the next big thing and VH1 starts collecting data for a Behind
the Music episode. The song soon finds it's way onto the soundtrack of the
latest Vin Diesel picture or it's chorus gets misused in a burger commercial.
The hot new single keeps on playing. Success keeps on coming. Until...of
course...the second single comes out. Then, like slamming a rice rocket into
reverse in the middle of a street race (*please do not try this at home), it all
comes to a crashing halt.
Oh how I love it when the second single fails. It doesn't even have to be a band I hate. I might actually be the dork singing along at the stop light to Avril Lavigne or The Hives. I might actually be the music critic hypocrite that orders a CD from Columbia House just to hear the hot new single whenever I want to without having to stand in line at Amoeba Records and twitch with embarrassment while someone with stronger musical integrity rings me up. Yet, when the second single comes out and so clearly falls flat on it's face, bringing to a halt all the success the first single brought the artist, I can't help but smile with devilish glee because so much goes into the first single. Suit wearing record executives rub their money grubbing hands over the album and artist, digging for the right song which leads to the right video which flows straight into the right look for the right time. It's the public's first look at the artist. It has to be perfect and more often then not it is. I mean, this is what the big wigs do because on the fourteenth day God said, "Let there be people who market music and there was and God saw that it was good." It wasn't until sometime later that Satan took over Sony Records, but that doesn't diminish that these suits have skills. (Or 'got game' if you're reading this in a more urban environment.) The sad reality is that the song chosen for the first single might not match what else is on the album, good or bad. It might not really be what the band is all about. It's too late, though, the single is out and it's hot. Their image has been selected and it has infiltrated our world. It's up to the second single to carry that image forward.
You can tell right away which artists will come crashing down. Somewhere between the second single's opening cord and first crack at the chorus you get that feeling: this album is going to be in the used section, priced to go at $4.95. The video is even more fun for "Playa Hata's" like me. I used to think that it was fear I saw in the artist's eyes as the second video rolled on around them, but I realized the other day that it wasn't fear that I was seeing; it was blind ignorance to their situation. It hit me as I sat sipping Orange Juice and watching the ol' Video Hits-One on the boob tube. There gracing my screen was Vanessa Charlton. (Or Michelle Pink or Mya Branch or Not Tori Amos...whatever) Fresh off her success with her unfortunately catchy debut single "A Thousand Miles," young Miss Charlton was singing about an ordinary boy on an ordinary day making the song...well...ordinary. Yet what caught my eye the most was the look in her eyes. She had no clue that the song sucked. No clue that the video was pompously bland and that her career was already slipping down the TRL countdown. Clearly someone had told her that she was her generations' Poet Soul and the success of her high school journal ramblings would send Jewell back into her VW van. She pranced and strolled round a gaggle of good looking catalog models laying suggestively in the grass. She pouted and squinted thoughtfully into a digital enhanced sunset. She belted out the chorus and smiled slyly through the bridge. All the while she remained blissfully unaware of her fate. Sad to watch if you were her mother yet I just smiled as I gurgled down my Orange Juice. It had happened again. The second single had failed.
Yet, one must admit, that in some cases the second single might not even be that bad. It might even be better then the first. More dynamic, more depth, but less catchy and therefore less likely to keep Working Joe Stiff from switching the dial. From there the band fades away; going from late night guest spots to day time talk shows to Community Cable Access inside a year. (Don't feel bad for them, though, there's always a Farmer's Market main stage they can grace.) However, the fact that they have to play there is partially to blame on the record companies. They market the band or artist so well that who they actually are gets lost. So then the artist tries to continue his career the way they want it to go, which involves a constant fight to outlast the buzz of their first single. The result is usually a loss and the artist gets filed into the one hit wonder category. Now, for Right Said Fred that's not a problem, no one, particularly the members of that buffed out outfit, expected more then "I'm too Sexy." Yet for people like Michael Penn, he gets thrown into the one hit wonder montage of MTV's 'Uncensored: the Video Music Awards special' because he didn't follow the best new artist buzz created by his first single "No Myth." That, to put it as poetic and intelligent as I possibly can, sucks.
But fear not my fellow music nuts, for at least we can still see past the First single buzz and second single apathy to find the great artist and make them our own. And who wants to have your favorite artist go on and win a Grammy any way? I much rather have my favorite artist's slip into the musical cracks, enjoyed by me and all the other hardcore, dedicated fans. Then the rest of my energy can be wasted on laughing when I read another buzz bin band say in an interview with John Norris, "Well, our second single will come out next month. It's gonna be great." Oh sure, I'm being mean spirited and Thomas Dolby would have me believe that having one hit is better then none, but, unless I'm blinded by science, those words sound suspiciously like the those of someone whose second single failed.