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Photo courtesey of @stasammosov

4 March 2024

One Album Wonder


How do we know from the get-go if an up-and-coming artist will become one of the ‘greats’ when all we have to evaluate them by is their first (and potentially last) highly successful first album?


It is not likely you would be able to guarantee or deny an artist’s rise to fame with one hundred percent certainty that early in their career. However, there is an underlying trend in the transition from an artist’s record-smashing first album to their sophomore album that may serve as a future-predicting tool if evaluated properly. Olivia Rodrigo is the perfect case study of someone who created an album so good the first time round that many doubted her ability to do it again. As the buzz for Rodrigo’s second album grew in the days before its release last September, many fans and cynics alike voiced their concerns that she would never be able to outdo her freshman album:Sour. Her debut boasted the biggest opening week on Spotify for a female artist, and was the biggest album of 2021, leaving her with the possibility of becoming a ‘one-hit wonder.’ The sceptics who doubted the potential of her sophomore album had reason to do so, as Sour contained countless radio hits, such as ‘Driver’s License’ and ‘Good 4 You,’ that broke unprecedented records. However, the release of her second album was received so well that it shot her up to an entirely new level of success that few dared to believe possible.


While Rodrigo’s revolutionary debut album launched her headfirst into the top of today’s music industry, it is arguable that Guts is a more introspective piece, filled with deeper cuts that led to an even bigger splash than Sour. It focuses on lyrics that peek into Rodrigo’s diary, such as ‘Making the Bed’ or ‘Logical,’ which fans everywhere immediately felt connected to. Her sophomore album surpassed her debut by about 7,000 in sales in its first week and has since climbed to new heights. Her rise to the top of the charts in an even more substantial way than her first album is perhaps indicative of her future in the industry only climbing to land her legendary status.


In creating and releasing an album that felt distinguishably reminiscent of Olivia’s brand (a complex and layered teenage girl learning from her mistakes), Rodrigo has managed to break out of the mould of being a ‘one-hit wonder,’ or even a ‘one-album wonder.’ While the new album is more experimental in its punk rock production, it stays true to the Olivia we all know and love. She is consistent in who she is, without morphing into a new person with a new album, while also daring to expand and adjust to suit the path her life has taken with this new era of music.


Ultimately, truly revolutionary musicians are constantly evolving and growing. Those who become the most successful often work incredibly hard to maintain the perfect balance that keeps listeners coming back for more because they know who to expect, but not exactly what to expect.


The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me, broke the barriers of music production that listeners had grown so familiar to, landing them huge success. Once again, many believed this incredible drop into the industry was the peak of their career. However, their debut was topped several times over with their next release, and the release after that, and so on and so forth. What made their success continue to grow instead of plateauing? They paved the way with revolutionary melodies and production just as they did in their first album, while remaining true to themselves. Michael Jackson, who is largely considered to be one of the greatest musicians of all time, released a solo album that peaked at number 14 on the global charts. Many assumed that his success in the Jackson 5 was unbeatable and that his solo career would always be second best to the albums he created with the band. Yet, he persevered to create songs that were entirely unique to himself, and became a household name that would live on for decades after his death.


Perhaps the truest tell-tale signs of a future legendary artist lie in their ability to outdo themselves in their own work. After having such an impactful launch into the industry, creating an entire new slate of songs that feels different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to be comforting is more than a challenge. This is why so many artists with record-breaking first albums seem to fall off the face of the earth as they attempt (and fail) to recreate that magic. They either release something too close to the work that brought them success the first time, which is received as uninteresting and lazy, or they wander so far away from the energy their fans got used to that they often no longer attract the same kinds of fans that supported their debut into the industry. The walk between these two concepts is very difficult, and the artists who do succeed have found that sweet spot in the middle with just the right amount of familiarity and revolution to keep fans sticking with them for the next few albums, or maybe even the rest of their career.

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