Joy Villa's Billboard Top 12 Album: A Victory for Conservatives
Joy Villa, the woman who wore the pro-Trump dress at the 2017 Grammy Awards, has just had her self-released album I Make the Static go to Number 12 on the Billboard 200. This is a victory both for conservatives who bought the album to support her and for American culture in general, as it demonstrates a preliminary move toward returning "popular" music to the people.
The 2017 Grammy Awards began as usual for the music industry. Everything was running smoothly until a little known singer-songwriter and fitness instructor named Joy Villa made a highly controversial pro-Donald Trump fashion statement at the ceremony. Villa came to the event wearing a white cloak that covered her from neck to toe, and then she removed the cloak to reveal a blue and white "Make America Great Again"-themed gown, with the word "TRUMP" printed in silver on the gown's train. News of Villa's unlikely fashion statement lit up social media and spilled into news headlines, as Trump supporters celebrated Villa's move while progressives viciously attacked her.
Villa's defenders took to buying her music as a token of support for her pro-Trump fashion statement. Fox News reported soon after that Villa's self-released five-song E.P., I Make the Static, had jumped to number one in the Amazon and iTunes bestseller lists. A few days later, Billboard magazine reported that Villa had sold 15,000 units of I Make the Static on Sunday and Monday following her Grammy appearance. Last Monday, Forbes magazine reported that I Make the Static moved approximately 28,500 units (26,545 of which were in actual album sales) (1). Then, on Wednesday of this week, Billboard officially confirmed that I Make the Static held the number 12 spot in the Billboard 200, citing 27,000 in album sales and 29,000 equivalent sales units.
Conservatives and Donald Trump supporters have cause for celebration in knowing that purchasing Villa's I Make the Static caused their voices to be heard. Even though the estimate of 28,500 unit sales (2) seems like a paltry number, it is actually typical for albums hovering around the Number 10 spot on the Billboard charts. The previous week's numbers nine and ten sold 27,000 and 26,000 units, respectively. The week before that, numbers nine and ten sold 27,000 units each.
I Make the Static is not an album released by a major or even an independent record label. Rather, it is a private release put out by Villa herself through CD Baby, a popular independent music distributor. There is currently no CD or vinyl release of I Make the Static. The album is available only in digital formats (MP3 and streaming) and through online retailers such as iTunes and Amazon.com. If you have a friend who has recorded an album and put it out himself, he did exactly what Joy Villa did and is probably using the exact same company as his distributor.
Most independent musicians struggle with the problem of extremely low demand for their music, which causes sales of as low as one sole copy to be commonplace. Villa herself was in this very position just a few weeks ago, with Forbes reporting that "digital sales [for I Make the Static] prior to last Sunday's Grammy Awards ... were zero." By Villa's own admission, the album did not have the benefit of press or label support. Villa was also in competition with established Grammy artists, who were experiencing major sales gains during the Grammy week. Finally, Villa did not have the benefit of a full Nielsen sales week to sell albums, as the timing of her Grammy appearance left her with a little over four days, out of seven, to sell albums. But, despite all these odds working against her, Villa's album still managed to crash the Billboard charts.
Although the success of I Make the Static is a victory for conservatives, it is also a victory for American culture. This is because it marks a preliminary blow to an oppressive music industry establishment, whose "tastemakers" utilize brainwashing tactics that make the "popularity" of their music akin to a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
Much has been made of the music industry's sales woes, with illegal downloading being the popular bogeyman. However, a closer look suggests that the real problem may simply be that the music industry is not offering customers music that it wants. Existing research demonstrates that only 5% of the American population over the age of 18 considers the last two decades (from 2000 to current) as having the best music. While pop music has become more and more homogenous, catalog albums (defined as albums eighteen months old and older) have begun outselling new releases, doing so for the first time on record in 2015. Catalog albums outsold new releases by a 60-40 ratio in 2016 (3).
An unseen but important factor driving the success of Villa's I Make the Static is that people genuinely liked the album. Of the nearly 500 Amazon.com reviews from verified purchasers, some 70% made glowing comments about the quality of the music itself (4). Reviewers routinely complimented Villa's voice, comparing her to singers such as Peggy Lee, Debbie Harry of Blondie, and Shirley Manson of Garbage. Fans of genres such as 1990s alternative, soul, country, heavy metal, progressive rock, classic rock, and jazz purchased the album and discussed their favorite tracks, of which "Vagabonds" was mentioned often. Several reviewers mentioned that they normally do not purchase newer music and found Villa's album a refreshing alternative to current pop artists.
We are now at a place where music sales are low enough – and cultural frustration is strong enough – that even a self-released album with a limited budget can have an impact. With enough grassroots successes like this, we could see popular music become the music of the people once again. Chalk one up for the conservatives for this much needed cultural victory.
(1) Tallying I Make the Static in equivalent sales units, 150,000 streams would be 100 units (1 unit = 1,500 streams), and Track Equivalent Albums (TEA) would be 1,900 (1 unit = 10 tracks). Add the 26,545 of actual albums sold, and the grand total of equivalent units is 28,545. Commentary blog The Awl confirmed 26,545 to be the number for I Make the Static's actual album sales.
(2) The author did not have access to the actual Nielsen Soundscan sales reports at the time of writing and chose to work with a more conservative rounded estimate of 28,500 in total equivalent sales units based on Forbes's reported tallies, making the assumption that Billboard's reported numbers were rounded up.
(3) Lidestri, Jim, ed. BuzzAngle 2016 U.S. Music Industry Report. Border City Media, 2017, p. 20.
(4) This number comes from a tally the author made of the comments in Amazon.com reviews that were designated as "verified purchases." Statements like "great music" and "I love her voice" were included, along with more detailed commentaries that directly reference the music. More vague comments that did not directly reference the music were not counted.
The author prefers to remain anonymous