Music's Big Losers Of 2021
For very different reasons, acts from Eric Clapton to Travis Scott are among those whose stock is down after a tumultuous 12 months.
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Start with the good news. That’s what I did, unveiling my picks for music’s biggest winners of 2021 in the last installment of this newsletter.
But it can’t be all sunshine and rainbows, especially in this shambling garbage monster of a year. So let’s go for a dumpster dive together, a fitting end to what’s been—at least in my opinion—an unusually unpleasant 12 months.
Without further ado, here’s a handful of people who’ve taken the biggest hits in 2021, either to their brand, their pocketbook, or any combination thereof.
Eric Clapton has, for decades, kept many of his views to himself. And that was probably the right move. Lately, he’s emerged as a prominent anti-vaccination voice, cozying up to Texas governor Greg Abbott while touring America’s Covid-ravaged South. This alone would’ve been enough to put him on my list, since the actions of anti-vaxxers have undoubtedly delayed our return to normalcy in music and beyond. But wait—there’s more: Clapton and his team wrapped up 2021 by suing a widow for posting her husband’s old Clapton record to eBay (apparently it was a bootleg, though she didn’t know that; Clapton dropped the matter after some bad press). Touring will eventually be back in full force, but don’t expect the same for Clapton’s reputation.
Indie promoters have been pummeled by the pandemic, still raging thanks to the sort of misinformation spouted by folks like Clapton. It seems a Pandemic Winter, a Hot Vax Summer, the Delta Days of Fall and a Very Omicron Christmas all have one thing in common: they make the live event space nearly impossible to navigate. It’s much easier for giants like Live Nation—who can sit on their war chests and wait out the storm—than it is for smaller competitors, who don’t have much runway. Any promoter able to survive this rollercoaster year will likely find great demand when things go back to normal, as well as a music festival market no longer oversaturated.
Kiss has never been about following rules. Turns out that applies to Covid-19 regulations, too. Amid accusations from crewmembers over lax pandemic safety protocols (charges the band denies), the virus plagued Kiss throughout its summer tour and took the life of beloved guitar tech Francis Steuber. It seems the public has taken note: in November, the band announced the cancellation of a planned Las Vegas residency due to soft ticket sales.
Anyone who sold their catalog before 2021 probably got a raw deal, relatively speaking. With megabuyers gobbling up copyrights for ever higher prices, multiples have surged. A decade ago, a buyer could expect to pay 8-10 times the amount a catalog generated annually. By 2020, that number had soared to around 20x; the recent $550 million sale of Bruce Springsteen’s catalog reinforces the idea that blue-chip properties can fetch north of 30x. And those who’ve hung on long enough have been handsomely rewarded.
Travis Scott was one of the hottest names in music coming into 2021. Fresh off a record-setting performance in the Metaverse hub Fortnite, he’d shown a blueprint for big acts to succeed in the virtual sphere. But his real-life Astroworld festival took his career arc in quite the opposite direction, as ten fans died and hundreds more were injured in a seemingly-avoidable crowd surge. In addition to facing multiple lawsuits, Scott was pulled as a Coachella headliner, while Anheuser-Busch yanked his hard seltzer from shelves. That said, Scott remains one of the more creative names in music, and—as I wrote recently—there’s reason to believe his disastrous 2021 isn’t the last we’ve heard from him.
And there you have it, folks, a fittingly dark end to a year that began with insurrection and ended with Omicron. Did I get my losers wrong? Or miss any big ones? Let me know in the comments section below. Either way, here’s to a brighter 2022—I’ll see you then.
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