Sweet Sounds of POWER POP - Why is Matthew Sweet Not a SUPERSTAR?!
MUSIC is not a GENRE - Season 3 Episode #7
ALL ABOUT IT
There are so many things in the music world that make sense. The everlasting popularity of stars like Sinatra or Elvis or the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Prince or Nirvana or Mariah Carey or Cher etc. etc. Or the more underground and under the radar appeal of bands like Sparks – hugely influential and wildly eclectic, but only deliberately mainstream when they wanted to be.
Then there are things that make a whole lot less sense. Why were Nickelback and Kid Rock so popular for so long? Why would someone as prolific and loved as Billy Joel just stop releasing new music? I’m not saying these things don’t have logical explanations. I’m saying so what – there should be different answers.
The same goes for this week’s artist, Matthew Sweet. It makes no sense to me that he was never a superstar. Successful? Yes, for a few years in the 1990s. Respected and still has millions of fans? Absolutely. But he’s not like Sparks. He doesn’t do obscure or eclectic niche music (not that that’s not also awesome). He does singer/songwriter power pop based in mostly classic rock sounds. His lyrics and especially his melodies and arrangements are super catchy-hooky. He has substance, broad appeal AND his own uniquely personal take. He has a very accessible voice. He’s personable and versatile and hasn’t stopped releasing new music since his formative years in early-mid 1980s Lincoln, Nebraska & Athens, Georgia. So what’s up, America? What’s your problem?
Okay so two things. First, pretty much all of those descriptors could also be about me, so I’m taking this very personally 😊. Second, I think I know what America’s problem is. And yes, I’m singling out America here because this is a pervasive issue. I even hit on this in my recent Bee Gees episode. The issue is that America – or more likely its marketing/business/money structure, has a short attention span and little tolerance for artists who don’t totally blow it out all the time. America’s PR machine wants bigness. It grows what’s already growing, and cuts off what’s chugging or waning, to the point where it atrophies more quickly than it should. And fans who’d probably really dig what the artist is doing don’t hear about it, and rarely have time or the presence of mind to search for it. So it dies on the vine.
I’m counting myself in this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost track of a once popular band, only to find out by accident they’ve been touring and pumping out new music non-stop. It would have been nice to freakin’ KNOW ABOUT THIS, but the American PR/money machine has no interest in capturing even a few moments of attention.
I’ve talked on my other podcast format how short-sighted this is, what a bad business model it is to put all your eggs in a few big baskets. No need to go into that again here. Let me just wrap by bringing it back around to this week’s subject. If you remember Matthew Sweet at all – likely from his mid-‘90s output – cool. Better to remember than not know at all. If you had no idea he just put out his FIFTEENTH album a couple of weeks ago, or have never heard of him, I get it. That’s why I’m stressing with certainty that he is not only worth getting into, but should by all rights have been a superstar and now be a legend. Go listen to “Girlfriend” or “I’ve Been Waiting” or “Sick of Myself” or “Where You Get Love” or “Faith In You” or a dozen others, or even any songs from his awesome new album. You’ll hear what I mean.
I can’t underestimate the influence Matthew Sweet has had on my work. He showed me how you can write personal, often not very happy, lyrics and place them in a catchy power pop context. I did a virtual concert in 2020 where I mixed his stuff with mine, and you can hear the connection immediately:
Matthew Sweet & Me: Perfect Together – Virtual Concert - https://youtu.be/ggwJw9u9aE0
Do you know anything about Matthew Sweet? Why do you think he’s not a superstar? Do you agree with my assessment of America’s attention problem? Are there favorite artists of yours you never understood why they weren’t more popular? Discuss dammit!