Music pundits always have a field day with Burna Boy. Like any megalomaniac celebrity, the dancehall singer’s nonchalant approach to his public image and anti-press stance always make for juicy tabloid-worthy headlines. The latest rain on his parade comes via Pulse’s Joey Akan who presumably thinks Burna has a weak impact on the music culture. This was stated in an emotionally tinged op-ed about Burna’s mid-level success despite maintaining a deep connection with fans who still expect a return of the ‘old’ Burna Boy (whatever that means).
In truth, it is easy to chastise Burna Boy’s lax attitude towards how he is perceived by the same fans who show undying support for his music. To equate this to a ‘weak’ impact on culture, however, is not only stretch, it begs the question of how an artist’s impact is measured. One particular issue raised in this regard by Joey Akan is the prevalence of mid to low, number of video views on YouTube and Spotify plays. The unanswered big question, however, is, who numbers don epp?
The numbers game has always been a two-edged sword. The first possibility here is for an artist to sacrifice critical value for commercial appeal. The second is for Burna Boy to join his colleagues in a common practice of paying YouTube boosters for inflated view numbers but at the risk of low connection to real-life fans.
Burna Boy’s grand plan may not seem evident now, but over the past few months, the dancehall singer has consolidated efforts for live performances, as well as solidified his self-titled Afro-fusion genre. Brand-wise his Redemption EP, released at the tail-end of last year, was precisely aimed at rebranding Burna Boy for his return to the UK, after a five-year ban. In the time, he has collaborated with UK acts, JHus and Skepta, and this comes alongside speculation of his work with Canadian rapper, Drake, following a picture of both artists that went viral on social media a few weeks ago.
At this point, it is also noteworthy to know that not every artist will/should aim for the mainstream market. If Burna’s strategy is to target a niche market of true fans (something he has always prided himself over anyway), instead of a mass market including short-term supporters, he should be allowed to do this expressly. It’s understandable that Nigeria’s pop based market makes it difficult to chart the trajectory of artists who have very little interest in towing the mass market route. But music pundits also need to remember success means different things to different people and artist should be allowed to determine what success means to their careers outside ephemeral details like numbers and popularity ego tussles.