Tramp Stamps Are The Latest Band Accused Of Being “Industry Plants”, But What Does That Mean?
In 2021, the notion of "industry plant" has lost all meaning.
If you are even a casual user of TikTok, over the last few weeks you might have encountered Tramp Stamps, a trio of young musicians who make memeified pop punk.
As covered in this excellent explainer, published by Vox, the band first exploded onto the app last November, performing jokey covers of hits by classic acts like Weezer and Blink-182.
But the reckoning happened quickly. TikTok users trawled through the band’s past, discovering connections to Dr. Luke, the disgraced producer, and unearthing a Tweet from one of the band members that contained the N-word. Over on YouTube, the music video for the band’s new single has a whopping 18,000 dislikes and counting.
Worse still, in the eyes of some members of the TikTok community, the band were accused of being “industry plants.” Given that some of the members of Tramp Stamps have been trying to make it in the music industry for years, and that they come with a PR-like sheen, it was assumed that they had been marketed and sold by a recording label.
Which, like, of course they have been. The bigger question is: so what? The group distribute their music under a subsidiary of one of the biggest labels in the world, that much is true. But how is that different from the way that the rest of the industry works? These days, the term “industry plant” has lost all meaning. Bands like Tramp Stamps aren’t the exception to the rule. They are the rule.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Industry Plants
The term “industry plant” has been bouncing around the zeitgeist for years now, but it’s really taken off in terms of popularity in the last couple of years — everyone from Clairo to G Flip to Lorde has been slapped with the label.
Simply put, an industry plant is an artist who seemingly presents themselves as homegrown, starting from the bottom and creating a fanbase entirely organically, but in fact has the support of a major record industry. It’s a put-down designed to ask questions about authenticity; about the ways in which the PR machine can lie to consumers, and present them with something different than they are expecting.
Over the years, the term has been thrown around willy-nilly. Superorganism, a group of friends that recorded their acclaimed first album remotely, over the internet, have been accused of being plants; so has the meteoric boyband Brockhampton. “TV show without even getting a charting album,” one forum post says of the latter group. “Obvious plant.”
an industry plant is basically when the company/label a public figure is signed with purposefully puts that person into situations and events for their success. there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but sometimes artists advertise themselves as “home-grown” when they’re not. https://t.co/HmubGaFdd3
— casey 💺 (@fakebroomstick) April 20, 2021
The uptick in the use of the phrase has also moved in tandem with the changing face of our popstars. Once upon a time — not even a decade ago — we wanted our musicians to be bigger than us; to be stranger, and wilder, and more aloof. Beyoncé’s entire image was one crafted around royalty; Madonna’s around the notion of the alien intruder. These people didn’t seem like us, and they didn’t pretend to be.
As a result, there was no question of authenticity to be asked about these artists. They weren’t homegrown, or down-to-earth, and so we never questioned whether or not what they were presenting us with was real. In fact, we loved how unreal it was; that was precisely the appeal.
And then the shift happened. Artists grew more, well, normal. Their Twitter accounts became the source of much joy — turns out, mega-rich popstars are just like us! Or, more to the point, they can pretend to be just like us. And as this grandiosity lessened, questions of authenticity suddenly came into play.
Maybe the most high-profile ‘plant’ discussion involved Lana Del Rey; in the early part of her career critics and fans alike tore themselves apart desperately trying to decipher whether Del Rey was “genuine”.
Leave Tramp Stamps Alone
There are plenty of reasons why we are suspicious of the way the industry sells its musicians. We live in the age of “native advertising”, where PR spin tries its best to remain invisible. Not even memes, the most common form of internet currency, are safe: it was a matter of days before ‘Lyric Cards That Look Like Shitposts’, the beloved Twitter account, was revealed to be part of a worldwide marketing push.
But it is precisely this widespread use of native advertising that means that Tramp Stamps do not deserve the hate that they have gotten. Or at least, one particular part of their hate. They do have past sins to atone for, but being an industry plant is not one of them.
We live in the age of “native advertising”, where PR spin tries its best to remain invisible.
Pointing at one band in particular is misguided. This isn’t an issue created by the artists, this is how the music industry operates. In particular, this is a problem with PR spin, which has only grown more insidious over the last few years. Social media promises unfiltered access to your favourite artists. But everything about the artists you love has been carefully curated, down to their interviews and their social media presence. Take the most honest musician you know, and you can be sure that they have an entire, highly paid team behind them, advising them on what to say and when to say it.
Worse still, it’s us, the consumers, that help this approach — if the “authentic, down-to-earth” image wasn’t effective, then PR companies wouldn’t use it.
Of course, there’s a flipside to all of this: to some extent, this is how artists have been marketing themselves for time immemorial, and what do questions of authenticity and genuineness even mean anymore? The notion of breaking your back doing endless gigs and finally catching the eye of an A&R guy down the back is long gone. This is what the game is now, whether or not we hate it.
If we want to stop the industry from lying to us, and presenting musical acts as homegrown when they’re not, we shouldn’t single out individual acts like Tramp Stamps. We should diversify the way that we interact with artists. We should stop buying the hook of social media timelines. And we should allow other methods of marketing to cut through the noise of a thoroughly content-saturated age.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Music Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.