As Heidi Klum says, “One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” The model and “Project Runway” host was referring to fashion, but we music nerds know that a similar concept holds true in our world. The music industry, like fashion, is a cutthroat arena of artists constantly competing against each other and, more importantly, competing against their former selves. Once an artist hits it big, she needs to release a solid follow-up unless she wants to say her sweet goodbyes to her music career.
When it comes to follow-up albums, some artists fall victim to the “sophomore slump,” while others return with an even stronger second work. Most artists, though, hit somewhere in between, retaining their fame but not necessarily keeping their momentum going.
Inspired by the recent release of an awful sophomore album, I’ve come up with a list of some prime examples of a sophomore slump victor, victim and in between.
Adele — Victor
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard Adele’s sophomore album, 21, and, if sales records are any indication, you probably love it.
Adele turned a breakup into a gut-wrenchingly beautiful, intimate and soulful album, and unlike some works of art, 21 has an astounding amount of mass appeal. It’s only gone platinum and diamond in about thirty countries, and that was after winning four Grammys for her debut album, 19, in 2009. The takeaway lesson here is that if you want to avoid the sophomore slump, learn a thing or two from Adele. Or get dumped and write a lot of jazzy, relatable songs about it.
Ellie Goulding — Victim
Like Adele, Ellie Goulding enjoyed a healthy amount of commercial success after her debut album, Lights, was released. Its hit title track has been on U.S. charts for well over a year, and the album itself is made of electro-pop dance tracks — no two the same — and virtually all successful songs in their own right.
Unlike Adele, Goulding didn’t make a second album worthy of much praise. “Anything Could Happen” was a promising first single, but the rest of the recently released Halcyon falls flat. A plethora of instruments and electronic effects tries to conceal Goulding’s unnaturally high vocals and weak lyrics that seem most fitting for the dance floor. A wholly forgettable album, Halcyon’s critical success depends on the success of its remixes.
The xx — In between
English pop band the xx became an overnight sensation upon the release of its self-titled debut album in August 2009. The band’s minimalist, sometimes haunting sound doesn’t have the mass appeal of Adele or Coldplay, but people who follow music came to know and love the xx for the refreshingly edgy but simple sound it brought.
Not surprisingly, xx’s follow-up, Coexist, was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. Its September release was hyped even further thanks to “Angels,” the album’s first single. Beautifully understated, this love song became a staple of every indie kid’s mix CD for his crush.
“Angels” is a wonderful track, and it is representative of the rest of Coexist in that it sounds almost exactly the same as the styles of the xx’s first album. Coexist is a solid B+ of an album, and the xx are likely to be able to sustain themselves with its existing momentum. Unlike Ellie Goulding, the group won’t have to depend on remixes.
Of course, a sophomore slump is something partially determined by individual taste — a number of music critics would disagree with me about the stagnation of Coexist, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Halcyon earns a significant degree of commercial success. But take a listen to the albums mentioned here, or go find some other artists with multiple releases, and judge for yourself who the winners and losers are. The reasons why some make it and some break it are constantly in flux, but no matter what, the possibility of the sophomore slump always looms large.
Allie Prescott is a junior in the College. AMPLIFY appears every other Friday in the guide.