Charlotte Scrivener investigates what it means to be an “industry plant” and if it really matters.
Billie Eilish. Lorde. Clairo. Khalid. Olivia Rodrigo. Lizzo.
What do all these artists have in common? Apart from making the type of pop music favoured by the younger generations, they have all at some stage of their career been accused of being an industry plant.
Industry plant – it’s a divisive term. Thrown around with gleeful abandon on social media sites like Twitter and Reddit, it seems nowadays there are more artists accused of being industry plants than not. But who or what exactly is an industry plant? According to Complex, the term originated on forums in the early 2010s, before really taking route on a Kanye West forum (where else?) around 2012. The term was initially reserved for hip-hop artists who were seen to be “inauthentic”, a significant accusation in a genre where socioeconomic backgrounds are so integral. Nowadays, however, it’s mainly pop artists who are labelled with the term, although acts such as Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott, and Drake also were similarly accused at the starts of their careers.
To put it briefly, an industry plant is an artist whose whole image and persona have been manufactured by a label to make them seem authentic, often posing as DIY or bedroom artists, in an attempt to capitalise off these aesthetics. Some so-called industry plants are accused of having links with the music industry prior to releasing any songs. Both Clairo and Billie Eillish, for example, have parents working high-up in their respective record labels, feeding ideas of them as plants (yet seemingly missing the more interesting conversation of all entertainment as one big pool of nepotism).
“An industry plant is an artist whose whole image and persona have been manufactured by a label to make them seem authentic.”
In the era of YouTube, Soundcloud, Twitter, and TikTok, the idea that an artist still needs a big label backing them seems incongruous with our ideas of pop culture. Some argue that the music industry has turned this to their advantage, capitalising on a sure-fire way to create a successful act who still maintains a veil of sincerity – if Clairo gains traction through posting songs to her social media, but has the backing of a Universal Music affiliated label, is she authentic or not?
In the end, authenticity seems to be what it all really boils down to. People like to feel as if they have discovered someone, as if they have someone to root for, and it is hard to reconcile this with the notion of big business that music labels represent. After all, no one likes to feel lied to, especially after becoming emotionally invested.
It’s important to note, however, another thing a lot of artists accused of being industry plants have in common – they are, more often than not, women. Now, as I acknowledged earlier, the term originated from the hip-hop scene and was used almost solely for male rappers. However, in the contemporary music scene, the type of artist we’re most likely to see being accused of a plant-like aura are young women. The internet seems to have an issue with successful female musicians (would you believe it!) and feels the need to undercut their achievements by throwing this label at them. Whether they have been implanted into the scene by industry execs or not doesn’t matter – what does matter, is that we must pull them down at any costs.
“In the contemporary music scene, the type of artist we’re most likely to see being accused of a plant-like aura are young women.”
It’s rare to find an artist accused of being a plant where there is also the evidence to back this claim up. Sure, there are different ways in which people came to fame, and we can argue the so-called authenticity of their methods – but in terms of artists, pay-rolled by the industry from their very beginnings, who have all their content manufactured, who’s bedroom uploads to YouTube were actually from a set in Hollywood… well, they don’t really seem to exist.
More likely, they are a woman, maybe with tangential connections to the industry, maybe not, who, to people who have not followed their career, has “come out of nowhere”. It’s an accusation that seems at odds with the digital music scene’s ethos as a whole, because is that not the point? That someone with talent can have such a meteoric rise, because their art connects with the wider world via the borderless space of the internet?
Industry plant is not a new term and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it is going anywhere soon. Instead of spending our time dissecting who is or isn’t a plant, maybe we can just enjoy their art, and leave it at that.
Lana del Rey, though, total plant, right?