"We were gatekeeping her from the Swifties," the comments were coming through on a TikTok I made about introducing Ethel Cain to my Taylor Swift group chat. This was in 2022. Ethel Cain made Preacher's Daughter my favorite album of that year. Ethel Cain was, by no means, my discovery. While she wouldn't be considered mainstream, the song "American Teenager" landed on Obama's playlist that year. She was a critical darling with a song trending on TikTok. The idea of people "gatekeeping" artists is harmful to the potential fanbase of any musician, whether it's someone on the rise like Ethel Cain or a super small artist who's trying to break through. We've even seen people pretending to gatekeep artists that are wildly popular.
It's harmful to the artist.
Like no shit, right? Imagine you're a struggling musician, and your livelihood depends on Spotify streams and selling concert tickets. You have a really passionate small fanbase, and they love you so much that they won't tell anyone about how great you are, so you continue to play open mic nights at the local bar (no shame in that) instead of selling out stadiums. How fun, what great fans.
I liked them before they were popular.
Gatekeepers serve a purpose. We love the idea of being first. We want to keep this artist to ourselves and continue to buy $20 tickets and be able to be right in the front. There's a desire for a form of intimacy. It feels like a competition like you have a badge of honor that you have that experience before your friends, but sharing music with friends forms a bond that feels so sacred. The rush you get from knowing you found the perfect music for a friend. People feel so connected to artists as part of their identity, and when they give that to other people, it feels like losing a part of that identity instead of being able to share it.
Pop music is niching down.
The chances of the artist you love breaking through to Taylor Swift-level stardom are so rare, and even if they do, people will still try to gatekeep them anyway. It's more common to have a powerful niche fanbase that forms a community and imagine someone trying to keep you out of that community. FOR YEARS, we've been over here, championing that fans are the backbone of the music industry. They buy merch and go to shows. They are the reason musicians even exist. So tell your friend about that artist you love because shared listening and shared loving of an artist is what music is supposed to be. Music is meant to be listened to and enjoyed