by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Payback-ola & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & had that damn Young Dro song stuck in my head all summer. "Shoulder Lean." The one with the characterless production and ponderous lyrics about a dance step that's more like a controlled spasm.
The single dropped last May. It didn't start rattling around my skull until August. After doing literally nothing for months, the song hits No. 1 on the rap charts preceding Dro's album release. It gets tons of radio play and makes my life a living hell. I blame payola.
The process of exchanging money for airplay without telling listeners, payola is totally illegal and, watchdog groups claim, almost universally practiced. It's a problem because radio spins are a form of perceived demand. A record label paying for spins sculpts that demand. The more spins, the more that the industry, other radio stations and listeners assume that your song is on people's minds. This is fundamentally different than mere advertising, because radio spins aren't just little song-length commercials, they're industry litmus tests. Dro gets spun on enough Clear Channel stations, it suggests people care. So he makes VH1 news. He plays TRL. He becomes the poster boy of a market cooked up entirely by his label and his stupid-ass song becomes a permanent resident in my brain.
For a long time, labels and stations were able to deflect criticism because zero enforcement led to a lack of real proof. The real proof is still missing, but as of Tuesday, four of the nation's largest radio conglomerates essentially confessed to practicing payola. As a result, they'll share a $12.5 million settlement fine and give 4,200 hours of airtime to local artists and indie record labels.
So, although I wouldn't normally ask you to subject yourself to this, I want you to pay real close attention to our local corporate radio stations in the coming months, especially those hot adult contemporary and top-40 stations. Because Clear Channel is one of the four conglomerates that settled, and because it's the parent company of KCDA, that's one local station that will be directly affected. But this lawsuit is monumental enough that it should affect airplay everywhere. If it doesn't, make an angry phone call asking for local cuts. Be, like, "Let me hear that hot For Years Blue joint."