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Does Fred Again..'s Success Forge A New Path For Artists Or Is He The Exception To The Rule?

20 March 2024 | 10:52 am | Zanda Wilson

All signs pointed to Australia not being ready for an artist like Fred again... So, how did we get to the British artist taking the country by storm?

Fred again..

Fred again.. (Source: Supplied)

More Fred Again.. More Fred Again..

From a drip feed of sporadic airplay on triple j in 2021 to selling out arenas this year, Fred again..’s popularity in Australia has snowballed in a way rarely seen before. 

But not even the early adopters at triple j were truly ready for Fred in 2021. His most streamed song to date, Marea (we’ve lost dancing), featuring The Blessed Madonna, which at the time of writing has over 305 million streams on Spotify, placed a lowly #168 in that year’s Hottest 100 countdown. Those lamenting that it “shoulda been higher” wouldn’t have to wait long, as Fred would have plenty of entries up the pointy end over the years that followed.

triple j’s #Hottest100 2021: 170 - 161 #170 Ruel - 'It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over [triple j Like A Version 2021]' #169...

Posted by triple j on Thursday, January 20, 2022

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How did we get here?

The British artist has just finished up a run of shows down under that included multiple sold-out arenas in Sydney and Melbourne, plus secret shows with back-to-back sets alongside some of his musical mates. He blew up initially by embracing social media, with TikTok being a particularly significant part of his brand. He records almost everything he does, often posting dozens of times a day doing mundane things like riding bikes and catching up with mates, and, significantly, recording music with other artists.

Fred again.. brings his audience into his world, and the result is unparalleled feelings of connection to his audience. It would be easy to dismiss this as parasocial relationship building, something the likes of Taylor Swift have mastered. By going out and meeting fans and getting them engaged in treasure hunt-style ticket selling, his fans see how much effort he puts into his side of the relationship.

Don’t plenty of artists get discovered on TikTok?

Yes, of course. The recent spat between Universal Music Group and TikTok highlighted how important platforms like TikTok and Instagram are in terms of music discovery. In 2020, I wrote about how TikTok was becoming the new tip sheet for music directors. Since then, this phenomenon has grown, and an increasing chunk of new artists that get played on commercial radio in Australia are pulled from TikTok, particularly off the back of a track going viral.

So yes, plenty of artists get discovered on TikTok. But where Fred differs from others in recent years is not only through his ability to sell out multiple arenas just one year on from when he first played shows in Australia (as part of Laneway Festival 2023) but the fact that he has done so without the backing of commercial radio. Specifically, he’s done all this without a hit single championed by the big networks (Nova, ARN or SCA).

According to Radio Monitor data showing airplay from the last 12 months, the only track playlisted by mainstream radio was a collaboration with Obongjayar titled adore u, which was briefly added to the Nova Network in September 2023. He’s obviously received significant airplay on triple j over the past year, but outside of that, the only places he’s been heard regularly on radio have been on digital radio stations like SCA’s Dance Hits and ARN’s CADA.

One of the things that prompted me to look into this phenomenon was when I was asked: “Isn’t TikTok the new radio in terms of music discovery?” The answer to that question is nuanced, and while commercial radio, in particular, has undoubtedly plummeted down the pyramid in terms of being a place for people (particularly Gen Z) to find new music (we can leave the triple j arguments to another day), radio still plays its part in amplifying popular new music to a broader audience and an older demographic.

What else has Fred again.. done differently?

The more I think about it, the more it becomes apparent that the emergence of an artist like Fred again.. was inevitable. As mentioned, he records everything on his phone; he’s all about the experience. During his concerts, everyone is on their phones. 

In the 2010s, we had artists banning phones from concerts; such was the backlash to an emerging age where everyone was filming everything. Technology companies like Yondr emerged to stop people from texting or taking pictures during concerts. In 2016, Beyoncé, Bjork, Jack White and more asked fans to switch their phones off at concerts. As recently as 2023, promoters of the Aussie electronic music festival This Never Happened banned punters from using their phones, issuing stickers to cover the lenses of their smartphones.

Fred again.. has gone the other way. The sea of phones at his gigs is par for the course, and for a generation glued to their phones, it’s perfect.

He’s emerged at a time when making money as an artist is harder than it's ever been. Think pieces by Yasmin Armes from Herd MSL and Caught Off Guard’s Harry Hayes have gone into detail about how Fred again.. has used social media to market himself, so I won’t go over well-covered territory.

Ultimately, though, it’s not a surprise to see someone like Fred again.. using the tools available to create an audience and groundswell the way he has. If it wasn’t him, someone else would have done it. Allowing his audience to embrace being on their phones is just one part of it. It’s all about the unique experience. It creates hype, and hype creates FOMO, and it’s a virtuous circle. 


this is one of my favourite things weve ever got to do @angie mcmahon

♬ Angie (i’ve been lost) [feat. Angie McMahon] - Fred again..

Is Fred again.. a unicorn?

Maybe. It’s hard to think of another artist who has not only gone from obscurity to selling out Aussie arenas in three years, let alone one that doesn’t have the backing of commercial radio.

Yes, he has several heavily streamed songs like Marea, Turn On The Lights again.., Jungle, and Delilah (pull me out of this), but these songs wouldn’t necessarily be recognisable to the average Joe on the street. None of his singles have ticked the right boxes for commercial radio in Australia. 

So, has he proved that we’re in a new age where commercial radio is even less relevant? It’s hard to say for sure. He could be the exception that proves the rule that legacy systems still play a role in how artists emerge. Ultimately, getting airplay on commercial radio makes you a safer bet for the music industry establishment and promoters.

What can’t be argued is that Warner Music Australia and Handsome Tours took a bet that paid off big. The music industry needs more unicorns like Fred again…