Lil Nas X became famous almost overnight after releasing 'Old Town Road' in 2020Masoz John / Flickr

According to the extremely reliable source that is Urban Dictionary, an industry plant is “an artist that has a financial and/or marketing backing from the ground up ... but shows, or attempts to show an image of it being otherwise.” Think Lil Nas X or Wet Leg, both of whom became famous almost overnight.

In 2021, Lil Nas X even unashamedly released a song titled ‘Industry Baby’, featuring Louisville-born rapper Jack Harlow. One can only commend the self-awareness of his status as an industry plant that pervades this (nevertheless catchy) track.

“One can only commend the self-awareness of his status as an industry plant”

With the risk of sounding like an overzealous English student, when you look more closely at the lyrics, the commentary on industry planting is barely concealed. Hill lyricises that he “ain’t lost since [he] began”, evoking the smooth sailing journey to the top that defines the experience of the industry plant. In the second verse, four lines start with the word “need”: “Need to get this album done/Need a couple number ones/Need a plaque on every song/Need me like one with Nicki now.” This repetition creates a sterile sense of quota, as though there are predetermined criteria that he must fulfil to prolong his fame. Hill is letting his listeners in on the secrets to eminence and longevity in the music industry. There is no such thing as organic career growth; all you need are these four “easy” steps.

Addison Rae's exponential rise contains all the hallmarks of industry plantingTheOfficialPandora / Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, industry planting is facilitated by a whole range of processes. One such catalyst is TikTok, the app that has had Gen Z in a chokehold since 2019. And you can’t mention TikTok without talking about its second-in-command, Addison Rae. Not only did she star in the 2021 rom-com remake He’s All That, but she has just released AR, her first EP. From 15-second dances, to acting and singing alongside the likes of Charli XCX, Rae’s career has seen quite the diversification during her exponential rise to fame.

“You can’t mention TikTok without talking about its second-in-command, Addison Rae”

Rae’s public image on TikTok has recently undergone a transformation as she rebrands herself as a credible musician. Her lip-syncs and dances are now accompanied by the products of her recent career moves. Frankly, you can’t help but applaud this evolution. However, as Hill revealed in ‘Industry Baby’, this is all part of the process of industry planting, with its magazine covers, podcasts and PR teams.

But why have industry plants been allowed to dominate the music industry? To put it simply, we live in a world where meritocracy is crumbling. Success is determined by who you know and how they can get you to the top. It’s no longer about reaping what you sow, but rather reaping what others sow for you (excuse the gardening pun). Industry plants are fashioned to appear self-made when, in reality, they have every Tom, Dick and Harry backing their journey to success. They become products that are carefully formulated by agents, producers, and PR companies for palatable distribution to the public.


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The concept of industry planting, however, is hardly unique to the music industry. Similar processes are at play in nepotism, for example. In every case, we must ask ourselves what happens to those individuals who don’t have Tom, Dick and Harry on their side? They’re still sowing their seeds, while others reap the benefits of their advantageous social position.

To conclude, this article is neither an unsolicited dig at Lil Nas X nor Addison Rae. All I have tried to do is deconstruct the term industry plant and demonstrate that its mechanisms operate in far more ways than you might imagine. While I hope it has provided some food for thought, I apologise if it changes the way you listen to ‘Industry Baby’ next time they play it at Rumboogie (and they will).