Editor’s Note: Read this first: https://medium.com/@Catchoris/davido-works-hard-but-burna-boy-has-a-point-about-the-adeleke-money-fb583572d695
The new Davido song FEM might remind pop music listeners of the pop brilliance of its owner.
Its first few seconds are the sonic equivalent of an important announcement. That might be because it’s been a while since Davido’s last single; it might also be because he is trying to pass along a message to a rival…
That rival clearly is Burna Boy. And a clear reference to the self-styled African Giant is just one of 3things that mark out ‘Fem’ as a strategic release. I’ll address this and two other things in the list below. Before then:
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3. OBO Out; 30BG In
One of the best things about music from a business marketing perspective is its economy: a 3 minute song is its own advertisement. Every song is pretty much selling itself. It is why you can have book trailers and movie trailers and bleach commercials and telecom copy as ads on YouTube but a music video presents itself. The consumer doesn’t need to go searching for the product; the ad is the product.
Not done with the generic selling of his music with the music, Davido is also selling his brand by shouting out his fans, the 30BG, on ‘FEM’. How best to provoke brand loyalty? He goes further to claim that he has “fans when dey para gan!” Little wonder #30BG began to trend soon after the song’s release. It is a bit of a new strategy for Davido who, like his pop music colleagues, is used to praising himself by chanting “OBO”. By switching to hailing his fans, Davido is rallying the troops! They have responded.
2. The Music is Actually Sweet
Recently, a friend told me that Davido’s breakout hit ‘Dami Duro’ could have been a hit for anyone talented enough to dream it up. I don’t agree fully with that take; marketing is super important for new acts and Davido had quite a budget for marketing. But I admit there is something about that song that just calls you out to dance, to groove.
The man hasn’t lost that ability. In fact, he has added something extra: Since he recorded ‘FIA’, Davido has tapped into something raw in his vocals. Before that 2017 track it seemed the only register Davido was capable of hitting was a celebratory one. It was key to his success as a pop act in his early 20s. But time has forced some changes.
While age would be expected to touch his lyrics, its most obvious effect is in the strained gravitas added to his voice. On ‘FEM’, he uses it sparingly but it’s perceptible on the hook when he repeats the word “para”. And, of course, if this song lasts long enough to be played in clubs post-pandemic, you can already picture people shouting “para para” as they dance. That sense of what gets people moving has been incredibly useful for Davido.
1. The Burna Controversy
Sometime after releasing ‘Back When’, which was Davido indulging in some poverty-afflicted fantasy, Davido seemed to come to understand the value of his real story to his music. Mostly, that realisation led him to declare his father’s wealth and his own over and over again. Later, he tweaked the strategy and began addressing stories already carried by gossip blogs. That combination of music and gossip boosted the attention paid to both the man and his music. He hasn’t looked back since he uncovered the value of this strategy.
That was what led to the Dele Momodu line on Humblesmith’s ‘Osinachi’. It was what led to the Caroline Danjuma address on ‘FIA’. The strategy worked magic for ‘Assurance’, in which he featured his real life girlfriend Chioma and called her name on the song. (Some reports say they have broken up.)
With FEM, Davido has Burna Boy at the receiving end, even if there is only one line that semi-explicitly refers to Burna Boy: “Tell Odogwu that we love to party”.
And yet, for those so inclined, the entire song, which has several threatening lines, could be seen as directed to his rival. Some have said that the song’s title is affiliated to Nigerian cult culture, which boosts the controversy. But “fem” used to be a quite popular word use by adults to silence kids in the 1990s. At the worst, the word is linked to violent groups; at best, it’s linked to scolding.
Whatever the interpretation, it’s a controversial title for a controversial song. None of it is flattering to Burna Boy, who was hardly flattering to Davido back when he alluded to his rival’s father’s money buying him a spot in Nigeria’s pop space.
The back story between Burna and Davido can lead to overthinking thoughts. Here’s mine: I think Davido is merely playing the controversy to his benefit. Of course, there is a danger of clashes between fans of both acts but we are at a time when physical danger between opposing celebrity camps can do little but tweet aggressively.
What is left are the numbers: seven digits for one of Davido’s lesser videos on YouTube in under 10 hours. You might be angry at Davido for many things but you have to give it to him for strategic pop music making.
Davido’s new song may take over 3 minutes to come to an end. But his strategy can be communicated in a few seconds: Never let a good controversy go to waste. Fem!