Aretha Franklin, one of the many artists who died in 2018 (Photo courtesy of
San Marino High School

And the top-selling artist of 2018 is…death?

We all have this special connection with death; after all, it’s a provocation of the most profound grief when encountered and reminder of our uncertain, temporal nature. In 2018 though, the Grim Reaper seemed to be a frequent guest star in headlines, becoming the focal point of the American psyche in the Parkland school shooting and the more recent Californian fires.

The music industry especially is no exception to this trend, and the clench tightened seasonally: Dolores O’ Riordan in the winter, Avicii in the spring, XXXTentacion in the summer, Arethra Franklin in the fall, and Mac Miller now. Posthumous music was also abound this year, defying the boundaries of genre from “Prince’s Piano & a Microphone 1983” to “Lil Peep’s Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2.”

And that’s not even mentioning the accolades these artists have gained after death; XXXTentacion’s mother, for example, accepted the award for Favorite Album – Soul/R&B at the American Music Awards on behalf of the deceased rapper.

One of the most disturbing — and at the same time, humane — things about death, however, is its skyrocketing effect on the value of art. Van Gogh is a prime example of this posthumous fame; during his lifetime, he only sold one painting while the rest of his portfolio (approximately 900 paintings) amassed fame after death. It’s a phenomenon that could be innocently viewed as late recognition, but that would neglect the natural instinct of human sympathy, which can only be coped with through some means of support, financially or sentimentally.

Cynical? Perhaps, but it’s those pity points that sales thrive off of in modern society despite the century difference.

Thus, cue in the death-prompted sales increase of 2018. Ranging from Mac Miller’s 980 percent spike to The Cranberries’ 11094 percent spike (both figures exclusive to the U.S.), it’s no secret that an artist’s death sells…BIG time. And publicity doesn’t need to be paid for; plenty of artists, such as Billie Eilish in reaction to XXXTentacion, spread the message themselves on social media as a way to pay their respects. Of course, you can easily label this entire posthumous scenario as amoral, misconstrue it as an exploitation of death for commercial success rather than a genuine mourning. But it’s the exact opposite; how else can people honor these deceased artists, seemingly estranged by a fame and life determined by monthly listeners rather than a monthly paycheck, save for acknowledging their work or creating some sort of tribute?

I was guilty of disregarding these excessive listener counts and remembrance posts as nothing but a fading appreciation to prove one’s own relevance in some melodramatic manner. But each post, each painting, each song listened to or created in the name of those who have passed away is more than that. They’re implicit, everlasting apology cards that are worth more than a publicity stunt with a sincere message written inside:

“Sorry — for not supporting you like this when you were alive.”