Katy Perry's hit single, "I Kissed A Girl," recently tied The Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for the longest reign at #1. While we can all sit around all day and all night debating the merits (or lack thereof) of each, I would like to point out the difference in culture surrounding these hits.
Namely, the fact that I eat, sleep, and breathe music, work in the music industry, am young and relatively "hip" (okay, the fact that I just put that in quotes takes me out of the running), yet have never heard this "I Kissed A Girl" song. In fact, every time I hear it mentioned, Jill Sobule's classic 90's hit by the same name comes to mind.
I could rant about how this is a sign of the changing landscape of music made possible by the digital medium and infrastructure, but you know that already. Instead, today I'd just like you to sit back and think about what it really means to have a #1 single these days--Katy Perry has sold fewer cumulative albums in 7 weeks than The Beatles did in 1.
The lowest common denominator will always exist, and will always sell. It's human nature to be attracted to artists and songs that other people like. That market won't disappear. The difference is not that people aren't buying music--music sales are still well above what they were in the 60s (and 70s and 80s and 90s)--it's that not everyone has to buy the same albums. They have different ways of discovering music, and more music to choose from.
As an artist, you should view this change as a boon--you no longer have to conform to a "norm" to get a coveted record deal and thus sell records; you can make whatever music you want and there will, more than likely, be a market for it. In a world where #1 means much less, being down the list a bit doesn't look so bad anymore.