As filmic representations of music snobbery go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable one than the Beta Band scene from 2000’s High Fidelity. In it, John Cusack’s Rob, a record store owner and obsessive audiophile, sidles up to one of his clerks and whispers, “I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by the Beta Band.” For him, it’s the ultimate expression of his superior taste: All he has to do is put the album on (he plays the song “Dry the Rain”), and his customers are putty in his hands.
So when it came time to do a new High Fidelity for 2020, the question of whether it would include an updated version of this scene was a no-brainer. It kind of had to. The only unknown was what artist the show would swap in for the Beta Band and anoint with the honor of being “the obscure musical act that gets name-checked in High Fidelity.”
When the series rolled out earlier this month, we got our answer. In the opening of Episode 6, Zoë Kravitz, playing our new Rob, announces to one of her employees, “I will now sell five copies of Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune by Swamp Dogg.” She then twirls the record in her hands before putting on the song “Lonely.” Like clockwork, not 10 seconds pass before a customer looks up from browsing and asks, “Who is this?” Rob answers: Swamp Dogg. “It’s good,” the customer responds. “I know,” Rob replies coolly. Goodbye Scottish “folktronica,” hello to an R&B veteran whom the Washington Post once named among “the cultiest cult figures.”
Back in 2000, scoring that kind of placement in a movie like High Fidelity was a serious coup, one that had the power to not only attract new fans but move units: After the release of the movie—and a press tour during which Cusack himself plugged the Beta Band to news outlets—the band’s U.S. label reported that sales quadrupled. Things are different today: A streaming show feels a little more niche than the release of a major movie, and despite what may be true in the alternate universe the show is set in, people don’t buy nearly as much music as they used to. Still, we were curious if Rob’s pronouncement was true: Did she manage to sell any Swamp Dogg music in real life?
Rob has most definitely had a sizable impact. We reached out to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, and the company told us that prior to the show’s premiere, the song “Lonely” was averaging about 300 streams a day. It’s now up to an average of about 9,500 streams a day, which makes for a bump of more than 3,000 percent. Meanwhile, Spotify told Slate that streams of Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune also saw a 730 percent increase in that time period on the service while streams for Swamp Dogg were up 22 percent overall.
And it’s not just streams. Google Trends shows a sharp spike in searches for Swamp Dogg during the week following the show’s release. Shazam, the Apple-owned app for identifying songs one hears in the wild, shared with Slate that “Lonely” entered its Discovery Top 50, a list compiling songs whose popularity is accelerating on the app, this week at No. 17. Shazams of “Lonely,” now Swamp Dogg’s most Shazam’ed song, spiked highest on Feb. 16, two days after High Fidelity premiered. And a representative from YouTube told Slate that average daily views of Swamp Dogg’s catalog are also up on that platform since the show’s premiere, though the increase is a more modest, but still notable, 130 percent.
As far as actual sales, the numbers aren’t as impressive as the streaming figures—that alternate universe where people buy endless records sure does sound nice—but rest assured, according to the digital-sales numbers given to us by Nielsen Music/MRC Data, Rob sold more than five copies.
Update, Feb. 28, 2020: This post has been updated to include information from Spotify.