When is a cultural phenomenon not a cultural phenomenon? Or rather, who gets to decide these matters? Certainly, sheer weight of numbers is a big contributing factor - when a song or video goes viral, it can become difficult to ignore.
But not always.
A few years back, my partner and I were staying overnight in a Kansas City casino resort. Fatigued as I was from the sixteen-hour journey, I could nevertheless tell that we stood out from the other clientele, and not just because I'm a Brit who knows the difference between a Wildcat and a Jayhawk. We stood out because we weren't Vietnamese. That weekend, the hotel was hosting a two-day concert of Vietnamese pop music and virtually everyone we encountered was there to enjoy the festivities - babes-in-arms to pensioners, first, second and third generation.
It was great to be amidst such a swell of people who were there for a happy occasion. We had arrived the night before the fun started in earnest and guests were lugging heroic amounts of snacks and drinks up in lifts and through corridors. The infectious mood even touched us, as one guy who we had a brief chat with gave us a six-pack of Coca Cola, just because. He reckoned there would be, all told, about three thousand attendees at the shows.
A big deal, then, to Vietnamese-Americans, but looking at the posters I didn't know the performers from Adam. I had no idea if they were the genuine article (apparently so), second-rate or otherwise. Were it not for the need to get moving the next day (family!), I would've stayed on to check what the fuss was all about.
On 3 April this year at Wembley Arena will play host to Shreya Ghoshal. I've been to Wembley Arena to see acts like Steely Dan, Ghost and ZZ Top. It is estimated that ZZ Top have sold 50 million albums worldwide; Steely Dan lag behind a little on 40 million and, whilst Ghost neither have longevity nor discography to their advantage, they've gone top ten multiple times in the USA, Canada and the UK (not to mention scoring three consecutive number one albums in their native Sweden).
Shreya Ghoshal is a playback singer and actress from Rajasthan, around my age. Where the Indian film industry is concerned, she absolutely has a pedigree to be proud of. She is also popular enough to book Wembley Arena when playing London, yet I haven't a clue who she is. That a popular Indian singer would be a draw in London doesn't surprise me - after all, I originally hail from Hayes, which has a large south Asian population - but nonetheless I received a little jolt of surprise, and perhaps shame, that a wildly popular culture is out there on my doorstep, contemporaneously, that barely gets covered in the mainstream press.
I am not blind to the fact that, in my tastes and sensibilities, I overstate the importance of artists I like. It still riles me when I'm met with incomprehension at 'Blue Oyster Cult', despite the fact that they are not the globe-bestriding giants of my imagination. I practically weep with joy if someone under forty recognises the name Townes Van Zandt. But - at least, at one time, these acts had their moment in the sun, lauded by press and audiences alike; and even if they didn't, there's still the potential to be lionised by vinyl-sniffers and the like as a 'hidden gem' or 'overlooked genius'.