Music for the ages: how Hozier is changing mainstream music


Soulful lyrics of heartache and hardship swirl through the stadium. Guitar riffs from another decade radiate from the stage. Mesmerized, the audience stares in awe, swinging to the beat and singing along to the tunes.

Earlier last month, Toreros paid a visit to our college neighbor, San Diego State University, to hear Hozier at the CalCoast Credit Union Open Air Theatre. This was Hozier’s first headliner gig in San Diego, giving University of San Diego students a chance to hear the radio hit artist live.

Senior Hayley Park was among the Toreros in attendance at Hozier’s premiere performance.

“Hozier was by far one of the best concerts I’ve seen,” Park said. “He plays the guitar with such ease, it almost seems an extension of himself. I love the blues elements he adds to his music. One of the reasons I enjoyed the concert was it wasn’t too loud; there was a nice balance between the vocals and instrumentals, and I could hear everything with clarity.”

The headliner brought another act from abroad along. Little Green Cars, a Dublin-based group famous for their hit “The John Wayne,” was his opening act. While Park was unfamiliar with the opener, she said she was pleasantly surprised by Hozier’s choice.

“I had never heard of Little Green Cars before, but I was blown away with their performance as well,” Park said. “Their harmonies and the often dark subject matter of their songs sparked something in me that most American mainstream music doesn’t usually do.”

The Irish singer’s overwhelming success on American mainstream pop scene baffles the American music industry. Hozier refers to himself as an obscure artist. He never expected to belong to any big name record label or be heard on any popular radio station.

However, after being picked up by Columbia Records, Hozier is taking the mainstream world by storm. According to Billboard, Hozier has spent 17 weeks on the U.S. Top 40, peaking at no. 2#2.

From Billboard charts to Rolling Stones headlines, it’s no surprise that Hozier’s popularity packs sold-out venues of dedicated fans. His rising popularity in the mainstream music world is clear to anyone who turns on the radio to hear the popular ballad “Take Me To Church.”

We live in a time where the Top 40 is plagued by electronic beats and autotuned vocals. How has such an obscure artist made his way into the hearts of mainstream American music?

According to Rolling Stone, Justin Eshak of Columbia Records predicted Hozier’s potential on the pop landscape. Once he saw the musician’s first music video, Eshak found himself on a flight out to Dublin to try to sign the artist. After witnessing Hozier’s YouTube views skyrocket and studying his Irish iTunes chart domination, Eshak decided to take a calculated risk with faith in the Irish tenor.

Eshak said that he believes current American artists have begun to shift the stagnant pop scene, helping Hozier’s breakthrough of foreign tunes.

“If you’d taken a song with a slow tempo and a heavy subject matter to a Top 40 a year ago, they would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Eshak said. “But there has been a shift due to artists like Sam Smith. The music is connecting because when it gets on the air it’s a such a sharp juxtaposition to the existing material on Top 40 radio.”

Park agreed with Eshak’s observation. She said that she attributes Hozier’s popularity to the sincerity that bleeds into his songs.

“I think the reason why he’s become a huge success in a short time is his humble attitude given the fact that he’s extremely talented,” Park said. “Hozier truly puts on a performance, but he does so by simply commanding the stage with his presence. He doesn’t try hard to be something, unlike most pop singers these days, he simply is himself and I think people really appreciate his sincerity.”

Although he is less traditional than his Hollywood peers, Hozier has many famous fans, including Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Adele. These artists are in the audience at many of his shows and have endorsed the musician in interviews and on social media.

With both Sheeran’s and Adele’s U.K. roots, their support for their Irish neighbor might not come as a huge shock. However, Swift’s approval seems to be more surprising. The American artist has dominated the Billboard charts with hundreds of hits, famously shifting from country to pop tunes. While the two have very diverse sounds, having Swift on his side may have helped blossom Hozier’s stardom success.

Park linked his stardom success on U.S. music scene with his insightful and inspiring sound.

“His lyrics are thought-provoking, and his music leaves you wanting more,” Park said. “To me, his music is deeper and more sincere than music I usually hear on the radio. He’s inspiring.”

With an untraditional music taste myself, I can’t say with certainty how Hozier has been able to garner so much success among mainstream American audiences. While I discovered the artist on American radio, my semester abroad in Cork, Ireland, sparked my interest in his album. My Irish classmates raved to me about him, but the news was not new: Hozier has been on the Irish music scene for awhile. His success has helped promote lesser known Irish bands, such as his opener for the SDSU show, Little Green Cars.

I propose that, with his talent and initial reviews,  he will surpass any one-hit-wonder predictions with skyrocketing success. He reminds me of a modernized version of the infamous Beatles story, pointing to signs of an Irish invasion in the coming years.

For now, I’m content listening to the soulful blues on Spotify with my USD classmates. Yet I still wonder how the “Take Me to Church” Irish ballad broke through the guarded gates of U.S. Billboard Top 40 charts.