Explosively popular UK rock group accused of being ‘industry plant’ – but what does that even mean?

The Last Dinner Party has been shortlisted for the Brits rising star award(Picture: PA)

In a world where everything is the product of a brutal but intentional algorithm, any band that seems to blow up overnight is going to face ‘industry plant’ allegations. 

Brixton-based indie rock group The Last Dinner Party is no exception. The band, comprised of Abigail Morris (vocals), Lizzie Mayland (vocals, guitar), Emily Roberts (lead guitar, mandolin, flute), Georgia Davies (bass), and Aurora Nishevci (keyboards, vocals), recently released their first LP to rave reviews just months after their first single. 

Even more suspiciously, they had big-name management and were signed to a major label (Island Records) from the moment they emerged.

But it was when they opened for The Rolling Stones with only one song to their name that the cries of ‘industry plants’ and ‘nepo babies’ really began to sound like pitchforks were forthcoming. 

An ‘industry plant’ can be loosely defined as any band or musician who is backed by music industry bigwigs in their nascent stages, seemingly without having to prove themselves first.

The clearest examples of this phenomenon can be seen in K-pop, where literal academies for the development of artists are sorted through by teams of music industry execs to create perfect groups or solo acts.

After adjustments of all kinds (anything from dance training to vocal lessons to styling to actual plastic surgery) the brand new act emerges in the limelight fully realised and firmly branded.

Abigail Morris of The Last Dinner Party, pictured here, is obviously upset by people calling the band an industry plant (Picture: PA)

Less extreme examples include any artist who is discovered and signed before there is much to be discovered. This includes five-time Grammy winner Lorde, who has had a development deal with Universal since the age of 13, providing her with vocal training and songwriting lessons.

Queer pop princess Clairo, who earned her industry plant rep because her father happens to be the co-founder of  Rubber Tracks recording studio, also falls into this category. In these cases, semi-realised talents are taken into the moneyed embrace of a record label to be polished and smoothed (in sometimes minor ways) before they’re presented to the world. 

It’s an amorphous term without a concrete definition, given that almost every major artist has been helped by a record label or management or PR team at some stage of their career. 

More than anything else it’s an insult that calls a musical act a curated product, not a ‘real’ artist with a persona that represents genuine self-expression.

Even more damningly, it accuses an artist of not working for their success or ‘paying their dues’ in a famously cut-throat industry. 

The Last Dinner Party first hit back against these rumours in April last year, taking to X to say: ‘I know I shouldn’t engage but this is just a nasty lie. we weren’t put together like a kpop girl group, we’ve known each other since we were 18 as we met during freshers week, there are videos of us playing live as an unsigned band all last year and we got signed from those.’

More recently, when asked about the accusations by NME in the wake of their album’s success, frontwoman Abigail Morris said: ‘We all had friends who were in bands in that scene in London – I feel like that’s the only connections we had. Like, “Oh, my mate’s in a band, so he can suggest us to play at this pub or we could open for this guy’s band that we know.”

‘I think it’s so funny – it is kind of old-fashioned, which is why I think people were like, “Something must be going on!” No, that’s literally how the music industry works.’ 

Morris then compared the band to Oasis’ rise to fame after watching a documentary about the band. ‘I was like, “Oh my god,” because it’s a year after their first gig and they’re releasing their debut album. They weren’t industry plants, and neither are we.’

Still, it’s a reputation the band can’t seem to shake, as viral videos on TikTok and other posts on social media continue to mention rumors of the band’s manufactured beginnings. 

Other artists who have come under fire for being industry plants include Billie Eilish, whose parents are enmeshed in showbusiness and who was signed after releasing just one song online. 

Lana Del Rey’s reputation has also weathered an industry plant narrative – and one that had a particularly hostile tone given the ‘self-made’ ‘gritty girl next door’ image the singer pedaled as a newcomer. That image was threatened by widespread disbelief when Lana somehow secured a performance slot on SNL in 2012 after releasing just one song, essentially confirming the rumours of an extremely well-connected management team. 

Indie music icon Phoebe Bridgers made a strong point about the term being used disproportionately against women. When asked by NME about industry plant allegations that had been leveled at her, she said: ‘It’s such an insane f***ing double standard. If you have wealthy parents, you’re not allowed to make music as a woman, but you’re rewarded for it as a man. Every white boy who is mediocre is an industry plant by that standard.’

Billie Eilish with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers. Both Bridgers and Eilish have been accused of being industry plants (Picture: Billie Eilish and Phoebe Bridgers)

Morris mentioned the misogyny at play in the industry plant discourse as well, saying that she thinks people are surprised by a girl group with such a mature sound, so immediately jump to the idea that there’s something deceitful going on. 

She said: ‘A lot of people are acting like we’re the first people to do this, which is so not true because there are so many other female and non-binary-led bands in London, and before us. It’s just people don’t know about it in the mainstream.’

Many fans quickly jumped on board with this narrative, using cries of misogyny to quash murmurs about the band’s origins. 

While this may be true, there’s no denying that the Last Dinner Party was intentionally pushed by their record label. They were put on major playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, played opening slots for huge artists thanks to their connections, and were generally pushed via social media and streaming platforms to effectively reach millions of listeners. 

Is this fair to every struggling artist out there trying to make it big on their own? Probably not. Is it also true that listeners have now genuinely connected with the band and garnered joy from their work and their live performances? Yes. 

On some level, given the near impossibility of truly independent success in the music industry, it’s almost a more fruitful question to ask who isn’t an industry plant. SZA comes to mind, as she released three popular albums completely independently before signing with a record label, a level of success that allowed her to negotiate an almost unheard of 70/30 split in a joint deal with Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records. 

SZA, pictured here with her Wall Street Journal Innovators Award, reached almost unprecedented success without the help of a record label. (Picture: Getty)

But in an oversaturated music market, SZA’s case is a rare exception to the unfortunate rule: musical success requires the support (and money) of a major label. Almost every artist who is big enough to gain a significant following has been bolstered by the unfeeling machine of the music industry in some way. In the UK, the BPI says that labels pump £250 million into artist development (A&R) every year. 

When it comes down to it, is there really any difference between a label successfully promoting new artists and creating industry plants? Couldn’t you argue that the sudden success of a band like the Last Dinner Party is just a sign that record labels are doing their job and connecting listeners to music?

Besides, with so many things to criticise about the music industry, like the absurdly low percentage of royalties earned by musicians, it’s counterproductive to go after artists for simply participating in the only avenue available to them to make sure their music is heard. 

The Last Dinner Party is gaining more fans by the minute, many of whom feel seen by the empowering feminine music.

Does it really matter if sheer fate or something more orchestrated was responsible for introducing them?

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