If you ask two passionate music fans what an industry plant is, chances are you’ll end up with two vastly different explanations.

To some, the term applies to artists who are plucked out of obscurity and given a new sound and aesthetic at the direction of their record label, then jammed down the throats of consumers through avenues like playlists and radio. Others throw the term around more broadly, deeming any musician lucky enough to have a familial connection to the industry or the good fortune of financial resources as a plant.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the first use of the phrase, but it seems to have emerged through message board culture at the start of the 2010s. A thread on the influential forum KanyeToThe from 2012 posits that everyone from Waka Flocka Flame to Lil Wayne to 50 Cent was an industry plant, albeit without any evidence.

The internet has made the mechanisms behind the music industry more apparent to fans, and as a result it has led some to become obsessed with both authenticity and the track records of artists. People sound the alarms when an act gets a big playlist placement or splashy feature without having been in the public eye—or at least on their personal radar—previously.

But of course, rushing to throw the phrase around sets a dangerous precedent. Do fans really want labels solely signing established artists already doing numbers on their own, or do they want A&Rs to take chances on unheralded talent? Should artist development be happening behind the scenes or in the public eye?

To try and figure out what exactly an industry plant is and why the concept has fascinated fans for the better part of a decade, we spoke to eight artists, journalists, and industry insiders about their personal definitions of an industry plant and what they see as misconceptions around the concept.

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