Sophomore slump describes various circumstances when a second effort fails to live up to the success of the first. The origin likely comes from high school and the apathy of sophomore students compared to the enthusiasm of their freshman years. In modern culture, sophomore slump or sophomore jinx often is associated with performance of athletes, television series and musicians.
Consider the eponymous debut album of Hootie and the Blowfish, which sold 16 million copies. It was, according to critics, an upbeat, refreshing antidote to years of loud grunge angst. But with the group’s second album, which sold only three million and received mostly lukewarm reviews, they officially fell victim to the music industry’s sophomore jinx.
Remember Christopher Cross? He sold 5 million copies of his Grammy-winning debut album, but just one-tenth as many of his followup. But perhaps the most infamous sophomore slumper was Meatloaf, whose acclaimed “Bat Out of Hell” shifted 30 million while its followup sold only 6 million.
Reasons for poor second acts vary. Critics tend to find it easier to appreciate the novelty of debut albums, but are quick to find fault in the repetition of novelty. Unfortunately for musicians, it becomes a damned if I do, damned if I don’t scenario. They get nailed for a followup that sounds too similar to their first release; or they get dinged for straying too far from what made their stellar debut so appealing. Of course all the trappings of success – ego, greed, drugs, ego – can inhibit performance as well.
Another more practical reason might simply be the dearth of original ideas. Debut albums are the culmination of a lifetime of experiences. Musicians then go on tour to support the album’s release, which means for a year or two their life is basically unreal, producing little source material for new songs.
The moral of the story: Don’t shoot your wad the first time around. In gambling, music, moreover in life, you never know what the future will bring. Keep something in reserve for the second act.