Massive success is not earned or deserved. No matter how you might judge it on merit alone, when it comes to actually reaping the whirlwind - merit's got nothing to do with it. Massive success can come at any point really - but it is always, always a fluke.
When it comes in the push of youth's ambition and the crush of seemingly overwhelming and undeniable talent, it always seems foreordained. But far more often than not, that youth and undeniable talent are denied. People with grit press on, and then when massive success comes later, it seems like a fitting reward for hard work and perseverance. But it wasn't. Not a reward. Still a fluke, whenever it comes. Mostly, it never comes.
When something explodes - when the flickering, fickle instant of the public's attention span distractedly lets its cross-hairs settle by chance over an inexplicably perfect-for-the moment work of brilliance, and the collective mind of crap culture is suddenly, in spite of itself, blown utterly away by something great and real - we always want to say: it's because of the quality! "It would have been impossible for the public to have ignored something this good!" We always want to say that, because we're saps who wish the world worked. We wish it worked on merit. It doesn't. When success happens to get it what-we'd-call-right, you can't tell me it happened because of quality. The dominant culture shits on quality, and prefers the shit.
No, something that catches fire does so by pure freak chance. A miraculous happenstance chances into the line of a critical mass. The spark is touched off, for unpredictable reasons, and then as miracles pile up, something somehow keeps the chain reaction going - it keeps snowballing and expanding until it consumes everything! And everyone says: well, of course - it had to happen thus! Of course. Let's pretend that talent is what matters to get success. Let's overlook the incredibly talented who somehow never catch a break. Let's overlook the horrid but massive successes from the weeks before, which we were all moaning so about.
Quality and merit can sometimes be factors. But look at the vast majority of suck that gets sucked into the same blind machine to be blown up huge: it's clear that they are not decisive factors.
There is no decisive factor. There are a million contributing factors, and then there is the hand of chance that somehow magically shuffles them all into a world-record run of pure sweet beautiful dumb luck. Rejoice when it happens! Whether you're the gifted performer, or simply part of a gratefully-gifting audience - thank your lucky stars, when success lands where it looks like justice. Thank your lucky stars. Because massive success is never explicable, neither before nor after the fact. Nor is it ever something one can meaningfully plan to make happen. If it were, then people would - and it would work. But it doesn't work.
So quit complaining about formulas. No formulas work, no matter how vapid and atrocious. If the willingness to cut a certain pattern or even to sell one's soul down the river could turn the trick, than truly anyone could do it! Few can do it. None can do it on demand.
And while we're at it, quit complaining about sellouts. Let them follow their muse to the music they choose to record! That should be blessing or curse enough, for them. It's immaterial whether you feel someone else is selling out "to" achieve success. It's immaterial, because they can't close that transaction. Not by planning, not by directed effort, no matter how hard they try to aim high or low. The desire to "sell out" doesn't make any magic transaction happen, so why not just credit these people with making the music they want? As atrocious as you may think it is, that doesn't mean they aren't expressing their true souls as artists.
You should bless their success, because the world is hard enough. Your own soul is the only thing you diminish, by begrudging people for following their dream and getting lucky. For every bubblegum success that you might care to complain about, there are ten thousand bubblegum failures.