Popularity rarely equates to quality, particularly when it relates to art that’s abundant like books, music, and paintings.
It’s impossible to sift through everything that’s been produced and proclaim one better than the other. Popularity is a socially driven, mimetic decision.
Budgets usually decide popularity. Universal Studios will always create more awareness than a small independent studio. Warner music can get its artists front and center on iTunes, YouTube, and radio with some paid dollars while bedroom musicians can only pray to be get featured.
Popularity is bunk, especially in the age of algorithms that recommend what to consume next based off number of plays and buzz. Some things are only unpopular because they’re unknown, not because they’re not good.
Art needs to be discovered. Discovery comes down to human curation, not an algorithmic machine. The good news is that the Internet has a long-tail. Niches can create tribes which expose artists to the rest of the Internet. Suddenly, small artists with zero budgets but a rabid fan base can compete against the bank-backed artists.
Still, most artists with niche followings will remain unknown. And that’s the best part. The unknownness makes it more personal.
Once an unknown artists blows up it often taints the special connection amongst the founding fans. Even worse, the artists become predictable and boring. Uniqueness is why artists get discovered in the first place.