Think about the great music legends of the 1900s: The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Sinatra. Each of these individuals is a great artist, but each had something more. Michael Jackson had his fashion and his dance. The Beatles were hip and rebellious. And Frank Sinatra was the classical cool guy.
Each of these musicians pushed their art to the next level. They became the archetypes of their genre. For instance, Michael Jackson was the “King of Pop.” We see hints and influences of these kings and queens of music all across music. Elvis is a great example. Before he got on the scene, shook his hips and wooed the ladies, popular music was nothing like today. Ladies were called handsome before Elvis came along. It was truly a dark time.
So now you know that music legends expand their art and redefine a genre, and I know what you are going to say. “But Ben, wouldn’t your standards make Britney Spears a great musician?” And here is your answer: no, no they do not. There is another prerequisite that I have yet to mention: you need to have musical talent. If that did not apply, think about what would happen. Rebecca Black could be placed at the same level as Michael Jackson.
Speaking of our current top artists, even in our age of autotune and lip-syncing, we still have some promising artists.
Lady Gaga has certainly furthered her art with stunts like her “incubation” before her Born This Way performance at the VMAs (I think it was; I don’t pay attention to award shows). She has been a big impact on pop culture since her music video for “Bad Romance” came out on to the scene. Her weird fringe style and fashion has certainly made an impact on pop culture and has opened the way for other non-traditional artists to come on to the pop scene.
Adele is an odd exception. She has not really redefined a genre or pushed any kind of borders, but her popularity is rooted in raw, undiluted musical talent. She has an amazing voice and, man, does she know how to use it. However, I think the true power in her songs is her songwriting. The lyrics are very personal yet at the same relatable to a majority of young women. So she has the musically-oriented audience and non-musically oriented female audience, which really is the bulk of pop culture consumers.
Now let’s break away from the pop divas for something a bit more manly and a bit less mainstream: Nirvana. They are certainly recognizable and are like the flagship of the grunge scene. The problem with Nirvana is that they were a very temporary phase. In the first half of the 90s, they were the new fad, harvesting the seething teenage angst of that time. Their message will always appeal to any teenage generation, but that is the extent of it. Anyone over a certain age will be immune to them. What happened with Nirvana was a fortunate opportunity; pop culture was in a dark brooding phase after the 80s; think “rage against the establishment.” When the culture came out of its depression, Nirvana’s rebellious image was old news. So then their executives and producers tried to twist their image to make them popular again. This did not go over well with Nirvana, and the flagship crashed and burned, hence the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain.
Now we get to one of my favorites: Beyonce. She has partially defined the pop scene over the past several years, kind of like Britney Spears did, but Beyonce is, you know, better. She is a great dancer and lyricist. What she brings to the table is her raw feminine power, showing up thick-headed guys who try to bring her down. I also like to think of her as more “real” than other pop divas. She doesn’t take her fame too seriously and doesn’t really flaunt her fame. Well maybe the “renting an entire floor of a hospital” kinda contradicts this, but I think all women would do this if they had the resources. I mean I would if I was a famous person and my wife was pregnant. I don’t want no paparazzi showing up in the maternity ward.