Millennials still searching for their musical icons

 (Photo by Aron Diaz)

(Photo by Aron Diaz)

Not every musician is destined to rise to the heights of The Beatles, Aerosmith, Madonna, or David Bowie, and become an icon, yet many feel the drive to try anyway and it’s proving to be increasingly difficult.

After all, they need to embody the bold shock value of Madonna, the crazy fans of the Beatles, inspire people to start a band, like Led Zeppelin, and leave a lasting impression on the world like Elvis, all the while transcending musical style, with a unique charisma.

One can see the struggle modern musicians are having in adapting to the new system of cultivating social currency rather than innovative talent.

Take for example, Katy Perry and her latest album Witness. Perry has been struggling to remain part of the zeitgeist, and her new Hillary Clinton-loving, fighting-for-equality “woke-girl” persona comes across as false and desperate.

“I’m not a huge fan, but I liked her when she first started. It’s hard to watch [her], it’s cringe-worthy,” said Kallen Piper, a second-year professional cooking student at SAIT.

Perry attempted to craft a persona to match the current cultural shift towards political activism, but this stands in stark contrast to the same gimmicky artist who debuted to the world kissing girls in 2007, dressing as a Geisha in 2013 and appropriating black culture in her music video, “This is How We Do,” in 2013.

Despite an active voice in social media, an ill-designed four-day live stream to promote Witness and the constant reminder that she’s “woke” Perry has failed to make a record with a lasting impact. She failed to reach people on a lasting personal level, and has continuously failed to win a Grammy.

“She’ll probably be remembered, she was pretty big when she was young, she’s losing it now, but she might come back,” said Piper.

Perry serves as the proverbial canary in the coalmine for the music industry and the difficulty that lies in becoming a lasting pop icon in contemporary society.

The same could be said of Taylor Swift. The old Taylor’s dead, and a new one is attempting to prove how edgy she is.

“She [Swift] likes starting a lot of drama, I feel like she’s trying to get back at Katy [Perry] and start shit,” said Imam Ali, a first-year business administration student.

Swift had a major court victory this year after successfully suing former radio host, David Mueller for groping her at a meet-and-greet in June 2013. Swift sued for $1 in an effort to speak up and raise awareness for sexual assault.

“She got famous playing victim, we’ll remember her, but no one is going to like her. They’re already starting to hate her,” said Ali.

It was undeniably a major victory for Swift, one that in the past would likely have jettisoned her into the pop culture history books. Unfortunately, her victory was overshadowed with the release of her new song and music video, “Look What You Made Me Do,” which came across as petty, and like Perry, the video was desperate to be relevant.

Perry and Swift will likely fall to the wayside like the mall queens of the 1980s, Tiffany Darwish and Debbie Gibson.

Standing in stark contrast to Perry and Swift is the musical hero of 2017, Ke$ha.

Prior to this year, Ke$ha was doomed to be remembered as the resident Party Girl of the industry “tik-ing” and “tok-ing” as she waits for the club to blow.

“I heard a lot of Ke$ha years ago, I haven’t heard much lately,” said Kevin Prasad, a third-year buisness adminstration student.

Instead, she exposed the dirty underbelly of the music industry and it’s treatment of women, by taking on the industry and her former producer, and alleged abuser, Dr. Luke. 

Ke$ha brought attention to the treatment of women in the industry and thereby emboldened other stars to speak out, while at the same time, releasing the music she wanted in her latest album Rainbow.

Ke$ha wore her heart on her sleeve and invited the world to recognize her as a singer, public figure and activist transcending the traditional roles embraced by her peers, infecting the cultural zeitgeist in a way not seen for years, while at the same time avoiding the desperation act of peers like Perry and Swift.

“I think she’ll be remembered for music. I’d like to hear more music from her,” said Prasad.

If one wants to witness the way current musicians are actively changing the way icons are digested by society, one needs only look at musicians like Kanye West and Beyoncé.

West changed the way his music is consumed with the release of his living album Life of Pablo. The album evolved online with changes being made after its release, providing listeners with new social insight with each respective listen.

Similarly, when Beyoncé dropped Lemonade she demonstrated how the Internet could be used to harness audience attention, and draw viewers into interacting with social issues.

There is a growing list of musical artists that will likely be remembered for their impact on social issues rather than their albums. In this day and age this will be the only way to stay relevant and be remembered for decades to come.

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