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Has 2018 Killed the Pop Star?

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Has 2018 Killed the Pop Star?

There are still pop stars, and there is still popular music—but they don’t overlap nearly as often as they used to.
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For most of the last century, “pop music” has been a durable single phrase with two distinct meanings: a statement of fact about the most listened to music of the moment as well as a genre with specific traits. And for a majority of that time, the two definitions have neatly intersected. Pop songs from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Umbrella” have also been the most popular songs of their day.

And especially since the 1980s, pop has been the domain of a particular type of entertainer: a virtuoso performer, visual artist, cultural maven, pop arbiter, and chart baron known as a pop star.

But thanks in part to the pluralizing forces of the Internet, pop—like so many other things—has splintered. In the last two years, the popular-music ecosystem has proven more hospitable to SoundCloud rappers, novelty E.D.M./country hybrids and a freestyle from Cardi B than it’s been to once-indomitable pop stars like Taylor Swift. Meanwhile, former and would-be pop stars like Kesha, Troye Sivan, and Carly Rae Jepsen have grown into artists with devoted cult followings as opposed to global superstars. While there are exceptions—Bruno Mars in particular mimics the established pop-star formula to massive success—something novel is clearly afoot: pop music is no longer the most popular music in 2018.

Pop as a genre is squishy. Since “popular” is in the name, it’s somewhat beholden to trends. There have, however, been some constants: big, broad emotions, a light touch driven by melody, and music and lyrics that are uncomplicated and familiar. Pop nicks elements from other genres—a guitar lick, a rap—but funnels everything through a tried-and-true structure, two verses and a bridge punctuated with an inescapable hook.

More pertinently, pop music is inextricably linked to the pop star, a brand of musical supernova usually associated with 80s titans like Michael Jackson and Madonna.These larger-than-life entertainers defined a well-worn—and perhaps now rundown— version of musical superstardom, trading in a mastery of visual mediums, untouchable virtuosity, and uber-polished live performance, usually incorporating dance. Mostly, though, their all-in take on pure pop music dominated the charts. In their decades-long careers, Jackson accumulated 13 No. 1 singles, Madonna, 12. Their contemporaries—Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jacksonamong them—followed that path to similar success.

And for the next four decades, a flood of descendants followed in their tracks. Britney, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga all built on the model set forth by Jackson and Madonna. While the elements were touched up to suit the moment, every successive generation took the same approach and filled the same general groove—and the chart positions—of their predecessors with scientific precision. As such, direct comparisons, for better or worse, were inescapable.

The last few years, however, has seen a huge disruption in this lineage. The idea of “the Flop” has traveled from movie blockbusters to pop albums, particularly those released by pop stars with woefully little impact. Both 2017 and 2018 played host to an utter litany of flops. Katy Perry, Kesha, Lorde, Fergie, Miley Cyrus,Timberlake, and Swift, all of whom recently owned the zeitgeist, have released notably underperforming albums; half of those albums failed to achieve a single top 10 hit. Even Beyoncé, a chronic cultural arbiter and megastar, has not reached the top 5 as a lead artist on the Hot 100 since 2013’s “Drunk in Love.” Her latest, Everything Is Love—a collaboration with her husband, Jay-Z—will be the latest test of her unique stature as a pop-cultural agenda-setter who endures without multi-format hit singles.

Meanwhile, the battalion of starlets who should be next in line—Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Charli XCX, and Shawn Mendes—have struggled to convert a smattering of hits into sustained runs at the top of the charts, even several albums into their careers. Ariana Grande, one of the most successful New Gen pop starlets, now in her fourth album cycle, has yet to score a No. 1 single. Most others have been pushed to the fringe, sustained by rabid core fan bases consisting largely of gay men and hipsters, but not cultural sovereignty.

Meanwhile, a quick scan of the top Hot 100 over the last 12 months reveals a disparate smorgasbord, much of it once inconceivable as chart hits. SoundCloud rap oddities like Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” and XXXTentacion’s “Sad!,” as well as Migos’s Dadaist take on trap music, are top 10 staples. Toothless nu-rock acts like Imagine Dragons have launched numerous hits. So have E.D.M./country collaborations like Florida Georgia Line’s and Bebe Rexha’s “Meant to Be”and Zedd, Grey, and Maren Morris’s “The Middle,” artists most people couldn’t pick out of lineup.

There have been no fewer than 6 top 10 singles featuring Cardi B, an unpolished stripper-turned-Instagram-star-turned-rapper-turned-breakout sensation of the year whose fame is predicated on the opposite of virtuosity. Cardi exploded with her completely unguarded social-media persona and “Bodak Yellow,” a tough, loose rap song which is only “pop” in that it’s massively popular, not because it shares much DNA with “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” She says it herself, “I don’t dance now, I make money moves.”

And then of course there’s Drake, the paragon for a new brand of pop stardom that shifts markedly, but not fully, away from the Jacksonian model. Drake often sings but is primarily a rapper, emblematic of hip-hop’s firm grip on pop culture. He doesn’t dance either, at least not in a polished way, and much of his music—confessional, insular, idiosyncratic—is wildly hooky, but owes very little to the dance pop of Jackson, or the pop ballads of Whitney and Mariah (although one could argue he draws on Janet’s later, more intimate style of R&B).

Drake has, however, sustained a stranglehold on the charts once reserved for those artists, either redefining pop in his image or successfully nudging it from the center of the landscape. The success of his progeny like Post Malone proves this approach isn’t singular to him, either. Fittingly, this past week, Drake passed Jackson as the solo male artist with the most weeks at No. 1 on the singles charts.

There are many factors at work here. The kind of huge album sales which once served as the benchmark for pop stardom have been steadily disintegrating since the explosion of MP3s in the early 2000s. Additionally the public, as opposed to record labels, now has an unprecedented ability to choose hits by simply streaming them or creating a viral meme. And radio play, while still a huge factor in chart position, is just a piece of a bigger pie that includes downloads, social-media buzz, and, increasingly, streaming numbers. This egalitarian environment allows a longer tail of artists to sustain careers, but it’s also a reactive one where it’s hard for any single act not named Drake to maintain the omnipresence critical to stars like Jackson.

Bruno Mars is the most obvious, and singular, exception to this trend. Pop stars have always drawn on what came before them, but rarely have they pantomimed the past as cravenly as Mars has, expertly cribbing old styles from Jackson, the Police, the Time, and Boyz II Men without updating the formula. As with the ninth Jurassic Park movie, people may buy tickets to access an old feeling. But whether Mars is an exception to this trend as opposed to the desperate last gasp of a dying breed is an open question.

So is pop music still popular? It hasn’t completely receded. And it will be interesting to see what the next couple of years bring. In 2015, Justin Bieber was able to synthesize then-fashionable E.D.M. and trop-house sounds into three No. 1 singles. What will new Bieber music sound like in 2018 or ‘19? It’s not so hard to envision a world where Bieber’s new stuff sounds a lot like, well, Drake. Either way, something is shifting and perhaps we were overdue. There are only so many times something can be compared to Michael Jackson. And indeed, 40 years is a long trend for something as perennially mutable, and undefinable, as pop music.

https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/06/2018-year-the-pop-star-died

 

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A lot of tea in this.

A shift was inevitable. Too bad it's a shift to "music" that's completely unlistenable.

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Sad that Drake and Bruno Mars are now considered the biggest things in music.  Drake's popularity amazes me.  I find both him and his music awful. 

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NIce to see Madonna get a big acknowledgement here

I can only name one Drake song, he never is played on the radio, I guess it doesn't seem to hurt his career.

 

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This was a very good piece with a perspective on today’s pop landscape, well informed of how we arrived here.

I think @Kurt420 posted this in the “Master”-gate edition of the Madonna Instagram thread. (I remember pointing out the irony that the article uses the term “mastery” to describe Madonna and MJ and their peer group...) It was a good read then, but it was worthy of its own thread, definitely.

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18 hours ago, Jazzy Jan said:

Sad that Drake and Bruno Mars are now considered the biggest things in music.  Drake's popularity amazes me.  I find both him and his music awful. 

he's truly awful

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Where r the great rock bands, that's what I wanna know.

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46 minutes ago, acko said:

Where r the great rock bands, that's what I wanna know.

For better or worse the 60s gave us Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin....

70s gave us bands like Queen, Kiss, AC/DC, Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden...

The 80s gave us U2, Guns n Roses, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode....

The 90s gave us Green Day, Nirvana (and then Foo Fighters), Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson, Oasis, Blur, Garbage, Cranberries, Smashing Pumpkins, Muse...

Most of those remain icons.

The 00s gave us Linkin Park, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, My Chemical Romance, even Maroon 5... it started being a big problematic to be honest. 

But now we have... Imagine Dragons and 5 Seconds of Summer? 

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I do like Imagine Dragons.  And I just heard a song on the radio by Drake that I like after all (Nice For What) :laugh:

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31 minutes ago, Je5u5 said:

For better or worse the 60s gave us Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin....

70s gave us bands like Queen, Kiss, AC/DC, Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden...

The 80s gave us U2, Guns n Roses, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode....

The 90s gave us Green Day, Nirvana (and then Foo Fighters), Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson, Oasis, Blur, Garbage, Cranberries, Smashing Pumpkins, Muse...

Most of those remain icons.

The 00s gave us Linkin Park, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, My Chemical Romance, even Maroon 5... it started being a big problematic to be honest. 

But now we have... Imagine Dragons and 5 Seconds of Summer? 

I’m actually a much bigger fan of rock and alternative rock than pop (besides the queen!). I admit that I don’t like sixties and early seventies rock besides The Doors and Leo Zep. I purchased most of both bands albums. You’re right about 00s being problematic or whatever although I love some of The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand music..

There’s a young rock band from the UK called Royal Blood who I really enjoy. They’re rather unknown in the US, but they had a number one album in the Uk. I’ll definitely see them live when they tour again. 

Maybe in the future more interesting pop and rock will be created again. I’m personally not into the mainstream/commercial hip hop and urban music that’s very popular here right now. Of course, some of it’s good as well. Everybody has different taste.

 

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On 7/3/2018 at 2:43 AM, Genevieve Vavance said:

he's truly awful

Yes.  Those awful faces he pulls as well. :wacko:

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The shade to Bruno is everything -

On 7/1/2018 at 10:57 AM, Beautiful Killer said:

Bruno Mars is the most obvious, and singular, exception to this trend. Pop stars have always drawn on what came before them, but rarely have they pantomimed the past as cravenly as Mars has, expertly cribbing old styles from Jackson, the Police, the Time, and Boyz II Men without updating the formula. As with the ninth Jurassic Park movie, people may buy tickets to access an old feeling. But whether Mars is an exception to this trend as opposed to the desperate last gasp of a dying breed is an open question.

SparseEmbarrassedAmphibian-size_restrict

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Interesting read...

Never understood the appeal for Bruno Mars, though. :provoke:

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That's always been by problem with Bruno Mars. All I see are his influences. There's nothing original about it.

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Does it have to do with the internet  more than the artists artistic integrity or output consistency? 

Most of the artists who flopped didn’t release strong enough or consistent follow ups.  Or the pr wasn’t  consistent as well. They haven’t broight anything new to the table. Of course it’s going to wane. 

 

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On 7/5/2018 at 4:31 PM, eroticerotic said:

Does it have to do with the internet  more than the artists artistic integrity or output consistency? 

Most of the artists who flopped didn’t release strong enough or consistent follow ups.  Or the pr wasn’t  consistent as well. They haven’t broight anything new to the table. Of course it’s going to wane. 

 

  You are right. There are so many ways that people can have access to music. Unless it goes viral, people won't know about the said artist. Even with links and embedding, I think it is very hard for new artists today to reach the megastardom that Madonna and Michael had. Consistency is important to. Otherwise, it is just a one note gimmick. A one trick pony. Didn't Madonna say 'Anyone can come into the party, but it takes a lot more work to stay'? 

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On 7/5/2018 at 10:21 PM, frzndrwnwrld said:

That's always been by problem with Bruno Mars. All I see are his influences. There's nothing original about it.

That's exactly it. It's not even about him being a bad or good performer, it's just 'Yes, well we already lived through all of that when it was original'.

I once tried 2 explain it 2 some people @ work we were gonna c him live, & I got this response: 'Well Prince & MJ were influenced by James Brown'.

I just had 2 roll my eyes, I came off like an old cynic. :lol:

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