It’s tough to make it in the music industry. Even when the Internet aids an artist’s 15 seconds of fame, it still remains a long climb to the top. Acts from Les Paul to Los Lobos have proven their musical prowess time and time again but get lost in the shuffle when up against the outlandish exploits of some of today’s mainstream icons.
It’s not about talent; the music industry is brimming with extremely talented individuals, some well known, some not. It’s about standing out in the crowd. Many rely on the depth of their music. For others, their outrageous spectacles in front of the camera give them a boost. And for some, both hold true: Michael Jackson’s undeniable talent drove him to the top of the charts, but his exploits kept him in front of the camera.
Society loves a train wreck, and we just can’t stop watching. When Britney Spears suffers a meltdown and shaves her head, society watches. Some celebrities want—and often need—paparazzi to catch their every outlandish outtake. The need to stay relevant, something a hit single can’t always pull off, becomes overwhelming. The spotlight spreads beyond the music, and come morning, their names linger on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The more talked about they are, the more famous they become—and the more money they can command.
Bad press doesn’t exist to these celebrities; being famous is the name of the game, so much so that Lady Gaga has dubbed her two albums The Fame and The Fame Monster. In the battle of fame vs. infamy, both are one and the same, as long as the marquees shout your name, paparazzi take your picture and the cover of the National Enquirer can translate to the cover of Rolling Stone.
John Lennon’s 1966 statement that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” unleashed an international firestorm, contained only when manager Brian Epstein and Lennon both apologized. More recently, Madonna summed up today’s goals when she stated, “I won’t be happy till I’m as famous as God.” No one blinked.
But some in the music industry strive for something substantive, not just the superficial fame that we so often see. Les Paul garnered countless Number One hits and revolutionized electronic music. From his electric guitars to multi-track recording, modern music remains forever in his debt. The likes of Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt have already left their mark; through their timeless music, they’ve inspired artists of different genres and generations. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter are talked about, not for their hijinks, but their excellence.
These are just a few artists who let their music speak for itself. Their success and recognition is a response to their talent and contributions to music, and therein lies what matters most. Fame should result from one’s talents and abilities. Cheap headlines and Paparazzi Queens need not apply, but who will tell them?