No More Heroes: What Killed the Pop Star?
With the rise of platforms such as Instagram and falling interest in chart music, do stars and pop music really go together like they used to?
From the beginning, pop music has always been something that is hard to pin down. Since the unabbreviated name of it is 'popular', it can simply mean just that. But in more modern times, it has become something clearer - light, driven by melody, catchy, uncomplicated and always familiar from the moment you hear the chorus. Once you have combined that with a face to the song, you are left with the 'pop star', a term popularised in the 1960s, a time where the biggest pop band to date were formed, The Beatles.
Now in 2019, it feels like just about anything can become popular. Thanks to the internet, nothing seems to weird to top the charts, from Soundcloud rappers to novelty music, most recently, Lil Nas X's Old Town Road, which actually features Billy Ray Cyrus. The chances of the average person becoming famous are now bigger than ever and with platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram actually creating careers, it's hard not to see the change music has undertook in the past 10 years.
Pop music has always had a visual element to it, from looking back to The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night' to Elvis becoming a movie star through films such as 'Blue Hawaii' and 'Viva Las Vegas', but the visual imaging of pop hit its peak through the launch of MTV in 1981. This was a time for pop giants such as Madonna and Michael Jackson, arguably some of the biggest pop stars of all time. Their role changed significantly, not only did they have to produce great, larger than life music, but they also had to entertain with every single they released to the public. They could no longer take a misstep. Polished live performances with perfectly timed dance moves were now what came with being a star.
As MTV evolved, so did the stars on our screens. Our beloved 90s stars were gone as the generation grew up and were replaced with teens such as Britney, Beyonce and Xtina, who all launched onto our screens as if it was planned. Direct comparisons to their predecessors were unavoidable and we saw these teens go through similar scandals, divorces and breakdowns as stars before had.
However, the last few years have seen a huge disruption to this lineage. Artists who audiences had previously thought had the reins of pop have proved to have a surprisingly small impact on music listeners outside their fanbase. Throughout 2017 and 2018, we saw many artists releases 'flop' - the idea of things flopping has travelled across all different art forms, from music, to festivals, to film and with nothing but to bare all on the Internet, this is left for the world to see. Katy Perry did exactly that in the promotion for her album, Witness, where she participated in a weekend-long live stream of her in her LA apartment leading up to the release of the album. Although going this extreme, her album only sold a mere 900,000 copies and charted at number six in the Billboard Charts. Meanwhile, Perry's previous albums, Teenage Dream (6 million copies) and Prism (4 million) both debuted at number one.
Miley Cyrus, Kesha and Taylor Swift all also had albums that underperformed throughout the year, with some releases by these big stars unable to produce a top 10 single. Even Beyoncé, a megastar in her own right and one of the most famous people in the world, has not reached the top 5 since her 2013 hit ‘Drunk in Love’.
With a range of different music available at the click of a button through streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music as well as artists no longer having to define themselves by genre, audiences no longer have to listen to music handed to them by record labels, radio and MTV. They are able to experiment with different genres and artists without having to go out and buy the physical copy, which leaves other genres to flourish where they were previously underground. But where does this leave pop?
Performers such as Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Charli XCX and Shawn Mendes are now leading the way for the new generation of pop starlets, but they are failing to make the mark that their successors have made. For now, the future of the pop genre is currently unknown, but it's been one hell of a ride.