By SAM AMADEO
During the 20th
This usually came down to concerts and tours, selling albums, and most importantly getting their songs on the radio. For the better part of the 20th century, only a handful of musicians were able to make it big and an even smaller handful contained the talent and influence to still be popular in the new millennium. By taking a look at only three of these “old” musicians still popular today we can decipher what factors make an artist popular for decades with different generations.
Dylan became the first musician to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, as he was a pioneer in incorporating poetry into his music to tell stories, creating a genre known as “folk-rock”. Dylan’s new genre would inspire many famous artists in later years, including Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. To honor this achievement, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Obama in 2012 and became the first musician to receive the Nobel Prize.
Dylan showed future musicians how music at its core is an expression of the soul and can be used as a captivating, powerful form of storytelling. Through the 60’s and 70’s Bob Dylan was able to capture impactful moments of teen life stuck between the old beatniks, the yet to arrive hippies and huge events like the Vietnam War and the constant threat of nuclear war. He was a master at communicating relatable sentiments towards the incidences swaying the momentum of America.
The Rolling Stones
Also known as the “greatest rock and roll band in the world” by the mid-70’s the Rolling Stones were the bad boy superstars of that decade. Releasing their four most acclaimed albums within a
The Stones have been featured in numerous films and television shows as a way to add a sense of coolness or badass vibe to a scene or character. Whenever a Stones song is played, everybody in the audience knows they won’t like the man on screen, but damn, do they wish they were him. At the very least, if their music is one day forgotten, you can be sure their wild stories will not be. Stories too graphic and inappropriate, and too many to tell here. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, during the height of rock and roll, the Rolling Stones stood above the rest living out the meaning of the term.
Throughout the 1970’s Elton John was consistently putting out hits in rapid succession. In 1973 it has been said John composed all the music for the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in just three days. The album was a major success reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and finishing No. 1 on Billboard’s Year-End charts the same year. His song Candle in the Wind 1997 has sold over 33 million copies and is the second best selling single in Billboard history. He has more than 50 Top 40 hits and seven consecutive No. 1 US albums, as well as 56 Top 40 singles, 16 Top 10 singles, four No. 2 hits, and nine No. 1 hits. He is also the recipient of six Grammy Awards.
But Elton John was able to transcend his musical talents beyond the studio writing the music for The Lion King, which won him the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. His talents have even touched the theatre and Broadway, where he has been nominated for four Tony Awards, winning a Tony in 2000 for Best Original Music Score for Aida. He took on various creative ventures successfully and accomplished feats no one thought possible, which is what makes Elton John not only a musician, but a true artist.
Key Factors for Lasting Success and Popularity
Between Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John, three factors stand out between all of them, which is why they are still popular today. These are factors that will help determine what musicians of today will still be listened to by the next two generations.
The 3 Key Factors
- Creating music that is either revolutionary and new or innovative and unique.
- The ability to consistently and quickly put out albums with positive reception from fans and critics alike.
- Lyrical content focused on the public attitude toward current affairs and paradigm shifts, and the lives of ordinary people.
The music industry of the 21st-century is much different than the century preceding it. The number of artists is bigger than ever before, due to the Internet allowing anyone to publish their music on various platforms. This level of saturation in the music industry could mean later generations will have a larger draw of musicians to listen to or that because anyone can publish their music it will be harder to pick out the truly talented people of this era.
The late 1950’s to the late 1970’s has been called the “golden age of rock and roll”. Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John all fall into that category. Due to the large number of current musicians to draw from I narrowed my search exclusively to hip-hop, the genre of music most popular from 2004-2018.
Based on the three key factors that have historically immortalized musicians, here are three current musicians likely to be listened to in the coming decades.
West’s debut album The College Dropout shifted the direction of hip-hop for the next decade and a half. His lyrics were dramatically different than the hip-hop of the 80’s and 90’s, talking about gangs, fast and flashy cars, drugs, violence and women. West appealed to a much larger audience speaking about issues the middle-class was able to resonate with. The College Dropout discusses religion, scheming under the government’s radar to make ends meet, self-consciousness and self-fulfillment.
West’s music career would continue to evolve releasing multiple critically acclaimed albums over the following years, he would marry Kim Kardashian, and say and do things that would rile up the Internet into frenzy. He will be looked back on as the godfather of millennial rap and a major influencer in hip-hop in the early 21st century, but the latter part of his career will be an example of how wealth and fame can get to someone’s head.
In six years Kendrick Lamar has released four critically acclaimed albums with his second reaching No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 and his third and fourth reaching No. 1 on the US Billboard 200. Like Elton John, Lamar has been nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He also won 13 Grammy Awards.
Much of Lamar’s music discusses growing up in Compton, a city in California well covered in hip-hop before his time, by glorifying the atmosphere of the city. Most hip-hop artists’ singing about Compton expressed anger towards the outside forces they saw as the root of Compton’s problems. However, Lamar showed a fresh new side of Compton.
He explores the struggles and pain of growing up in a “mad city” calling out Compton’s own citizens’ for their unwillingness to work together to combat the larger systematic issue. Lamar’s lyrics tell personal stories of how the lack of unity creates a toxic and dangerous environment for Compton kids like Lamar who are mentally scarred and traumatized from living in constant fear. His lyrics discuss issues most families and individuals can relate to but through the unique voice of marginalized people of color.
Kendrick Lamar is a modern artist often referred to as a poet first and a rapper second similarly to Bob Dylan. He followed in Dylan’s footsteps, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2018 for the album DAMN, which was the first non-classical and non-jazz album to receive the honor.
Much like Kanye West, Mac Miller’s music spoke to a large group of Americans, specifically white middle-class suburban teens and young adults who were navigating the bumpy rapids of growing up. Miller’s lyrics often focused on friendships, romance, sex, drugs and alcohol, loneliness, self-love and following your dreams. Miller was putting out music for a fan base his age. He had become an international star by the age of 18 and his lyrics were relatable to what his fans were going through in their own lives.
Between 2011 and 2018 Miller released five albums and eight mixtapes, which were all well received but not critically acclaimed; however, for his fans, every one was a masterpiece. Miller was posthumously nominated for a Grammy Award in 2019 for Best Rap Album for Swimming. Yes, I said posthumously, because as hard as that is to swallow, future generations will only know him through his music.
There is a lot of truth to the belief musicians who died young become immortalized. Most people are familiar with the 27 Club, the staggering long list of mostly popular musicians who died at the age of 27. Though Mac died at 26 he will still be immortalized as a hip-hop genius over the next two or three decades in a similar fashion to Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse.