Posts Tagged ‘Madonna’

The music industry is full of kinds of characters, so it’s not shocking then that musicians, like all celebrities, often get involved in controversies. I’m not talking about drugs or sex scandals, because let’s face it, who hasn’t been involved in one of those. I’m talking about controversies that gain not only significant media attention, but also cause a significant fan reaction. I know as music fans we’re supposed to be able to separate a musician’s professional life from their personal life. But it’s not always so easy. Where’s that line? How far do they have to go to for their music careers to be affected? Is it different depending on who the artist is? Here’s a look at a few such incidents.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Musicians have the unique privilege of having their voices heard. They know how to appeal to the masses via their music, live shows, interviews, websites, and so on. Enter Kanye West. Now he has been known to speak his mind on more than one occasion (usually to express his disdain for not  getting what he thinks he deserves), earning him a reputation of being quite arrogant. His second album Late Registration dropped on August 30th, 2005 and debuted at #1 on Billboard 200. On September 2nd of the same year Mr. West claimed on a telethon that George Bush didn’t care about black people. Not the kindest comment one could make about one’s President, but apart from a few surprised faces, it did not in any way affect his album sales and no one really cared about it a few days later.

Now put this against the Dixie Chicks controversy of 2003. While playing a show in London, England, lead singer Natalie Maines admitted to feeling ashamed that current U.S. President Bush was from Texas, due to her differing opinions with him on the war in Iraq. Classified as an anti-Bush comment, fans went crazy. They started boycotting their music, burning their albums and sending death threats. Their single “Landslide” fell from #10 to #43 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in one week; a week later, it wasn’t even on the charts. All this because she said something.

Kanye insulted the President on live television, on U.S. soil; Natalie made a comment about the same President all the way in London, England. Of course, not every single Dixie Chicks fan reacted in such an extreme way, but there were enough to gain media attention. Does this mean Dixie Chicks fans over-reacted or do they just draw the line at political opinions? Or is it just Kanye West fans don’t take political opinions as seriously? Is Kanye West more popular than the Dixie Chicks, which is why he was able get away with it?

Religion is always a complicated topic to address, especially when you’re famous. Let’s talk about Madonna. We all know how famous she is and how she likes to push the envelope as often as possible. Her video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer”, depicted several burning crosses and her making love to some sort of religious figure. The Vatican was not too happy about this and banned her from performing in Italy. The video had come about as a collaboration with Pepsi who due to all the heat from various religious groups had to drop her sponsorship. However, “Like a Prayer” did famously well and none of this caused even the slightest bit of a dent in Madonna’s career. As we all know.

Flip to Sinead O’connor. Best known for her 1990’s contribution, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Sinead sparked a huge controversy in 1992 when she appeared as musical guest on SNL and ripped a photo of the Pope and calling him evil and the enemy (this was during the height of child abuse discoveries within the Catholic church). After the SNL incident, Sinead released her next album in 1994, entitled Universal Mother. Despite pretty good reviews, it just wasn’t enough to get her career back on track. Since then, though she continues to make music, I wouldn’t really say her career is booming.

One could argue that Madonna is just more talented than Sinead and that’s why her music career hasn’t been as illustrious. Fair enough. But it’s almost like Madonna’s controversy only drew more attention to her song and video, whereas Sinead’s actions just maybe went too far in some people’s opinions. Was it just that Sinead’s music wasn’t as popular as Madonna’s so it couldn’t carry her past the incident? Maybe.

This is the toughest controversy for me to get my head around. Domestic abuse. We’ll start with Chris Brown. A young hip-hop artist often referred to as the next Usher, had a career that was gaining momentum rapidly and offered the whole package: the look, the voice, the moves. I for one had no issue with him, didn’t mind hearing his generally upbeat songs at a club or on the radio. Then in February 2009 he was accused of domestically abusing his then girlfriend singer Rihanna. His album Graffiti released later that year did poorly and received pretty negative reviews, most commenting on the poor quality of his music. It’s hard to say if this was a result of what had happened, though it’s possible. But his latest release, 2011’s F.A.M.E., spawning its first single “Yeah 3x” in October 2010, debuted at #1. Maybe it’s because the incident occurred when Chris was only 19. Maybe because I, as most of the public, was able to see a photo of Rihanna after Chris attacked her (courtesy of TMZ – how do they do it!). Maybe because every time I see Chris Brown, I see that photo. Whatever the reason, I refuse to listen to his music or support him in any way shape or form. He recently appeared on Good Morning America and when asked about the Rihanna incident he got angry and instead of performing a second song, he trashed the dressing room, ripped off his shirt (apparently in a Hulk-like manner) and after security was called, he eventually left the building topless. I don’t think the whole anger management thing is working.

Now if we take a look at Eminem, the story changes. Here’s a guy who is a lyrical genius, one of a kind. Arguably one of the best rappers out there. His lyrics are honest, angry and always make a statement, which is what I love most about him. He doesn’t back away from want he wants to say and that is something to be respected. Though Eminem hasn’t ever actually been arrested for domestic abuse (as far as my extensive Google research goes), he has written plenty of lyrics describing his hatred, aggression and even his desire to kill women (see 2000’s “Kim”). Eminem got some heavy criticism for how he portrayed women in his lyrics, several feminist groups even protested and boycotted his music. During his Anger Management Tour in 2000, he was almost banned from performing in Toronto due to a complaint filed to the Hate Crimes Unit of Toronto, claiming his lyrics were equivalent to a hate crime against women, as described by Canadian law. Eminem was actually interrogated prior to his entry, but no reason was found to disallow him from entering. I’m in no way defending his lyrics (they do get pretty graphic), but why has no one tried to stop Chris Brown from coming into the country? He was actually arrested for his hate crime towards a woman.

Eminem’s career has always been controversial, so it’s hard to tell how much of what he does actually affects his career. Some fans appreciate his honesty and can see a lot of what he says need not be taken seriously. Other music fans think he’s a bad influence. Why does it seem as though Chris Brown was easily forgiven by fans? He was recently praised for his performance on Dancing with the Stars. Is it because he’s just that amazing a dancer that it doesn’t really matter what he did?

At the end of the day, it comes down to where you as a fan and as an individual draw the line. It’s a matter of opinion. Why certain fans react one way to a given situation and other fans react in another way is a completely personal choice. It can be influenced by the nature of the action or even the musicians themselves. It seems however, as though the more well-liked and popular musicians seem to be criticized less harshly and I’m not sure why. What do they have to do with anything? Just because a musician is at the top of the charts, do we turn a blind eye to their misbehaviour as a person? Furthermore, when a talented musician is involved in a controversy, do we forgive them more easily, because they are so talented? Does that help us justify to ourselves why we continue to listen to their music, buy their albums, and see them live? Well it shouldn’t. But then again, who am I to judge?

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Icons create music that is inspiring, original, revolutionary, shocking. They combine memorable lyrics with unforgettable sounds, enabling their music to stand the test of time, even at their end. They develop a large following of devoted fans who are continually inspired and allow these musicians to go on creating. Over the last decade or so though, a musician’s popularity seems to be so fleeting: no one musician has really stood out; no one has really made a significant mark on music. And I’m trying to figure out why.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Maybe everything has already been done. Musicians nowadays have adopted the same fate as the fashion world, and have resorted to recycling past trends and trying to re-introduce them. Since Madonna started the whole sensation of women and hypersexuality in the 80s, a trendsetter if you will, there have been a plethora of female artists who have tried to do the same: Britney Spears (“I’m a Slave 4 U” – way to be subtle),  Xtina Aguilera (“Dirrty”, which was just, well, dirty) and more recently Lady GaGa (who has hit a whole new level of raunchy). Problem is, it’s never as successful, because they’re more like versions of the original, more followers than leaders. Now I understand as years go on, every musician is going to be inspired by someone who preceded them, that’s a given; but has the concept of originality totally evaporated?
Take P. Diddy: here’s a guy who essentially gained his popularity  remixing other people’s songs. All he did was update the music a little and add some rap to it – that’s classic recycling (just ask The Police.) It was pointed out to me recently that Diddy (formerly known as Puff Daddy – the name change seemingly did no wonders for his career) never said he was a rapper, but he was first and foremost a producer. Fair enough. But either way, taking someone else’s original music and slightly altering it, isn’t producing or creating – it’s copy/pasting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that there is no musician out there that is doing anything original;  I’m focusing more on popular music, music that’s on the radio, on music channels, music that people request. I’m just trying to find a reason no one has any staying power anymore. When is there going to be a first of someone, instead of a next of someone else?

Maybe there’s nothing left to sing about. A lot of iconic music stems from the fact that it came out during a period in time when music was essential. A lot of the music in the 60s had to do with the anti-war sentiment. Heck that’s how Woodstock was created: a 3-day music festival to make love and not war. Music at that time became so popular because people could hold on to it, people could relate to it, people needed it. The Beatles were the first all-boy pop group and were largely successful, not because they were hugely talented (right Travis?), but because their music was about peace, love and wanting to hold your hand (ignoring the popular belief it was all about drugs). Their music affected an entire generation, as well as those that followed because it meant something, it was timeless – how can peace and love ever go out of style? These days, no one really sings about current world issues. On occasion there will be a song or two to help raise money for natural disasters in foreign countries, but no one really addresses any issues in their music. And those that do, (ie Bono/U2) are bands that have been around for decades, who already have staying power.

Let’s take rap music: I am definitely not a connoisseur, but according to a very reliable source, when rap music first started, it was about something, it had a message. Whether it was political or racial, rappers had something to say, and wanted to be heard. What I do know is that nowadays, (with few exceptions, ie Eminem) rap is completely ridiculous. No one is singing about anything real – it’s all about bitches and hos, money, poppin’ Cristal and rockin’ some bling. Is there anyone out there who really wants grills? Even with my limited knowledge about the rap genre, I definitely know that Tupac had a lot more to say than Lil’ Jon, Nelly or Young Jeezy.

Maybe music just isn’t about music anymore. It’s about what sells: and in this day and age that’s everything but the music. How else do you explain the mere existence of boy bands?? Mildly talented groups of young attractive boys dancing in sync (no pun intended) and capturing the hearts of all teenage girls; and this is captain obvious speaking, sex sells. Problem is, girls don’t stay teenagers forever, and neither do Backstreet Boys. Sooner or later they stop caring if Nick Carter wears boxers or briefs, and they move on. And boy bands fade because their music alone was never good enough to take them anywhere.

What also seems to sell these days is anything that gains media attention: be it pregnancy, marriage, rehab, jail, appearing on reality tv shows, you name it. As long as there is some sort of drama or scandal involved, any sub par artist can become famous, even if for only 15 minutes. Britney Spears has been married what 3 times now (once to K-Fed who somehow managed to release a rap record), and shaved her head for no reason whatsoever. She somehow put out 2 records during all of this, possibly hoping that her sudden media attention would help her music sell, who knows. The unfortunate part is, people will remember her for her antics – not her music, because her music is not memorable.

T.I. was on his way up the charts, when he got arrested for weapons possession and was sentenced to jail. But right before that, he managed to put together a reality show, awesomely named “T.I.’s Road to Redemption” where he would go around trying to convince teens to not take the path he had taken, and in turn by saving them, he would save himself. Wow. Dumbest idea ever, especially considering he recently got arrested again, this time on drug possession charges. What a great mentor. T.I. very possibly did this over-dramatic TV show just to make sure he wouldn’t be forgotten while he was in jail. Total fail. Once the media stops caring about him, there is no way his music will ever survive. I think his 15 minutes are up.
Compare that with MJ: here’s an extremely talented musician who had more than enough personal issues, was involved in countless scandals, yet at the end of the day, his music was so powerful that everything else faded away.

I could go on about this for days, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Music shouldn’t need an image, it shouldn’t need a specific demographic, it shouldn’t need to be tied to a scandal – it should simply sell itself. No musician really tries to be a legend, you just become one, and as years go on, it becomes more and more difficult to stand out. Maybe there are musicians just starting out who will one day be iconic, we just don’t know it yet. For now,  I’m still waiting.