It takes a lot for an artist to form an enduring musical legacy. Our parents and their parents have witnessed many in their glory days, but what about us? Who will be the defining musical heroes of our time? NATALIA MORAWSKI offers her predictions.
When David Bowie died, the whole world mourned. Even if you were too young to grow up with his music, you still still felt the collective grief that paralysed generations of music lovers. That same feeling took hold when news of Prince’s death surfaced. Peerless icons had passed on, their legacy complete.
It made you wonder: who will us Generation Ys and millennials mourn together in decades from now? Who will be charging $600 for arena seats at their anniversary tours, à la The Rolling Stones? Who will leave a truly lasting legacy?
I have millions of ideas and I represent a new generation just trying to express themselves in a broken world.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 20, 2015
If you say so, Kanye.
Unfortunately, we’ve got to the point in contemporary music where true innovation is arguably impossible – at least according to some experts like musicology lecturers Sally Macarthur, who wrote in an essay for The Conversation that what might seem new and groudbreaking is really something familiar, with a difference. “They tweak an already discovered sound to make it seem new, redefine music as noise, and discover a new genre or style within an existing genre or style,” she says. “In reality, the so-called new sub-genre or style resembles what they were trying to break out of.”
If you look at the increasing crossover between pop and high art (Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, and Jay Z’s Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film… even Rihanna with Anti), it’s obvious that certain artists are desperately scrambling to make a legacy for themselves. Our generation gets over a band as quickly as we fall for them, so staying ahead of the curve is imperative to artist survival. But as Blair McDonald wrote in his essay, although these artists might be finding extra edge through art, most of them (including those mentioned) are simply posturing and name-dropping, and probably because mainstream multimedia consumers expect more from their artists nowadays.
Having said all this, like very musical generation that came before it, our time will certainly be remembered in some way or another. Certain artists stand in a league of their own, and future generations recognise them as the defining artists of their time. So here’s looking into the crystal ball at a few candidates who might one day be the soundtrack of an entire era in music.
OK, let’s talk about Beyoncé, and more specifically the 60-minute film for her latest album of the same name, Lemonade. Not only was it visually appealing, and an example of high art as I mentioned earlier, but it was political, emotional and provocative. Playing an African-American woman in a loveless marriage, overall Beyoncé made an angry, visual statement on the experience of black women in America.
Beyoncé has long been trying to expel her image of Destiny’s Child and the pop star cookie-cutter label, and after Lemonade it seems like it’s all going to plan. Maybe in 20 years’ time, young fans of Bey won’t even know she was part of a girl group. While Bey’s material has never been hugely innovative on the songwriting front, she is a global sensation who has set extremely high standards for stardom. As she moves further and further away from superficial pop, who knows what legacy she will forge in the next decade?
There’s every reason to believe that Kendrick Lamar and his genre-changing music will be remembered fondly and for generations to come. K-Dot brought an exciting new dynamic to hip hop with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and especially 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly. The latter was crafted with such anguish and brutal honesty, it was agreed by critics that it was an overwhelming listen, but all the more poignant and impressive for it.
It was an album written post-Ferguson, and so understandably it was not intended for easy listening, but its true genius comes in its marriage of hip hop with funk and jazz. With help from the context in which it was released, it will be an album that will be heavily referred to when we look back on the American social and political context of today. Lamar is an artist who can take his context and make it art – two ingredients for longevity and legacy.
Maybe not an obvious one at first – she’s only one album into her career, after all – but Ella Yelich-O’Connormakes the shortlist as she was 16 when she released Pure Heroine, an album that displayed musical knowledge and maturity beyond her years. It made pop cool again in a time when other artists were hanging a little too long on the indie/alt band wagon. And it was also meaningful: simply put, anyone who can make teenage angst sound like meaningful poetry is going places.
Lorde is currently working on her new album, and we can only expect that it’s going to be just as impactful as the previous; she’s not one to follow the crowd.
Devonte Hynes/Blood Orange
This guy is in a league of his own. His sound is unlike anyone at the moment – yes, it can be compared to an MJ or Prince, but what he draws out from these influences is fresh and original. With his latest record Freetown Sound, Hynes has stepped it up a notch, pairing politics with instruments, much like Lamar. The album pays homage to the pain and experiences of the LBGTI community and black Americans. Freetown Sound topped critics’ lists everywhere, and most likely because his pop sounds say something that will resonate for decades to come.
While the Western Australians’ sound is nothing new, borrowing heavily from late ’60s and ’70s pyschedelic rock, Kevin Parker is a genius at making it all sound brand new.
A lot of bands lean on the classic ’60s and ’70s era, but many too heavily, falling into the old favourites and rendering themselves incapable of capturing modern ears. On the other hand, Tame Impala make records that millions of people will be dusting off and popping on the turntable in decades from now, to blow the little minds of grandchildren. And who wouldn’t happily go to a Tame Impala concert in 30 years’ time?
Sia is a tough one for a list like this, because while her immense songwriting and pop wielding capibilities could be enough to make her a lasting legend, the associated fame could become too much for her reclusive personality. According to an interview with The Guardian, Sia can churn out a song every 14 minutes on days she’s working. At the very least, Sia might one day top the list of the most prolific artists – but if she’s to be talked about in generations to come, the odds are it’ll be for her many, many hits written for other poppier stars.
It can be hard to write about Coldplay and their legacy, because it seems that even today, no-one can really agree on whether they are a great band or a terrible band. But as far as stadium bands go today, there’s nobody to match them.
They just seem to do everything just right for mainstream success: they craft poetic lyrics but nothing too cryptic, inhabit a strange equilibrium between rock and pop, and they make music that makes people feel really damn good. If they can keep it up, we will be listening to their happy rock anthems for years to come. Hell, we’ve been doing it since 2000, and if that doesn’t say something for their enduring appeal, nothing will.
Maybe the key to Coldplay’s longevity is that they’ve figured out a formula that works, and they’ll never stray too far from that. While their peers are constantly rummaging for anything that sounds odd or new – to varying degrees of success – Coldplay are happy just being, well, Coldplay.
Then again, Radiohead have been around much longer, and changed their sound immensely along the way – if there’s any current British band that will go down in history, it’s them.
Well, if I had written this article last week, my predicitions for Taylor Swift might have been a little different. Honestly, I’m completely lost on the whole Kim/Kanye/Taylor fiasco, but I’ll take the “R.I.P Taylor Swift” tees as a bad sign for the singer. We all know what Kanye thinks on the matter…
Unfortunately, if Tay-Tay sticks to her current songwriting stimuli (boys, catfights, break-ups and relationships), her future looks frankly dire. There are only so many ways someone can break up with you and only so many emotions you can feel.
Then again, let me completely turn over that argument by saying that Tay-Tay will probably stand the test of time because her themes will dominate society until the end of time. Today’s fans might grow out of her, but every girl who feels the pangs of first love and heartbreak will sign up to her cult-like fandom.
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