Casualties of our Digital Generation: Where have all the Superstars Gone?
Will there ever be pop superstars the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Beatles, and Elvis again? I remember as a kid in Zimbabwe, halfway across the world, worshiping Michael Jackson and his music. I knew at the time that my infatuation was shared by other fans all over the globe. His albums sold millions of copies globally. Thriller had an estimated record sale of over 110 million, a world record that hasn’t been matched by any other artist since. My friends and I all mimicked the moonwalk and emulated his every move – his music and dancing inspired us and others around the world. In a way, we felt united with every other person on the planet.
But why aren’t there superstars like Michael now? Is there a lack of talent? Have we all grown too jaded and cynical? Or, could it be that the Internet revolution and this iPod generation have had something to do with it? While I am certainly an internet enthusiast, after all, it’s how I make my living. I must admit that some things have been lost; the Internet diffuses the relevance and impact of any superstar. Anywhere you look online, you can find new music to download, new artists to discover – the choices are astounding and often overwhelming.
While, there has been a steady decline in the sales of physical CDs/albums, evidence shows that downloaded music has been on the rise. People today rarely buy a whole album but instead download the latest hit song. In turn, current artists have no incentive to create a cohesive album such as that of Michael Jackson, with a theme which requires every song to be a chart-topper. Albums are not really what sells these days, but singles. An artist just hopes that their latest release comes first on billboard charts. Thriller spent more than 35 weeks at the top of the billboard charts, but due to over exposure on the Internet and a crowded playing field, an artist today cannot expect his/her hit to last more 2 to 3 weeks at the top of the charts.
Because of this faster paced market, internet marketing has become an essential component of an artist’s success. A high ranking on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing can catapult the popularity of an artist, ensuring a good place on the charts. In a way, the Internet has leveled the playing field for anyone to package themselves and sell their brand to the public. For example, at seventeen years of age, the star Sean Kingston was homeless and discouraged, but was able to land a record deal through his MySpace page. Much of his success has been through the sale of his singles over the Internet.
While the playing field has been leveled, there may never be mega hit superstars again. In the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle and constant Internet presence, it is difficult to imagine someone breaking through in the same way as when I was young, practicing the moonwalk. The generations to come may never know a worldwide sensation as I did.
On the flip-side however, there is a greater diversity of media and music available to all. One can go to YouTube and watch the latest videos online, without having to rely on more conventional media. Social networking sites also have a large role to play in spreading the latest music. Although there may not be one main superstar, the whole world is still connected, bearing witness to the same trends—even if it is online. Michael, if he was just coming to the stage now, might never have had the same impact as he did years ago. Nevertheless, after Michael’s recent death, the whole world mourned together – the loss of a legend, a superstar, and perhaps an era. Even as this happened, there was a spike in sales of his hit singles rather than the albums he carefully crafted, a reminder of how the world has changed.