People seem to love musicians.
Rock stars & pop stars, soul singers & rappers…
I treat bands like Led Zep, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, as if they’re deities. They’re special groups of people that don’t exist in the real world with the rest of us.
It’s not hard to find other people that share an unnatural obsession with musicians. There’re swarms of swooning star-gazers anywhere Justin Bieber goes, or that Harry Styles guy from One Direction.
In the past, people fell head over heals for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and even Franz Liszt.
But … Why??
Why do we assign such significance to these people? They are only people, like you and me, but they’ve turned a talent and hard-work into fame—In many circumstances, it was just marketing and promotion.
Looking Up at the Stars
We could say that these people become role-models, or “a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others.” So that we identify with them and aspire to be like them.
This is understandable, but it doesn’t explain people that admire musicians and never pick up an instrument themselves. Or the fact that while these people are great at music, they’re often listened to in regards to other things such as politics or business—even without evidence they know what they’re talking about.
The Halo Effectis when one person is great at one thing and we tend to think they’re also good at many other things. That’s rarely the case, but it helps explain why non-musicians aspire to famous stars, to acquire traits other than music—including politics and the like.
Is that a good thing? What if we consider that people might start to think and act like an alcoholic, drug-taking, foul mouth—simply because they’re aspiring after a successful musician?
That’s an extreme example, but cases of people adopting the same political or social viewpoints of musicians is common. Why do we do this? Why do we start modelling ourselves based on one good trait?
Prestige in terms of anthropology is a form of social status, based on the respect and admiration of members of one’s community.
The most convincing theory suggests prestige allowed our ancestors to recognise and reward individuals with superior skills and knowledge, and learn from them, increasing their own chances of survival.
This allowed new discoveries and techniques to spread across the whole population, and enabled each successive generation to build on and improve the knowledge of their predecessors.
Perhaps it’s this form of prestige that hooks us. These people are famous, wealthy, and successful, so we should mimic them to better our own chances to improve on life.
Right. But. There are many musicians out there, and very good ones, that are unsuccessful. Broke. Dead.
Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain. Do we still look up to these musicians? clearly it’s not for survival purposes…
The Difference Between Art and the Artist
These people, how do they acquire fame? It must start with the art they create.
They make incredible music, we love it, we share it, other people love it, and bam! Fame.
Surely we can enjoy the music, the art, without ever knowing who was behind it. The song plays, our ears prick up, and it’s awesome…
We share it, other people love it, and Bam! The musician is famous…
If you heard a song you liked — and you really like it — and then you do some research into the soulful, beautifully gifted individual behind it, only to find out that that person is a racist, violent, frequently convicted sexual harasser — do you still like the music?
Music’s an association game. Everything ties in together.
While the music was good, it’s now associated with a hugely negative person, which sours the whole picture.
Just like music can conjure up nostalgic childhood memories, it can remind us of what we’ve learned about the music itself.
There’s more to becoming a rock star than simply having good music, you need to be a good — scratch that, you need to be the right person.
Commercial Gone Crazy
People in the “music business” know about this association between art and artist, and they know how to exploit it.
Ever notice how most famous artists these days are attractive?
The music may have been recorded by some someone other than whose picture is on the cover—Looking at you Milli Vanilli.
“Pretty people have an advantage over ugly people. Most human beings harbor generally superficial tendencies, which is why so many of us respond to marketing that features attractive models and celebrities.”
How much input does Justin Bieber or Harry Styles really have on the music that’s sold under their names? If the answer was nothing, and everyone knew that, would they still have legions of fans? The answer is likely ‘yes,’ because their image sells the music.
Sex sells music.
And music sells sex.
Some musicians that people would consider, ahem, less attractive, have managed to get their ‘fair share’ simply because of good music.
Or is it because of fame? The musicians get noticed for their music first, get a little exposure, then come the groupies. And the stalkers.
I’m scratching my head now.
Why do we worship people that look good when their music is average or they had little to do in the production of it? Their ‘talent’ seems to matter very little in regard to the fame they acquire.
Then, why do we love musicians whose music is amazing but they were hit with the ugly stick?
Is there a difference between girls and boys of different ages? Probably. It’s also likely a balance between the two factors—If you suck and you’re ugly, good luck. If you look good and you have talent, the world’s your oyster.
The Levels of Idol
Ahh Kim Kardashian. Paris Hilton. Famous people. There’re a lot of people that get attention because they get attention.
Famous for being famous. That’s level one from…
The Levels of Idol:
- Those who are worshiped for no reason other than they have your attention. They have no craft to speak of.
- Those who are inseparable from their craft. Sports stars—in order to appreciate what they do, you have to actually see them perform. The same goes for actors and actresses—Their art is directly tied to their physical representation.
- Those who can be disassociated with their art. Think music, you can enjoy it without knowing anything about the person responsible. The same goes for painters and writers. If these people left their name off the final product, you could still appreciate the work.
You could say that musicians, writers, and painters leave their minds on their work, but the point is that their work could become more famous and recognisable than themselves. The art can transcend the artist.
That thing we talked about earlier, Prestige, is a very general strategy that is targeted at successful role models, rather than specific traits.
Society has placed individuals from each of these categories atop the pyramid of fame. And we model ourselves after them in very general terms.
I can understand that for stages two and three, but not one.
Role models are supposed to be people that we can learn from, and improve upon, and that help to make society stronger. The only thing we’re improving on from those in stage one are our levels of narcissism.
Does the world improve with musicians?
Do they provide us with a valid reason to idolise them? An evolutionary advantage?
Finally, to the Sex
Listening to it activates the same pleasure region in the brain as during sex.
It releases dopamine—the same hormone involved with addiction to drugs, eating good food, and sex.
How does that help us? Darwin asserted that…
“Musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex.”
There was a recent study showing that women at the height of their menstrual cycle rated composers of more complex music as more attractive—in terms of a one-night fling, not a long-term relationship.
In classical concerts, there were significantly more women in the seats nearer the (predominantly male) orchestras than in the back rows.
Miles Davis attested that musicians are often celibate before big concerts, to retain their edge.
Perhaps, music is our means to sex.
It’s love and lust. It can be sadness, it can be happiness, it can be comforting, it can be powerful, or subtle, energetic or relaxing. It’s an emotional roller coaster, a lot like love and relationships themselves.
Music is our mojo.
We all have different tastes in music and in love, but we all seem to admire great artists as well as their art. We put them on a pedestal. Their music sways us, charms us, gives us goosebumps, and sends chills down our spine.
And it’s all the more effective when the artist is attractive.
We admire musicians, placing them atop the pyramid of fame because, as role models, they can teach us how to woo the opposite sex.
Is that the evolutionary advantage?
But if the artist themselves happen to be the opposite sex? Well, maybe we simply fall in love with them.
I should note that this is all just my opinion. I’ve tried to back it up with evidence for why I’ve taken this path, but I’m also very open to other ideas and opinions about what’s happening in our idolisation of musicians and famous people alike.
Let me know what you think in the comments.