A look at today’s stars with actual talent
By Clive Ramroop, Contributor
While some observers, myself included, might feel the music industry today is short on standout acts in a homogeneous crowd, that doesn’t mean our era is completely lacking in them. This isn’t a complete list of every mainstream act that I feel have “it”; these are just observations on three artists, so don’t feel jilted if I haven’t named your favourites.
At first glance, Adele doesn’t resemble the prototypical pop princess; but once her voice erupts, image means nothing. “Rolling in the Deep” premiered in late 2010, going onto conquer the airwaves with a seven-week number one reign on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles charts—along with other worldwide successes. Without depending on repetitive computerized loops, she delivers a performance of classic soul in a modern era, tapping into real emotions. Her album 21 earned six Grammys and sold over 20-million copies worldwide. Putting that figure into perspective, the second most recent album to reach 20-million albums sold worldwide was Usher’s Confessions in 2004. Not bad for someone who balked at an executive’s suggestion that she lose weight. Given a proper chance, an artist can flourish without conforming to some media-perpetuated cookie cutter image.
Daft Punk certainly has a unique look; their robotic helmets are as integral to their image as Kiss’s trademark make-up. However, it’s difficult to stand out sonically in the electronic music realm, a genre defined by repeating digital loops of “four to the floor” beats. And four studio albums and one soundtrack album in 20 years doesn’t sound like a prolific output. Yet their current album, Random Access Memories became one of 2013’s bestsellers and the duo’s first number one album in the US charts. This success came despite assembling their works using unconventional tactics; how many people of this generation had heard of Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, or Paul Williams? Collaboration with older artists and a current star, Pharrell Williams, and working modern-day spins on classic funk, soul, and disco is what’s given Daft Punk their biggest commercial success to date.
Looking at Lady Gaga, I can’t tell if I’m looking at a future pop music legend or a hyper-amped one-person freak show. I don’t need to recap her publicized antics or her concerts, which often reach a spectacle comparable to Michael Jackson’s tours. Many of her hits often fall under the commonly heard electro-pop style played today. So despite not being a major Gaga fan, why am I naming her here? Believe it or not, although she’s known for pop, she really has a legitimate arts background, and earned her way into the industry not by going for instant TV exposure like an American Idol wannabe, but the hard old-fashioned way: working bar shows while living in cheap apartments, then becoming a songwriter before launching her solo career. To reinforce her legitimacy as an artist—rather than a mere performer—listen to her album track “Speechless.” Strip away the gimmicks and blingy bullshit, give her a simple piano, and she can still play and sing without auto-tune. Try that with Miley Cyrus and she’d get her ridiculous tongue stuck between the piano keys. While some may accuse Gaga of ripping off stars like Madonna, well, remember that even the King of Pop wasn’t shy about borrowing from James Brown.
There are several others whom I haven’t mentioned, who stand a chance to be future legends by forging their own paths with music that actually sounds like music. I just wish that more of them—and a new innovator—would be allowed more prominence in the business.