The Last Megastars

Michael Jackson

Reader Michael Gross chimes in on my post about the tragic death of Chris Cornell with comments on the music industry that are so incisive, they merit his own guest post:
Music started to worsen in the 90s as the music industry sabotaged itself (so to speak) as sales declined and it was blamed on "taping." Bono correctly called out the real reason: crap music. Grunge was a fad, but it did succeed in blowing pretentiousness out of the water... until the champions of grunge also became pretentious.
It's a strange thing when someone like Tom Petty, in "The Last DJ," nails the situation that mass marketing has caused to music. You have ageist radio and marketing people blocking good music from older acts (why hasn't Pet Shop Boys' fantastic album, "Super," been played all over the place since its release 13 months ago?) in the name of shielding inferior acts from competition on the airwaves. Lame.
RIP, Chris Cornell. I put together a Google Play playlist today in your honor. I'm finding it weird how many albums you and Scott Weiland guested on -- separate but together, just like your grunge days' classification and radio play.
Here is Michael's playlist in honor of Chris Cornell. If you're in the mood for several hours of good music, free; consider checking it out.

On the topic at hand, I'm with Bono. Although in light of U2's work over the last decade, his remark does come close to the pot calling the kettle black.

Michael adds:
I think the record companies are reticent to put money into A&R and/or scouting the way that they did before. How else to explain YouTube folks getting record deals instead of garage or club artists? It's about saving money on the front end as they're losing money to the digital age. It's been recouped by convincing younger listeners that digital music is better than LPs, CDs, or cassettes, but that's my theory. Of course, ratings bonanzas like The Voice and American Idol help them find talent while raking in advertisement money from TV.
My good alternatives are found on indie labels, although most are older bands. The 77s, The Choir, The Lost Dogs, Michael Roe, Kerosene Halo, The Swirling Eddies, Daniel Amos, Terry Scott Taylor, and Steve Taylor are all intertwined and most of the bands have common members, but are my go-to "not mainstream" bands. Problem is, they're too religious (Christian) for the mainstream and not safe enough for the Christian labels because they dare ask questions rather than just write platitudes as lyrics. So, most of them release new records via crowdfunding now.
The pioneers of this era in music are virtually DOA -- or maybe we have lost creativity because artists are too busy "trying to say something."
Message fic rears its ugly head again; this time in the record industry.

Only four rock/pop acts have managed to reach the pinnacle of popularity and stay there: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Metallica, and U2. These are the last megastars. All of them rose to prominence in the 80s. One is now dead. The self-sabotaging structure of the record industry ensures that no one is coming up to replace them.

Incidentally, if you're interested in science fiction that puts fun before message, it just so happens that I've written a few books in that vein.



  1. Brian

    Why does the music industry self sabotage? Is it due to its shady beginnings. Extreme greed? And does the publishing industry share some of the music industry's dysfunctionality?

    1. I'm not Brian, but I have my opinion.

      They're not self-sabotaging. The industry really has absolutely no idea what they're doing. They've never been able to gauge trends or hits. This is why they manufacture pop artists, double down on payola, and buy ad space for their slop on television. This is the best way they have to make sure they are guaranteed control with as minimal effort as possible.

      The easiest way to stop them is to, as an old band once said: Turn the Radio Off.

      They choked the life out of their very industry in order to maintain dominance.

      Actually, yes, it's very much like the publishing industry.

    2. Also not Brian, but....

      The music corporations don't care about music. They care about profits. And mega-super-duper-stars are more profitable than run of the mill decent musicians. It's far more cost effective to put together one megastar group, promote them, and then get the massive profits off of them than it is to get low margins off of a thousand individual talented musicians.

      This creates a ton of perverse incentives. For example, it's actually counterproductive to find new, good acts... because they just leach airtime from your megastars, and they cost you a lot of money. You don't want radio stations to play indie stuff - you just want them to play your stars. Etc.

      It's a short-term big payoff that has nasty long term consequences. You make a ton of money while your industry as a whole dies. But you're crying all the way to the bank, so you don't really care.

    3. I am Brian, and I endorse these messages.

  2. I actually popped over here to leave another comment on your last post on this topic, and I found the Michael Jackson picture to be particularly appropriate.

    Times change, styles change, etc and I'm always particularly wary that I might just be growing "out of touch" as I close in on 40. However, with that said...

    Every single time a Michael Jackson comes on the radio lately (a not rare but not common phenomenon for me - I have very eclectic musical tastes, and still listen to actual radio in my car), I'm struck by how deep the music is.

    No, don't misunderstand me. It's pop music. Shakespeare it isn't. But when I compare it to pop music of today, it's downright shocking. First of all, there's just the raw musical quality of it. Michael Jackson knew music. There's a reason they called him the King of Pop. But there's more than that. Everybody who was anybody wanted to work with him. "Beat It" came on the radio during my drive home tonight. Eddie freaking Van Halen played the guitar solo on that song. And that kind of thing was normal for Michael Jackson's recording -
    the best of the best of the best played with him.

    And that's still not all. Listen to the lyrics. "Beat It" is, again, a good example. It's got a hint of danger and a hint of bad boy in it. But ultimately, the song is about Michael trying to escape from the 'hood, and the destruction. Or listen to "Billie Jean" - the song has a hint of the lurid, but ultimately it's about the destruction that going down the path of promiscuity would bring.

    This was pop music. Today's pop music is all about the threesomes of Last Friday Night... and that we'll do it all again this Friday night (just to pick one example). There's no introspection, there's no self-awareness. Today's hip-hop is about embracing the 'hood, not escaping it.

    And more's the tragedy that this man who did it lived such a wretched, lonely, tragic existence of his own. The evidence today shows that Michael Jackson was never completely whole - but by the end, he was a broken shell of a man. Such a waste.

    Today, if you get out of pop, you can still find plenty of depth in modern music. But in pop music? It just ain't there. There is noone in today's pop music with even a tenth the talent that Michael had.

    1. Too true. What's more, which pop artists of today would walk their talk like Jackson did by actually having members of the Crips and the Bloods in his video?

    2. None. I can't imagine Justin Bebier doing that for example.

      One of the Michael Jackson video/songsingapore I liked was the one where he'said a mafioso in a Cotton club type setting in the 1920s. I could never see him in such a role but the lyrics sung by a different artist would really convey the Capone type menace from that song. I prefer that one to the Thriller (which I enjoyed just for the Pulpy hommage with Vincent Price narrating)


  3. Thanks guys. So has the Internet help level the playing field somewhat or has nothing changed?
    I understand about megaprofits. Prince before his death supposedly lost his temper and ranted of why should he work for a music exec so he can spend a day on the beach with while the singer was slaving away earning a misery.

    I suspect that Prince really understood the music industry and loathed it accordingly.

    But do the youths really listen to the radio?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Here's a link to a book that allegedly exposes rampant sex bias by misogynistic record execs


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