Success, or Celebrity?

There is a problem with our modern definition of popular success, which positions it somewhere between the Grammies and rehab. Celebrity culture has totally erased the idea that being an artist is a vocation, not just an audition for the next series of Crap Idol.

Dean in the Daily Sport in June 2006 for writing
and producing John Cleese’s world cup song

Most importantly, isn’t this modern concoction of TV-and-tabloid celebrity rubbish, injurious to music, and don’t we all know that by now?

Confusing genuine artistic success with celebrity is a mistake which naïve artists and fans tend to make, but this banal, distorted looking-glass cult of popular fame is not anything a rational person would want.

The music business is horribly wasteful of good talent when it does appear. The media, vicariously picking over the destroyed personal lives of “stars” says that people only buy what they want, but we can’t blame the punters for the lightweight, airbrushed wallpaper that passes for contemporary pop. Devoid of real purpose, it’s not surprising that so many musicians self-destruct.

The entire media edifice is morally bankrupt, as well as in financial turmoil. Like banks, media corporations have been poisoned by bad decisions over many decades, by out-moded technical and business strategies, rampant greed, unbridled capitalism. There is very little variety at the heart of mass entertainment, and only occasional good quality surfaces, despite the millions sloshing around.

So who, apart from Cowell and his TV backers and imitators, determines who succeeds and who fails these days in a public sense? How do we measure success, if it isn’t by TV and press coverage, and consequently making enormous pots of cash from having your image in every high street?

The fashion-based music press still exists in some cocaine-drenched bloated bubble of decadence left over from the 60s and 70s and 80s, but do they really still have the power make young bands into household names, their chief ambition to be on the front cover? People love the bitching, we are told, the style wars, the egos, tribalism, sex, power, money, and adulation. Can’t we offer better options for our young talent?

Obviously, there are many better role models than Pete Docherty or Amy Winehouse, but it’s the disasters and the mess that get splashed across headlines, not the many thousands of quiet professional successes. Robbie Williams back on drugs is a story, but an engineer turned songwriter making a hit album with Robbie Williams is of far less interest to mass media.

These less well-known people are in fact the mainstay of the creative industries and it is a point that needs stressing and explaining to ambitious children. The Oscar winners we remember are ones the news media makes a fuss of, the lead actors, the directors, the stars, but it’s worth remembering that awards also go to the sound designers, script writers, editors, special effects technicians, without whom, no show.

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