Myth and Mystique in the Digital Era

Ever since social networking allowed musicians to share their musings with their fanbase, the world has been subjected to a torrent of banality not seen since Limp Bizkit last crapped out a new record. “Fine, I’ll go to bed. jet lag has won again! Meow” tweets Katy Perry. “That moment when you buy scissors and then you try to open them but you can’t because YOU DON’T HAVE SCISSORS” drones Taylor Swift. “Waking up to my kids every morning is the best thing ever” yelps Travis Barker. “Oh my god who cares” sighs the rest of the world. More pertinently though it forces us to ask the question: has the internet age ruined the mystique of the otherworldly superstar?

Prior to the social networking era the closest a fan could get to their idol was a careful dissection of their artistic output, infrequent concerts or, if you were lucky, a chance encounter on the street. The icons of yesteryear, like the chameleonic Bowie or the shamanic Hendrix, retained their elusive allure because they were a world apart from the life of the average suburban teenager. In the early seventies Bowie’s sexually androgynous image and glam rock strut could almost have been beamed in from another planet.

Nowadays however there is no mystery left; in the digital era the innermost thoughts of all but a select few artists are shared with the world and the result is that part of the magic has faded away. Whether it’s acts like One Direction and Taylor Swift, who shamelessly treat their personal Twitter handles as a tool of the major label marketing machine, or the ALL CAPS motivational speeches of Steven Tyler, social media sucks the fun out of what it means to be a rockstar.

Of course Twitter and Facebook allow the unsigned act the ability to interact directly with their fans in a way that would be unthinkable just a few years ago but it’s at the cost of sacrificing part of what makes larger than life figures so compelling in the first place. Social media may humanise artists – as Frank Turner says “There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music, some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks”- but sometimes it’s more fun to buy into the myth; an artist’s perfect control and manipulation of an image to shine brighter than those around them. Did Brian Jones and Jim Morrison spend their time snorting coke and banging groupies? Certainly, but presumably at some point they also had to nip to the shops for fags and milk. Part of what made the great icons of the past so exciting was that to the average listener they were a rarefied breed, aloof from the concerns of the terrestrial world. It’s hard to retain that image when you read them tweeting about the traffic or instagramming their sandwiches.

Sure Twitter gifts us moments of supreme arrogance (Kanye I’mma let you finish but equating your new album to the second coming is probably a little hyperbolic) or spectacularly chronicles a breakdown but perhaps this over saturation is the reason there are so few truly great modern icons – there’s no reason to idealise someone when the inner thoughts every rock star is just a click away.

Has it gone too far? Even noted luddites such as Josh Homme are not immune to the advance of the internet. In advance of the release of their latest album ‘Like Clockwork’ American desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age had been teasing pics from the studio of the band hanging out, culminating in a live-streamed gig from the Wiltern in Los Angeles. On the surface this is a canny bit of advertising for their new record but it’s only a step further to Homme and co taking selfies and tweeting about their trips to Walmart. Is it not more fun to believe that 24/7 he’s the true rock n’ roll outlaw; snakeskin boots, denim jacket and cigarettes in hand, rather than the middle-aged father of two the internet reveals him to be?

Maybe it’s our own fault: nowadays if a song isn’t available on Youtube it might as well not exist. We live in an era where we expect instant gratification from our musicians and perhaps we’ve just become too used to being privy to the innermost goings on of celebrities lives. Maybe this is part of the reason why the new Daft Punk album has been greeted by such a wave of hype and adulation. They don’t tweet, few people even know what the duo really look like and their periodic releases arrive cloaked in secrecy and yet their myth and their music is all the more compelling because of it.

Long may it continue.

[Max Sefton]

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