Stardom: brief history

Pop stars and movie stars are created by audio and video technology. Musicians have been uncommonly celebrated since the establishment of the recording industry. The word pop is short for popular. Recorded music is widely disseminated, and millions of people can readily identify musicians who might normally not be that well known. The desire to be publicly acknowledged can be so strong it can make someone want to be a “star,” where everybody knows your face and name, and wealth and admiration is the currency of your acclaim. Isn’t it wonderful? None of this was possible at this scale before the mid-20th century.

The whole business of stardom is a relatively modern phenomenon. In the 1920s through the ‘30s, the recording industry went to the musician to chronicle what was going on out there in America, much of the music of those days having distinct ethnic origins. Musicians reflected society though some were culturally prophetic in the sense they went against the grain to try to bring correction to social injustice. Historically, unless someone had a regular place to perform near home, being a musician meant being a troubadour, traveling gypsy-like from one venue to the next, living an unsettled life with an insecure future for the sake of the gift and the call. 

In the 1940s and ‘50s to the present, musicians began to come to the industry, rather than the other way around. Many were attracted to it by the potential for fame and fortune. The process slowly reversed itself. With the advent of music video, then the internet, musicians, along with possessing a certain amount of talent, also had to be at least attractive, hopefully glamorous, and preferably sexy. The industry instructed them about what to sing and how to sing it. It knew how to manipulate the market and exploit the trends it created. Society began to reflect the performer! (This is not to say the industry has not done worthwhile things, because it has. The point is, the industry itself is now shaping culture.)

Before the existence of the recording industry, music was a sort of calling, like medicine or education. If a musician didn’t have a patron, he had to make it as a minstrel moving from town to town, earning a living from freewill contributions. But he was committed to the sanctity of the craft. Then came the electronic media, modern marketing, and entertainment became a drug. It was easy to get and there was a lot of it being sold at wholesale prices. Listeners and viewers became addicted to it. The live performance evolved into a promotional obligation so fans (short for fanatics) could pay homage to icons the industry shaped in its own image. Performer and consumer alike had to have it and who could resist its taste? This was what many hippie groups and Jesus freaks reacted to in the ‘60s and ‘70s, sacrificing “careers” for the sake of their art or ministry.

The Bible says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…” Jesus Christ Superstar is a Broadway production, not the reality of the mind of Christ.

Terry Everroad

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