David F. asks:
You always mention the many qualities of a "superstar." What would you say is the most important quality or characteristic an individual must have in order to reach "superstar" status? Would do you find is the biggest flaw of a "superstar?"
Superstars are born, not made. Most performing artists are imitating the originators of musical genres. Enrico "The Great" Caruso was the foremost opera singer of his day. His talent was fully developed before he made his first record. He became the first million selling superstar. He was followed by Rudy Vallee, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Although, they all had competition, each became the preeminent recording artist of his genre. There were similar successes among female artists. Lilly Langtree, Billy Holiday, Aretha Franklyn, Barbra Streisand and Madonna all achieved world wide superstardom as musical performers. Thousands of others emulated their successes.
Each of these artists demonstrated exceptional ability at a very early age. Their skills were sharp, and their charisma palpable, long before they entered the professional arena. Driven by a passionate desire to reach a wider audience, each chased his dreams and eventually drew the notice of managers, agents and producers. These great artists did not work their way up from the bottom. They were already shining when showbiz presented them to an eager audience.
The continuous flow of music, through our cultural evolution, allows each generation to select an artist whose image, repertoire and style best represents their mood and identity. These are individuals with extraordinary talents that represent the mood of their followers and inspire deep devotion and loyalty. Their success drives other artists to create personal versions of the original style . This creates a trend that evolves the specific genre into its "classic" and immutable form.
Once whole, a musical style has no room for innovation or change. It becomes a vehicle for interpretation and repetition offering no original elements. There has not been a new addition to Country music in a hundred years. There hasn't been an original lick in rock & Roll since Jimi Hendrix died. When the elements of style are clearly established the criteria that designate quality address the artist's songs, voice, sex appeal, virtuoso musicianship, public image and attitude.
There are many successful artists who attain fame and fortune who cannot be classified as "super." This title is reserved for the few performers who explode onto the popular music scene in an innovative manner. They are instantly recognized and create huge, often hysterical, followings over night. There is usually some generational resistance to their rise, and they almost always have some social stigma to overcome. The ones that make it to The Big Top build enduring careers and are often forced into isolation by the insatiable appetite of the entertainment media.
Superstars are cast into an artificial world that constantly demands their participation in a process that is more about gossip than information. Part of us adores them and craves connection and membership in the artists private community. Another part harbors a prurient interest in their weaknesses and failures. This places the superstar subject in a vacuum where he is imprisoned in a world of his own creation.
The entourage becomes a wall between the star and his fan base. This separation provides the breeding ground for gossip, rumors and innuendo. The less the media knows, the more it invents. Eventually the legends eclipse the truth and artists surrender to their own mythology. They are forced to live their lives in small communities designed to appease their fantasies and keep the real world out. The paparazzi haunt them and agents and managers press them to feed the star maker machinery. In the end they are all powerful, alone and obligated only to their dreams.