I read this interesting article today. I was a 2011 NPR article entitled “How Much Does It Cost To Make A Hit Song?” I’ve known for years the manufactured nature of blockbuster pop music, but it was all pretty vague. This article put substantive outlines around how that process goes and it was a fascinating read. I always thought it was a little odd that the overwhelming cultural narrative of pop music was that of individuals in control of their career. THERE’S SO MUCH INVOLVED IN CREATING A POP STAR, how could that be one person’s job? Is it expected that these people write all their songs? Dictate the creative direction of music videos? Album art? Costuming? Etc etc? There are way too many things to do for one person.
I heard this term in an article years back, the “Britney Industrial Complex”. The notion was that Britney Spears was such a pervasive cultural force and her mere existence formed part of the economy. Laugh it up, but aside from Britney still making a hefty chunk of change each year (between X-Factor judging and her Vegas residency, she’ll be bringing in a heap more than “mere” residuals), she’s a part of a cultural narrative that sells products and creates jobs. It takes teams of people to make Britney what she is. Outside comparatively smaller roles surrounding her music like hair and makeup, costuming, choreography and songwriting, her PR and marketing are huge. Agents to sell her songs to radio, find appearances, interviews and other opportunities for her to stay in the public eye. There’s media coaching so that she’ll be perceived in a complimentary light, people to sell her songs to radio and keep her heard. There’s a company of people keeping her in business and that company churns a profit because of it.
This makes a lot of sense to me, considering that so many pop stars come into the scene at such a young age. Of course they would, that’s what’s marketable. I’m sure a ton of talents get themselves taken advantage of when they’re new to the game. Backstreet Boys certainly did. I’d hope that as they aged into the role they’d be given more creative control. The more music that’s produced under their name, I’d hope they’d have more of their hands in the pie. I’ve heard Beyonce is pretty involved in the production process, which is pretty cool. I still haven’t heard Lemonade, but a project with that much talent attached has got to be all kinds of impressive.
I don’t get why pop stars’ personas aren’t treated more like films. Films aren’t just about the stars, there’s a whole host of creative crew behind the project making it into the best possible product they can. Directors, writers, editors, agents, marketers, distributors, trainers and coaches. Rihanna, Bieber, Taylor Swift, how are they any different? They’re people playing parts in a larger construction. Why do we assume the stars are responsible for the end product? When hundreds of eyes have gone into creating an image to present to the public, why do we only question the gaze of the person standing in front?