What actually makes a musician a legendary musician?
Think about it. Who do you consider to be a legendary musician?
Who springs to mind? Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, David Bowie? Maybe even Adele or Ed Sheeran? These people will be around forever, but why?
Ask anybody who they think a legend is and they'll probably name the artist that means the most to them. So what is a music legend and how does somebody become one?
Music is subjective; an artist having one billion streams on Spotify isn't directly correlated to how good their music is, it just means more people enjoy their art. But the following three points will summarise why the likes of Bowie, Kanye West, The Beatles, Marilyn Manson and more are considered legends by so many people.
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They trigger emotions:
Music is passion, emotion, heartache, anger, love—everything. When you press play, music should make you feel something. For many people, a legend is somebody that they love; whether that's because their words make you nostalgic or their riff picks up your mood, it all comes down to how the music makes you feel.
Ultimately, humans have two overarching moods, happiness and sadness. Artists who can tap into these trends and trigger these emotions are the most successful.
Drake has recently seen an enormous success in the charts and on streaming platforms, but this isn't an accident. Songs like Nice For What or God's Plan are feel-good dancehall songs, they trigger something in the mind of the listener which encourages good vibes and positivity. When people want to dance and sing they can put on a Drizzy record. This is why Drake is a legend for millions of people across the world, because he makes people feel good.
Alternatively, Adele—who is one of the biggest selling artists in the world—sings predominantly about heartbreak and lost love. She doesn't encourage the same emotions as Drake, but most importantly, she makes people feel something. He powerful voice and meaningful words trigger nostalgia, sadness and pain, yet people love her. For many people, the Tottenham born ballad singer is a legend because her music is relatable, listeners can hear echoes of their own lives and struggles in her records. Besides, who doesn't get goosebumps when she hits the big notes in Hello?
There are, however, other emotions that can be triggered like anger or rebellion. Heavy metal has a huge following—specifically Marilyn Manson. As controversial as the metal kingpin is, he has one of the most loyal fanbases in the world. Heavy rock music provokes aggression and is one of the most passionate forms of music you could listen to, and for many people, artists like Manson or even Ozzy Osbourne should be considered legends. Who am I to argue they aren't? Sabbath's Paranoid is one of the greatest records the world has ever seen.
We love what is safe. We take comfort in understanding what we are watching, reading or listening to. Because of this, it is difficult pushing the boundaries of what we know because we forget that there are new possibilities and a large majority of musicians fall into the trap of making 'safe music'.
Except, there are a handful of artists that aren't just masters of their trade, they create a new image, genre or style of music for the next wave to follow. The ones that are able to look beyond what is happening right now are those who are most innovative.
Take David Bowie. Yes, the late David Bowie was an incredibly gifted artist, musician and vocalist, but what stood out for him above anything else was his image.
His ability to recreate his visual brand over and over again is one of the most important aspects of his incredible career. People looked to Bowie for innovative, bold fashion ideas, because despite being unusual and a step away from what people were accustomed to, it all worked. People loved it.
Bowies' style will always be iconic. You can walk down the street and see the famous Aladdin Sane album art painted on the walls. People dress like him for fancy dress and are instantly recognisable. Bowie took what people knew and stepped away from it, he paved the way for a new sub culture which became mainstream and this is why innovators—like Ziggy Stardust—will always be remembered as a musical legend.
Modern artists who should also be considered as innovators:
Wiley has been recognised as the 'Godfather of Grime', this is because he took multiple genres, blended them and created a new genre of music. Since then, artists like Skepta, Stormzy and JME have carried the scene forward, but without Wiley, we wouldn't have been blessed with That's Not Me or Stormzy's iconic SHUT UP freestyle.
Lady Gaga—similarly to Bowie—has used her image to her advantage to create a unique visual brand to accompany her music. Gaga sparked global uproar with her meat dress which she wore several years ago. Like it or not, Gaga was everywhere and so, in turn, was her music.
Everyone's heard of Kayne West. You know the name; you've seen the shoes; you've heard the albums. Ye is not only an innovator in music—he pushes the boundaries of what's expected from a modern rap album and he's also paved the way for a lot of pop culture. Read more about Ye here.
Their careers are timeless:
There are some people that will never, ever go out of fashion. My dad used to say to me "you won't remember the name of this singer 10 years from now" and I never understood what he meant. But now I do.
You can turn on the radio hear songs from 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago. Classics. Look at The Beatles, the amount of airtime they still get, even decades after they've released anything is phenomenal, the music that Lennon was producing was so adored that people will never get tired of hearing their records every time they turn the radio on.
But timelessness goes beyond radio play, the Tupac vs Biggie conversation is still largely relevant to the audiences of today. Whilst they don't get as much radio attention, the debate of who was the better rapper still echoes on ever years after their death—and that's the crux of it. Even when an artist has passed, and can do nothing more to promote themselves, their relevancy and legacy live on for years.
No, an artist doesn't have to be gone to be a legend, but the legacy they leave behind is probably the most important thing on their journey to reaching this status. A lot of the music in the charts won't be around in 10 years and I've forgotten the names of a lot of the artists I listened to when I was younger. My dad was right.
But a handful of artists will never be forgotten, and that is what makes a legend, a legend.