Music is the last thing one might associate with the modern flat earth movement. However, if you have been paying attention to recent music news, you may have seen the term surface. Modern shoegazers DIIV talked about their favorite flat earth conspiracy theories in a recent interview. Omni, who made a name for themselves putting an angular twist on post-punk riffs released their newest album with a song aptly titled “flat earth”. The resurgence of this anti-intellectual movement and other musicians joke about it are a result of pop rapper B.o.B. promoting the idea. His decision to broadcast his personal views on the subject ultimately resulted in the rapper becoming a laughingstock.
B.o.B burst into the scene with chart-topping hits “Airplane”, “Nothin’ on You”, and “Magic”. Bringing southern hip hop influence and sensibilities into a pop rap context. With interesting music collaborations, he made a solid name for himself. As quickly as he rose to fame, he fell to notoriety. This reversal should have artists thinking. How could someone seemingly destined to be a chart local self destruct because he expressed his personal views? This example thoroughly demonstrates why modern artists should take a holistic approach to their identity. Artists actions, the personal views they express, and the opinions they voice publicly, much like their visual or musical identity, play an important part in influencing how they connect to the public.
Modern Zeitgeist: A Brief Context
In the volatile age of information and misinformation, musicians and the public interact at a much faster and more public manner than ever before.The modern world has blurred the lines between pop culture and socio-political issues. The majority of the world, including musicians are online voicing their opinions. Chances are you are using social media too (if you aren’t you should be). The introduction of these platforms has made the world smaller than ever, with limitless access to music, information, and art. The amount of artists available for fans to discover multiplied exponentially. Most of the public now listens to music on streaming subscriptions, and interacts with musicians and other public figures through social media.
What does this mean for artists?
Most artists are onboard with the age of information, their discographies are on all the popular streaming platforms, they are using social media for promotion. Unfortunately, being a musician means you are a public figure, and worrying about a public identity brings a new challenge. It is widely accepted that artists need to think about their public presence, including online, but many of them aren’t putting enough consideration on the implications. When something is posted online it is there forever. Essentially what artists say and do is visible to more people than ever, hence has more effect on their career. Consequently, being conscious of your image and expression outside your art is absolutely necessary.
Some things don’t change, building an identity as an artist still starts with the music. Surface level connections will get plays. While plays allow streaming companies and superstars to rake a significant amount of money in royalties, the majority of artists get next to nothing. As a result, plays aren’t nearly enough to “make it” for smaller musicians. This is where the importance of building yourself a brand that would earn you a living outside of direct music sales becomes more clear. In a world where attention span is short, choices are near infinite, and gratification is instant, you need more than just listeners, you need loyal fans, people who love your music and are also invested in the person behind it. Your personal views, should you choose to express them, should align with your identity as well. You need to know that the views and opinions you express are equally important to your identity.
Building Real Connections Through Self Expression
People are multifaceted, many parts make up the sum of one’s overall identity. It’s hard to build strong connections with someone you’ve never met. What transforms an interested person into a loyal fan? The answer is depth. When meeting someone new, people connect with small talk; sharing surface level information gets them acquainted. Sharing more intimate details such as personal views, values, and opinions creates deeper understanding and strengthens connections. Music is an intimate medium. Through music, artists can elicit immediate connections, regardless of the distance between music and audience. However, opening up your personal identity by sharing your views, opinions and other intimate parts of your identity enables your audience to relate to you and consequently develop even deeper connections. Voicing intimate details can open this window, allowing an artist to connect on a more personal and human level. Personal details, stories, experiences, opinions, and values are unique to a person. Musicians should reflect on how sharing personal views can positively impact with their musical identity.
Pet Sounds is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Why? It’s the perfect intersection of art and emotion. Emotions are powerful and can be a catalyst for many things including connections. The line between art and politics is hotly debated but most can agree that both are very powerful because they are emotionally charged. Musicians know how to tap into this emotion with art, but they can also be tapping into the powerful connection emotions can build through their self expression outside of art. Interaction through self expression could arguably be an art itself.
When thinking about expression outside of music, artists should take care to consider every outcome. In this volatile climate, expressing any personal view or opinion comes with a risk of polarization. As a musician, the risk is even greater. Political or social issues take the term “emotionally charged” to the extreme. This might lead to the misguided conclusion that expressing views on politics is the best avenue for connection. Be aware of the polarizing aspect that comes with political commentary and be prepared to deal with it properly. You want to make sure that the net response is positive rather than negative. And that begins with carefully aligning your message with your identity and your audience. No matter the scale, negative reactions are inevitable, and it can be difficult to navigate these responses.
Honesty and authenticity show that artists are genuine and truly care. Consequently it is NOT a good idea to be provocative for the sake of being provocative. This is why getting political is risky and artists should take care to be conscious of how they do it. “Stirring the pot” for controversy and attention, is a great way for artists to alienate themselves among fans from their audience. Billy Corgan, Morrissey and Whirr, whether intentionally or not, made controversial statements that lost them respect and fans. This reaffirms the importance of being conscious of your expression. Artists who have a strong sense of self and know their audience are much less likely to regret speaking publicly when they feel strongly and keeping quiet when they don’t. Artists should not let the possibility of a negative response deter their self expression. Apathy can be as condemning as controversy.
Dealing with Negative Responses
While negative responses are scary, they are not the end of the world (or a career). Should backlash rear its ugly head, being honest is the best solution. Mistakes are human, how one chooses to move forward really shows their true character. A person expressing genuine remorse is vulnerable and that vulnerability is identifiable and relatable. If you are honest when opening up, voicing opinions and views, you are less likely to inspire alienation. When there is alienation, honest apology can reverse it and in some cases build stronger connections.
True fans will love you for being yourself. They will even love you more for staying true to yourself, especially when it’s not popular to do so. When expressing views on the mundane, or social issues and politics, there is no reward without risk. Nobody can win if they do not play, so the best strategy is to play, but play smart. Nobody chooses to be an artist because it’s easy. Artists who take a holistic approach to their identity and expression are the ones with the golden keys to success. Taking the time to think a little will go a long way, no one wants to become a Morrissey. That being said, fortune favors the bold, so share those political opinions and personal anecdotes, go out and be seen. In this modern age people want to feel, the largest audience ever is out there waiting, and if an artist takes the time to express themselves effectively there is more opportunity for success than ever.