Stars Today… Legends Tomorrow?

state_legends.jpgFifteen years after riding the wave of fame and success of the early ’90s, Natalie and Whitney, Luther and Prince, and Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses have taken their rightful place among the recording industry elite.







On Sunday, Nov. 18, the 35th Annual American Music Awards was broadcast live on ABC. I didn’t watch. Actually, I didn’t even know the awards would be airing that night, until I happened to catch a commercial on the SOAPnet channel. Just goes to show how out of tune I am with today’s "popular" music scene.

Fifteen years ago, back in 1992, you couldn’t have paid me to miss the AMAs, the Grammys, or the MTV Music Awards, for that matter. Some of the AMA nominees and winners that year included the sultry and soulful Natalie Cole, the explosive and groundbreaking Guns N’ Roses, the smooth and melodic Luther Vandross, the polished and powerful Whitney Houston, the innovative and radical Nirvana, and, of course, the eclectic and always electric Prince. Although there are vast differences among these artists in terms of their sound and style, they all share one significant distinction: At the height of their careers, they were not only good at what they did, they were great—great enough to be honored as legends today.

Fifteen years after riding the wave of fame and success of the early ’90s, Natalie and Whitney, Luther and Prince, and Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses have taken their rightful place among the recording industry elite. And what’s more, these amazingly talented singers, songwriters, and musicians are still adored and revered by today’s music listeners. Even young, up and coming singers test their own skills by trying their darnedest to imitate and duplicate the masterful works of outstanding old school performers. Don’t believe me? Think about how many times you’ve heard American Idol contestants attempt to cover brilliant tunes from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s!

Idol producers are smart enough to keep popular drivel like Beyoncé’s "Crazy in Love" and Justin Timberlake’s "SexyBack" off the performance list. Instead, they challenge contestants to demonstrate their vocal ability by singing timeless modern classics, like Natalie Cole’s "This Will Be," Whitney Houston’s "Saving All My Love for You," Luther Vandross’ "Superstar," or even Mariah Carey’s "Hero" (from back in the day when she actually used to sing, not scream, and showed no signs of being allergic to cotton blend).

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that I’m less than impressed with today’s current crop of so-called "best" performers. While I don’t know their music inside and out like classic tunes from past generations, I know enough to know that I’m not missing much. The annoying bits and untalented pieces of songs that I have heard in passing from top-selling hip-hop, R&B, and pop artists have done more than enough to confirm my way of thinking, leading me to wonder this: Will any of the hot stars of today shine long enough to even be considered legends tomorrow?

Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Fergie, Daughtry, Chris Brown, and Rhianna were just a few of the performers and winners at this year’s AMAs. And while all of these artists certainly topped the charts in 2007, do you think either music industry professionals or the public in general will still be singing their praises 15 years down the line when the year 2022 rolls around? Do any of these artists possess any real depth or show flashes of genius in their work? Have they proven themselves sufficiently unique and special enough to influence the next generation? Is their body of work and contribution to music history so incredibly dynamic and unforgettable that one day they can reasonably expect to be elevated to legendary status? Call me crazy, but I definitely don’t think so.

But before I further criticize the efforts of today’s young artists, let me say in their defense that their lack of skills is honestly no real fault of their own. These kids are merely victims of our current society’s simple-minded love affair with mediocrity. If asked to choose between style or substance, most folks, even grown folks who ought to know better, would go for style every time. Is it any surprise, then, that in the midst of these sad and uninspiring times, you don’t have to actually have the voice of a songbird to be considered talented? If you’re able to prance around in a pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos while belting out a few runs, then guess what—you’ve got what it takes to be the next best damn singer ever! The only problem, though, is that "ever" actually translates these days into only "right now," until the "Next Big Thing" comes along and is immediately plastered all over MTV.

Back in the day, though, great songs soared to the top of the charts on the strength of their phenomenal sound alone. Records were recorded by real singers who, above all else, could actually sing. Truly talented artists didn’t have to yell and scream into the microphone. They didn’t have to get on stage half-dressed, or have the beat be accompanied by hip-hop undertones. Their wonderful music, meaningful lyrics, and melodic voices spoke for themselves, and that was enough to make them legends for all time. Can the same be said about today’s pop music stars? Will you still love them tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow? 2022 is only a few years away. Keep listening and let me know what you think. | Retannical D. Russell

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