I just had this thought yesterday:
Why does it seem perfectly reasonable for a popular singer to decide to take up acting in film or television, but if a popular actor decides to record an album, it’s treated like some kind of joke? It’s like there’s a popular misconception that, while singers can act, actors can’t sing.
Today, you can look at YouTube and find numerous Top 10 videos of “hidden talents of celebrities”, and half of the entries are “hey, you won’t believe that this actor can sing!” In my own life, I can recall several times when an actor put out an album and people I knew just chuckled and said, “yeah, right” without bothering to actually listen to the music.
I have some theories:
The decline in popularity of musicals. Vaudeville led into radio, film, and TV, and since those old Vaudeville performers could “do everything”, that’s what we got in our “modern” entertainment. At some point, musical films fell out of favor and singing actors were relegated to Disney children’s fare or else retreated to the stage. Over time, the general public equated “musical” with “kid’s stuff”.
Crap like William Shatner’s and Leonard Nimoy’s “music” albums made a joke of the idea of an actor having a serious chance at a music career. Or that an actor making an album was nothing more than a money grab, trading on name recognition.
Early Hollywood was rife with stories (true or not) of random young women or men being spotted just sitting in a cafe, minding their own business, and getting whisked into movies. This created the spurious idea that a pretty/handsome face was all that was needed to get into acting. Meanwhile, musicians have always, to one degree or another, been expected to spend years “honing their craft” and “paying their dues”.
Musical performance already incorporates a good bit of acting/theatrics. A musical performer in many, if not most genres is expected to put on a visual performance along with the music. A singer, especially, has to create a stage “persona” that is often quite different from their off-stage persona. I think this helps to explain why so many rappers have gone on to pursue acting careers: almost every rapper has already created one or more “characters” for themselves, and so they’re already accustomed to playing a fictional character. Meanwhile, an actor doesn’t have to sing or play.