The MJ threads made me wonder–I know that in the 80s, MJ was IT and Thriller was the album to have…but do we have an equivalent of that today? I’ve pretty much stopped paying attention, more due to apathy than genuine hatred. Plus, most of my favorite radio stations are under now, and there’s no music played on TV.
Are there any artists that are popular among almost everyone, or are genres too splintered now? How do people hear a new song–is it youtube or the Internet? If you asked an average kid or teen who they’d love to meet/receive an autograph from, who would they say? I mean, I know people like Beyonce and Jay-Z are cool. Is Britney Spears still cool? I think of her as a joke but then I pretty much thing of every pop singer in the last ten years as being a joke.
And how did I get to be so out of touch at only 25?
I think it is harder for an entertainer to become a truly global superstar like MJ and Madonna than it was in the 1980’s, precisely because of the explosion of entertainment options (cable TV, video and PC games, satellite and online radio, the rise of Bollywood cinema, etc.), and the simultaneous fragmentation of audiences into more focused segments and subcultures – like the de facto racial resegregation of the US radio market in many cities now along “classic rock,” “alternative,” “R&B,” and “urban” stations, and the microniche appeal of XM radio stations and the like.
Having said that, though, we’re always going to have plenty of big stars and up-and-comers who can do just as well as yesterday’s global icons even with a smaller slice of a larger global entertainment pie, digital piracy notwithstanding. I think entertainers with a global appeal have a much, much larger market to aim at now compared to that of even two decades ago, due to the [nearly global] collapse of communism, the explosive growth of the middle classes in much of Latin America and SE Asia, and the continuing democratization and westernization of many countries in the same period. The musicians of today going on a world tour are truly touring the world: their concert destinations could well run the gamut from Chile to South Africa, from Poland to Malaysia, encompassing many countries which in the '80’s were either closed off or had regimes considered politically too odious to perform in.
As for today’s hot artists, I’d go with the English alt rock/new prog band Muse. They’re basically global-minus-the-USA superstars now, as they’re wildly popular almost everywhere but here, where their popularity is still pretty much in the middle of the pack, but rising. They’ve forged a reputation as being [scroll down to the industry awards list at the bottom of the Wiki article] the world’s best band to see live (crucially important for their bottom line in an age of rampant digital piracy), and their eccentric frontman Matt Bellamy (those pics don’t do him justice, though) was voted NME’s “Sexiest Man” for 2007 and 2009. Good looks and charisma never hurt, and neither does humorous self-deprecation; his reaction to the '09 nod was “I’m too short to be sexy”.
U2 is still massive and Cold Play’s not doing too shabby either. Green Day, I think, were right there for a while (though that may have been simply an American thing).
I can only second Scrivener’s thoughts here though. The bands and acts today that still sell really well tend to be ones who were releasing physical CDs before piracy and P2P took off (see the artists in the first paragraph of this post, for example). Brief research shows that, since 2000, Eminem is actually tops the list at about 31 million (much on the strength of earlier releases), followed by…the Beatles. After that, you get Tim McGraw and Toby Keith (both in the 24 million range). I can’t speak to this year though but I’ll say we’ll never see anyone back at the Elvis/Beatles/MJ, at least as far as record sales go.
I dunno—I think Radiohead’s still really good but I know plenty of people who didn’t like “Hail to the Thief” (which I did). Even liking that album, I thought “In Rainbows” was a step up. They’re batting 1.000 for my taste.
That said, they have some cultural, hipness cache but the record sales don’t compare to the bogglingly successful acts above.
I remember a time when even really mediocre acts could fill a stadium; I can’t think of a single new act who could do that today, and the old guys who could (Springsteen, Stones, Jimmy Buffett) have largely abandoned the studio.
Some up-and-coming Country stars are probably going to get remarkably huge in the near future, like Taylor Swift and Sugarland, but never “Michael in '85” huge.
Justin Timberlake only seems to get better with time and would be my pick to one of our current best. He definitely has a superstar quality. Which is a bit funny, I guess, because he’s following the Jackson formula fairly closely.
Also there’s people like MIA and Feist who are artists from the p2p-era. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that they would be much more widely known if they had debuted in the CD era.