Do the myths surrounding musicians turn them into legends, and is social media stopping this from happening today? We’re sure you’ve probably heard plenty of stories about legendary rockstars of yesteryear… From Keith Moon biting Steve McQueen’s dog, to Alice Cooper throwing a live chicken into an audience, to Led Zeppelin and the ‘mud shark incident’ (there seems to be a bit of an animal theme here…). These legendary tales have become part of rock folklore.
So, this has made us wonder, are these types of outrageous antics what turned rockstars into legends, or were they only able to get away with such acts because they were seen as ‘godlike’ with no Twitter or Instagram back then to humanise them? Has the perceived accessibility of celebrities today meant that there are no more ‘myths’ surrounding artists, as every action is filmed and documented, to be judged by the entire world?
Celebrities are ‘just like us’
It feels like we know everything about the celebrities of today as they try to portray themselves as ‘just like us’. The rise of social media has made it easier for celebrities to connect directly with their audience, without the PR or journalist middlemen.
An example of this can be seen with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which has been spreading like social wildfire. Here, we get to see celebrities in a more personal and ‘down-to-earth’ light as short videos show them in natural settings, without full make-up, wardrobe and lighting. We can watch these videos, usually shot on smartphones, and see that they’re not that different to us, and we can create similar videos to feel just like them. (Though most of us won’t be doing the Ice Bucket Challenge in our beach houses like Britney Spears or Justin Bieber).
But seeing celebrities as just like us means we no longer put them up on pedestals to be blindly worshipped, instead they’re held to the same standards as everyone else.
The era of bland?
Living under an increased microscope, many artists are more aware of their actions and how they’ll be perceived to the outside world. They want to be taken seriously as ‘artists’, which has led to a lot of ‘boy next door’ bands in the rock world (think Mumford & Sons, Bastille, Jake Bugg, Coldplay).
Artists want to give their fans greater access and interaction with them, which social media makes possible. If fans feel like they know an artist, they’ll feel more connected to them as people and be more loyal to their brand. But what’s the cost of this?
Avenues such as Twitter show the real side of many artists, but this can often show the musician as not being all that interesting of a person (do you really care what someone just ate for breakfast?).
With the rise of social media, and a celebrity obsessed culture, the actions of popular artists are well documented and spread widely, usually with the help of amatuer videos or photos from fans, or captured by the always-nearby paparazzi. Does this take away the mystery and excitement around musicians?
Certainly of late, the enigmatic rockstars are few and far between, and it has been left to mainstream popstars to create the headlines for ‘outrageous behaviour’, with stars such as Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus never far from the news. But where have all the real rockstars gone?
When rockstars were made
In previous decades, being a musician gave a licence to do whatever you want as the artists were treated like ‘rock gods’. Legends from these eras were established through the press, hearsay and rumour, with the stories surrounding musicians being able to grow as it’s much easier to substantiate a myth when there were very few witnesses to the event, and no video or photo evidence to prove the way it actually went down.
So let’s see how all this was able to happen by taking a closer look at a decade that took the rock lifestyle to a whole new level – the 1980s; when the hair was bigger, the attitude was bigger, and the outrageousness was bigger than ever before.
While bands like Motley Crue were causing health and safety issues through lighting themselves on fire onstage, it was Guns N Roses who earned the moniker of the ‘most dangerous band in the world’ in the ‘80s.
GNR frontman, Axl Rose, had a habit of turning up hours late onstage (if he showed at all), but sometimes more problems were caused when he did show up. Having already gained notoriety after a number of shows ended in riots, this reached a new peak at one show in St Louis, MIssouri. Axl Rose didn’t appreciate a fan filming the show, and after starting an altercation, Rose promptly left the stage, and an unhappy crowd rioted – leaving dozens of fans injured, and the venue torn to pieces. Now if YouTube had been able to document incidents such as these, would Guns N Roses have been seen as ‘the most dangerous band in the world’, or simply a band with a spoilt singer who liked to throw childish tantrums onstage that ended up with fans hurt?
Creating onstage spectacles was the speciality of Ozzy Osbourne, who made his name as the frontman of Black Sabbath, but secured his legend when he bit the head off a bat onstage. Of course, Ozzy didn’t realise this was a real bat at the time, and if he’d been on Twitter at the time, he could have probably cleared up the rumour quite easily to let people know he didn’t really eat bats. But where’s the fun in that? Without Twitter allowing for instant damage control, news soon spread how Ozzy bit the head off a bat, and this let him become known as the ‘madman of rock’.
One of the most infamous bands in their offstage antics was Motley Crue, a band who prided themselves on being the ‘bad boys of rock’, with no thrill too extreme to dabble in. But for a band who were reportedly kicked out from nearly every hotel in the US for their bad behaviour (which included setting hotel doors of unsuspecting guests on fire), and almost caused an international incident when bassist Nikki Sixx threw a bottle of Jack Daniels against the window of a crowded bullet train in Japan, there was no real public outrage against the band.
Would Motley Crue’s reckless endangerment of the general public be put up with today if there were a flood of YouTube and Instagram videos showing just how bad they were, along with a stream of Twitter witnesses? Or were the band even as bad as they claimed to be? In their 2001 autobiography, ‘The Dirt’, the band spill all… But with no proof to these stories, you have to wonder if the band has very cleverly marketed themselves and built up their own legends? (Most people find their memories a bit fuzzy after just a few drinks… Now if you were constantly drinking Jack Daniels by the bottle, and mixing it with an assortment of drugs, just how much of what you got up to would you really remember?).
Where does that leave us today?
With everything so well documented and instantly uploadable to Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. there’s no mystery left for musicians. Every action is fully visible for the whole world to see, and there’s no room for doubt or for legends to grow around them, as the indisputable truth is there for everyone to see, and judge. I mean, you can’t even get beaten up in a lift by your sister-in-law without it being available for the world to see anymore.
What’s more, this magnifying glass on the antics of today’s artists, has meant that they can no longer push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, as even the smallest of indiscretions become huge news. The music world has certainly lost something when Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx becomes one of the neighbours complaining about Justin Bieber’s behaviour (which includes the likes of egging houses… Which certainly doesn’t seem to have much on Motley Crue in their heyday). But it’s not too late for the real rockstars to re-emerge; maybe they won’t share every detail of their lives with fans on social media, and they won’t care what others think of them… We just hope the world doesn’t judge them too harshly, as they’ll be no different in reality to their predecessors.