The Evolution of Modern Pop & Rock Stars


I’m technically an 80s baby but I don’t actually remember the 80s (my first memories are probably 1991 or 1992) so calling me a 90s kid is a more apt description. Now that my generation are in our 30s I feel like I see a lot of nostalgia for the 90s. In a way I get it- I think it’s natural to feel nostalgia for the time in your life when you were “young & innocent.” However, if I’m being honest, I can’t say I share in this nostalgia very much. It’s not that I had a horrible childhood or anything like that. But the way my brain works I’ve just been much happier as an adult. In other words, I’ve been “old at heart” for almost as long as I can remember, so being an adult just suits me a lot better. Therefore, I can’t say I share in much of the 90s nostalgia. Furthermore, while there are some societal changes that have occurred over the past two decades that I’d rather hadn’t happened, I think a lot of the changes we’ve seen have actually been good. I won’t get into all of them here because that isn’t the point of today’s post. But one of the changes I’ve noticed is the difference in both pop stars & rock stars from the 80s-90s or even early 2000s vs those today.

I’ve thought about this subject quite a lot over the past few years but the reason it came to mind now is because I recently discovered a Norwegian pop star called Sigrid. I found her because she did a song with a rock band I follow called Bring Me the Horizon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4552tadeuM). The song is absolutely gorgeous, both musically & lyrically, & I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with Sigrid’s other music that I’ve checked out over the past few days. While pop music will never have the same appeal for me as rock or metal- I NEED my heavy guitars & drums, I really do (they just SPEAK to me- if you know, you know)- I have been very impressed with her gorgeous voice & her unique appearance. While she is far from ugly, Sigrid is definitely not your stereotypical pop star. She wears little if any makeup & usually dresses in jeans & T shirts. Much like Billie Eilish she is NOT the overly sexualized pop stars of my youth. Watching their videos, these girls are so different than Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the Spice Girls, & that whole coterie that dominated pop music when I was young. And for that I am very grateful. Maybe it’s just proof that everything is cyclical. Or maybe it’s proof that the MeToo movement has indeed had some positive impacts across our greater culture.

While I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with sexuality- it’s obviously just part of our biology- I also ascribe to what I call the Lzzy Hale belief that talent & skills should always come first. In other words, it’s ok to be sexualized at times- it’s probably inevitable, especially for women- but it’s better to be valued & known principally for other things. As she said, “Anything I have done has been purely because I wanted to do it. So I feel lucky being that way, but my rule is it can’t start & end with just the high skirts & the high heels. You have to have something to back it up. Again, my encouragement to anybody is do what you want to do, but if you’re going to be in music, don’t just be the long legs. Make sure that you work very hard at your instrument & your band.” (http://sofa-king-cool-magazine.com/halestorms-lzzy-hale-sex-and-rock-n-roll-go-hand-in-hand/). Ideally I think we should be able to appreciate people much more holistically, even if they do present themselves in an overtly sexual manner, but the truth of the matter is that just doesn’t happen very often. I think you could argue that male “sex symbols” struggle with this sometimes too, though perhaps to a lesser extent or in somewhat different ways. But that’s a post for another day.

In any case, I for one find it much more encouraging to know that some of today’s pop stars aren’t as overly sexualized as the ones from my youth. They’re wearing more clothes, their lyrics are more introspective & far less vapid, & their dancing isn’t half as “sexual.” Granted there were/are pop stars from my younger years that I feel like were less sexualized- or at least did it more in their own way rather than just being the product of a record label. (Pink & Lady Gaga are good examples & I enjoy both of them.) But overall, I feel like pop stars like Britney Spears were largely just victims of a music industry that was using them for as much as they could get, long-term consequences to the women themselves or greater society be damned. I certainly am much more comfortable knowing that my daughter has a greater chance of growing up with female pop stars who are far more empowering than the ones from my generation.

Now when it comes to rock stars, I think it’s very interesting to observe that the whole “sex, drugs, & rock & roll” thing has really changed course drastically. In the 80s, bands like Motley Crue (whom I love) truly embodied that phrase- to their own detriment of course. Then came the early 90s & grunge, which I’m too young to remember of course, but I do love a lot of that music. Sadly, between cocaine & heroin far too many of those musicians never made it out of their 20s. Obviously drug use is still a problem in the rock scene, as evidenced by the recent tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters. But in general I think drug use, even heavy drinking, has radically decreased over the past 10-15 years among most rock stars. When I think about most of my favorite rock stars, many of them have either been sober for many years now after recovering from previous addictions or they have managed to avoid those addictions altogether. I’ve even got a list to prove it:

Chris Motionless from Motionless in White has endorsed a “straight edge” type lifestyle his entire musical career. He has spoken openly about never using drugs or alcohol & having no interest in trying them. He has even spoken out against “hook up” culture.

Andy Biersack from Black Veil Brides had a brief course of alcoholism & minor drug use early in his career (during which time he was largely underage anyway) but has since been completely sober for many years now. Furthermore he is married to the same woman he’s been with since he was about 20 (he’s now 31).

Brent Smith from Shinedown is another recovered addict. So is Sully Erna from Godsmack. And Dorothy from the band of the same name. And Randy Blythe from Lamb of God. And Corey Taylor of Slipknot. So are Ivan Moody & Chris Kael from Five Finger Death Punch (as well as their former drummer Jeremy Spencer). And the list goes on…

To be honest the only truly modern band (as in whose members are 20-30s) I can think of that really embodied the whole “sex, drugs, & rock & roll” philosophy is Asking Alexandria (& I guess some members of Five Finger Death Punch years ago- but they’re also a bit older). And you know what? They quickly learned it wasn’t going to work for them. Now all five guys are married or in long term relationships & all but one have at least one child. They all quit drugs & either cut out or minimized alcohol years ago. And that’s probably why, unlike so many other bands before them, they’re still around.

Nowadays a lot of rock (& pop) stars are anything but the proverbial “bad boy.” Sure, they might have long hair, loads of tattoos, a couple facial piercings, & some may even wear more makeup than most women, but many of them are genuinely good people whose “fearsome” appearance belies their true nature. Granted this was probably true for a lot of older rock stars too. But many of them really DID use a lot of drugs & generally lived up to the sex, drugs, & rock & roll lifestyle. Nowadays, in the age of social media, the MeToo movement, environmental consciousness, etc, I think society demands a lot more from our rock stars. We don’t want to see them trashing hotel rooms or read about them screwing hookers backstage while snorting cocaine off their bodies. No- that’s not cool anymore. And for that I am very grateful.

So yeah, I don’t really miss the 90s. If that makes me an uncool millennial, well, so be it. After all, I’ve never been very cool, so why start now?

What do y’all think? Has our society made positive steps in what we demand from or appreciate about our pop/rock stars? I certainly think so.

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