With the tragic news of Prince’s death last week, it got me thinking about the future of an endangered species called The Musical Icon. While Musical Legends are very much in our midst, the likes of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Prince fall into the Icon category for several reasons. They changed the way we listened to and felt about music, blurred the lines between different genres and sparked emotional responses that we never knew existed. Inevitably, they left us much too soon and certainly before they were done reaching us.
When I Googled the term Musical Icons, I got lists like The Top 100 Most Influential Singers or Top Selling Artists of the 21st Century, which is not how an Icon should be viewed. Obviously, having hit songs and popularity are part of the equation but certainly not the only part. You have to examine why the songs were hits, why people love to see them in concert and buy their albums. I’m sure Beyonce is on all those lists I came across but she is not, or will she ever be, in the same atmosphere as an Icon (and that includes her husband, who may be a visionary, but is certainly no Icon).
Despite what you may think represents an Icon, there are only a few left and no one really waiting in the wings. In my opinion, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Bono are bona fide icons, falling into the same category as the others because of the musical risks they have taken and the emotional response they have accomplished when the risk worked. That’s the thing about Icons, they always have failed attempts but they get back on the horse and bring us something new and beautiful. A special mention would be Quincy Jones, who has contributed to the emotion of many iconic songs from behind the glass. I understand this feels like a very subjective discussion and you feel like you should argue for artists like Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger but they fall more into the category of Legends. They are more about longevity and making popular music than actually having a huge emotional reach.
What’s that? Oh, you noticed that all the artists on the Icons list were men? True. As I said, there are specific requirements for being an Icon and in the past, it has mostly been male artists that have fit that mould. The good news? Looking at the scope of artists today, all of the potential Icons of the future that I can see, are women. The ones that have transcended genres and stirred up a lot of emotional response on numerous albums. I see this possibly happening with artists like Lady Gaga and Adele, who seem to be in the game more for the artistry than the fame, which is a very important factor.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the future but for now, my advice is to soak in every minute of Purple Rain and any other iconic album on your list. At the end of the day, music teaches us to feel and we can always use a little more of that.