Culture Critique: If Video Killed the Radio Star, Social Media Killed the Music Industry

For years I have been wondering, who is lying to Selena Gomez? 

I mean really, who is telling her she can sing? Who first told her she should? My guess is that it was probably Disney, who wanted to launch her into another industry and use her as another form of revenue. And with that capitalistic approach, the market of superstars was born. 

Well, it was started much before that. Gomez, K-Pop and One Direction are only a few prominent 21st century examples of this phenomena. People have been iconicized since … the beginning of people, really. Believe it or not, boy bands did not start with NSYNC! You can cite The Beatles or Jackson 5, or get historical and include barbershop quartets, but I don’t know if they had groupies.

Regardless, we homo sapiens love to worship and idolize, we love to “stan” our “kings” and “queens,” we love “iconic” moments, overzealous displays of rash personalities and drama — oh, the drama! 

Now, I’m not talking about every-day fanaticism, and don’t for a second think that I’m going to sh*t talk “fan girls.” That’s not my narrative, but I am more so concerned with the system itself that produces caricatures out of musicians, generating whatever image will sell the best. 

This “system” is now a market that came out of a combination of advanced technology and increased social media use. What record labels used to have autonomy over, such as music sales, tours, a musician’s image, etc., they forfeited to content-sharing platforms. We know that streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music diminished direct record sales, YouTube tragically slayed MTV and now social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat propelled individuals into stardom. There’s even the phenomena of “Tik Tok stars.” 

So, to keep up with the advent of technology and social media — and to stay relevant, of course — the industry has begun to sell people themselves! This, however, is not a new concept either. Much to his angsty, subcultured dismay, Kurt Cobain has ironically become an icon to punks everywhere for literally not wanting to be a sellout, but enough on history. 

Today, we have people more famous for their online presence, for their political and social views, famous feuds, and who knows what else, than their actual music. You may not know a Billie Eilish song word for word, but you could recognize her name, her lime green hair that she’s probably tired of, but can’t change because she hasn’t launched a new era of music yet, or any of her speeches about body shaming. 

And you know what? This is great, to an extent. I’m not saying musicians should stick to only music and not be real people who share their lives and voices with the world. In some instances, their influence can be used for good. However, it’s when the industry, or the artists themselves, start to sell everything from material goods to human capitol in order to sell their music. 

Take Cardi B, for example. An absolute icon, but for a rapper is her flow as good as her hype? Be honest, no hate for Bardi, but just some criticism. Now, on a more transparent scale, take her Netflix competitive music show, “Hustle & Flow,” for example. Like all televised music competitions, they are looking for the act that is the most marketable. Producer Cardi B has said it multiple times herself on the show that she wants a “star”- a.k.a someone who will make her money. Upon seeing some performances she would tell the contestants whether they “have it” or not, more specifically, whether they’ll “sell” or not. Londynn B got as far as the finals mostly because she has that look and persona which makes a star. Cardi went as far to say that she was somebody who girls would want to be. As Cardi even said about herself, “I’m selling boobs, I’m selling ass.” Thanks, Instagram. 

But it’s all too easy to ridicule women and I’m not about that, so, let’s point fingers at DJ Khaled now. While he has been a “talented” producer and figure in the industry for several years, with his first record dating back to 2006, it was his annoying yet eclectic persona and accompanying catchphrase that made him into the celebrity he is today. Serving as the epitome of “Snapchat famous” it was through the social app that he became a regular name in homes across America, and the globe. Most people wouldn’t know his discography before all the ‘WE DA BEST’s and ‘Another one!’s, and that is solely because of his social media presence. That mans knows how to market and iconize anything and anyone, even his banal self. 

And thus, we can now answer my question: it’s people and it’s the industry that caters to the people rather than the artist, that sells art rather than celebrates it. It’s us that has been validating a Miss Selena Gomez. See, I’m almost positive that fans like her before they like her monotone voice, which, hot take, I think is important for a singer. Sitting as the fifth most followed person on Instagram, where she can post her pretty face, sponsored ads with designer brands, and conventionally quirky personality, it’s not hard to blow up one’s image and let that lead to record sales. To quote the modern day Elvis and biggest sellout himself, Drake once rapped, “It’s always been more than the music,” and that has never been truer.

Mahnoor Ali
About Mahnoor Ali 43 Articles
Mahnoor Ali is a fourth-year English major with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. This is her third semester with the The Oracle. Previously, she has worked as Assistant Copy Editor and Features Editor. Her favorite stories to both read and write about are Culture, Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Columns, with an appreciation for News and social issues.