by Jennifer Suryadjaja
photography courtesy of Amanda Willis
For one to reach to the “legendary” status, it might seem like it boils down to pure luck. Others may argue, saying that being bold and socially apt make the perfect recipe for a legendary artist. Think of Michael Jackson and Prince—two Hollywood singers whose legacies appear to be everlasting. Both are not just popular and respected, but they have transcended into a whole new category: legendary.
After some thought, I realized there was a thin line dividing being famous from being legendary. Both categories feature artists who have stand-out personas, unique songs or are advocates for a pressing issue.
However, an important attribute of what makes an artist legendary is work that they’ve done in the past.
Aileen Pranadi (CAS ’20) considers a legendary artist to be one who had already made lots of music before, such that they don’t need to produce more to get people to listen to them. She considers Madonna iconic since people still listen to her and recognize her earlier work to this day.
Therefore, longevity is a solid test for potential legendary status. Being relevant over the span of decades is a good indication of someone who is glorified.
“If their influence is temporary, I’d hesitate to call them legendary,” said Glenn Xavier (CAS ’21).
Withstanding the erosion against time is also a way to tell if a fan base is loyal. Fans equal popularity; as time passes and artists continue to release new music, it’s vital that their fan base follows. One thing that legendary artists do is connect with their fans on a personal level. When the artist and fans grow together, the loyalty and tightness of the fan base will preserve. Thus, having a loyal fan base is crucial for any legendary artist.
It’s also important to take into account the fact that the older generation influences who we call “legendary.” Consider Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, Elton John and Mariah Carey. We might have first heard of these artists on our parents’ radio. Since music is always up to date with the latest upcoming artists, there might be times when we overwrite other artists in the past or momentarily forget about them. However, we still recognize their names even if we weren’t born when they released music—a key sign that they are on the legendary level.
As we build on the definition of legendary artists, the term “being yourself” is no longer just a cliché.
Ryan Ng (QST ’18), also known as DJ Fried Rice, said that inspiring other artists and transforming the music industry by staying true to their colors is what makes an artist legendary.
“Originality is the most important factor in making these artists legendary since that is the way to stand out, whether it is through their live performances or the sounds in their music,” he said.
Ng considers the Swedish House Mafia legendary, believing that the group is a source of inspiration for many top DJs we see today.
There’s no denying that the music industry runs on profit and promotion, but that doesn’t mean artists who earn top-grossing salaries are considered legendary. Some might think that artists are legendary based on how much money they make. However, having sentimental value is essential in the music world. The number one artist to top the charts for Billboard’s Top 50 Money Makers of 2016 was Beyoncé. Queen Bey is still considered a legendary artist for reasons other than financial; she is humble, stands up for her virtues and continuously empowers others, particularly women.
Think of a legendary artist like the valedictorian in school; they outperform others and are often remembered as the very top of his or her class. Likewise, while it might be fun to predict who might be the next valedictorian or the future musical legend, it might be a slippery slope. Many peak early on while only a few actually transcend into the legendary status.