Whitney Houston’s death at the mere age of 48 took me, just like everyone else, by surprise. Despite the fact that her voice was not as crystalline as before, it was still beautiful, and boy, the woman could sing. After the release of her last album I Look to You in 2009, I was looking forward to years of new albums from her.
At the time of this post’s writing, we still do not know how or why she died. But her life, marked by a soaring flight into superstardom, subsequent crash into darkness and a slow, steady and sometimes painful climb out, is already a good source for reflection.
Back in the pre-internet, pre-cheap laptop days, it took a lot of time, effort and money to find talent, to train it, to market it, and to recreate it in a way that it remains fresh and palatable. These conditions created a perfect environment in which the likes of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson rose to superstardom.
But is this still a viable pattern for the music industry? With the increasing accessibility of information at the tip of the fingers of more and more people, the world is coming together in a very unique way. The seven billion of us can finally break free from the music that is, in a way, imposed on us by radio and television and explore just about any music we want that is available on the internet with relative ease. It is true that some singers appeal to a larger portion of the population than others and might be the perfect candidate for becoming a global superstar. However, because we know that we can find something that resonates more with us, more and more individuals do not remain restricted to what we are fed. That global superstar might therefore be an exception rather than a rule.
What’s more, in a world where so many bands can and are selling their songs online, a global superstar has to find a way to be heard over the increasing cacophony that can be the internet. It seems that shock is the attention-seeking technique of choice singers are resorting to. As more and more performers (ex. Lady Gaga) resort to shock to be heard, they will all have to say and do more and more shocking things to keep at the head of the pack and not be swallowed up by the constant stream of younger, more energetic and fresher singers, all eager for their 15 months of global superstardom.