How should pop stars grow old?

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By Alex

It’s strange to think that pop stars – at least in the sense we know them today – are a relatively recent concept. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the modern pop star was truly born, but a rough estimate would place their origins probably in the fifties, when the likes of Cliff Richard and Buddy Holly were rewriting the rules of what a modern musician could be. But though we can trace the pop star’s birthplace, we’re now facing the far more unpleasant prospect of finding their resting place. If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that the original pop provocateurs are dying – and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.

But before this happens, they are faced first with the prospect of ageing. But how does a pop star grow old? There’s no rule book and no real standard for what the process should look like. It doesn’t help that the best pop stars seem to can it before they’re really that old at all, leaving us wondering exactly what their career would have looked like had they stuck around a bit longer. But we are lucky to be in the presence of more than a handful of ageing music icons. What’s interesting is that the way they’re handing themselves over to the inevitable decomposition process differs greatly. With no successful formula to follow, the ageing pop star is left with nothing but their instincts.

The Morrissey Method

As we pointed out just the other day, Morrissey, 58, hasn’t changed much since he flounced onto the pop scene in the early 80s. His views on everything from the monarchy to animal rights remain unchanged, and his fondness for making his opinions public is still going strong. Morrissey doesn’t appear to have any real interest in growing old gracefully, and nor does he want to rely on his past success to secure his legacy. Instead, Morrissey wants to keep releasing new music, even if that music sounds remarkably similar to the stuff he was releasing thirty years ago. And herein lies the problem with the Morrissey formula. His stubborn resistance to change means his new releases lack excitement, and the former pop pioneer has fallen into a cycle of predictability. Not only this, but many of his unchanged opinions – which he continues to proffer – have aged very badly. Particularly when it comes to issues regarding race and nationalism. The more Morrissey speaks, the more he taints his legacy, a legacy that is starting to unravel right before our eyes.

The Madonna Method

Madonna, 59, has taken the opposite approach to Morrissey. Rather than remain in the past, she has gone to every length possible to position herself firmly in the present. But this presents its own problems. Madonna’s aping of current trends – from EDM to some dubious fashion choices – has highlighted her age in a constantly unflattering way. Rather than establish herself as a relevant modern artist, her last few albums – along with the cringe-worthy promo to support them – has made her the butt of jokes. The messy video for the dreadful ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ is all the evidence you need. Her reluctance to age in a way that society deems acceptable is, on one hand, characteristic of the bold, daring Madonna who rose to fame in the 80s, but also has the unwanted side-effect of birthing sub-par, derivative tunes that feels miles away from the original pop behemoths she once produced. In her quest to remain youthful, she has only made herself appear aged.

The Dolly Method

Dolly Parton, 71, has managed to strike a solid balance between old and new. Still releasing new music after six decades in the business, she knows it’s her early hits that keep the punters coming back. Parton is more than happy to roll out a sing-a-long rendition of ‘Jolene’ or a burst of ‘9 to 5’ whenever she needs to, but diligently releases a new album every couple of years, not having lost her spark for penning a good country tune. She’s also kept her toes dipped firmly in pop music’s waters, featuring on both Miley Cyrus’ and Kesha’s albums this year. When it comes to age, like Madonna (and let’s face it – all women), much is made of Dolly’s appearance. Unlike Madge, however, Parton is all too happy to discuss her plastic surgery, well aware that her face has barely changed in the last thirty years. Parton has also maintained her sharp wit, a natural ability to tell an anecdote and just the right amount of exposure to keep the public intrigued without becoming bored. As the size of her already legendary show at 2014’s Glastonbury Festival demonstrated, she’s got the formula pretty much spot on.

The Björk Method

At just 51, Björk is the youngest member of our list, though still very much in the second act of her long and illustrious career. Her response to the unstoppable burden of time? Just keep going. Throughout her career, Björk has showed no sign of slowing down, stagnating or becoming boring. Time and time again, she has surprised and amazed with consistently innovative releases, the latest of which dropped just a few weeks ago. Perhaps it helps that she seems to exist outside of time, or rather, in the future. Her embracing of cutting-edge techniques in both music and technology have positioned her as a musician who not only seems untouched by time’s relentless surge, but actually controlling it. She shows little interest in her legacy, rarely bringing out early hits in her live shows, instead focusing all her energy on her current project. Luckily for her, her newest material is every bit as – if not more so – exciting than her earlier work.

The McCartney Method

While Björk pushes ahead with new music, Paul McCartney, 75, seems resigned to revel in past glories. And you don’t get much more glorious than his. Sure, he puts out a new album every once in a while, but his lacklustre efforts to promote them suggest that, at this point, he’s only really doing it because there’s nothing good on TV. And unlike many musicians who have grown to resent their past hits, McCartney seems more in love with his than ever. He’s happy to play a rendition of ‘All You Need Is Love’ at the opening of a local Aldi and only ever attends public events in the hope the crowd will chant for him to do ‘Hey Jude’. And play it he certainly does. With a golden legacy to defend, McCartney knows he’d be daft to try anything too risky, and so instead he keeps himself firmly in national treasure territory, reminding the world at every God damn opportunity that he was in The Beatles.

@alexsnorris

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