“You are no longer relevant!” That’s the scariest sentence a popular musician can hear. It’s a crushing reality that haunts the strongest artists. Nobody wants to be irrelevant. No one wants to hear those words. Why? It’s like all of an artist’s deepest darkest fears coming to life and lapping the soul out of them.
Apart from the chance to make money via their passion, one of the most important parts of the life of a superstar is the power and importance that fame brings. A popular artist is a mini-god; their human experience is the opposite of normalcy. They move between worlds and social classes with acceptance and worship following them through every space that they inhabit, no matter how brief. Imagine D’banj walking into a secondary school class.
That surprise, ecstasy and joy from the students might seem normal for him, but it’s a huge part of his life. That’s his human experience, being fawned over and greeted with double takes as a star. It’s very important. Young artists dream of that. People work all their lives for such a reality, no matter how fleeting.
Fame is a drug that takes over your system. It reaches its hands slowly as an accessory to great music and drags you in. An artist starts out with feeling surprised at a great reception for a song. Keep that up for a year, and it becomes his life. Depending on the length of his career at the top, fame deludes everyone with the promise of permanence. The longer an artist wins or stays on a winning streak, the deeper he gets couched in that fame.
They even come to expect it, and demand that for every public function, they need to be put on a pedestal where they will be adored or “feel the love.” If you’ve ever witnessed a situation where an artist failed to get his due, you would be amazed at how this thing matters. Artists have been known to offer a bad performance, or cancel engagements because they were treated like the rest of humanity. They hate that. Give them some glitter, a little scream, and a vain request for a selfie. That is the ultimate drug.
Irrelevance comes for us all, across all spheres of life. As a musician who depends on the public for a livelihood, it has fatal consequences. Apart from the loss of status, it also signifies the start of a barren financial run.
That’s why an artist kicks harder when they notice that they are losing relevance. Have you ever met a musician on the decline? Have you been opportuned to see what living in that state does to them? They are like broke junkies in dire need of a shot in the arm. They are restless and lack peace. They run from end to end, seeking solutions to halt the process. It’s a valid problem, one that they have to find a cure for. It is at this point that you get to know the difference between a smart and dumb artist.
Smart performers understand that fame is an accessory. They know that their power comes from the art, and the control they wield over fans, come from the potency and spread of it. They aren’t deluded by the intoxicating “love” that they have enjoyed so far. While they revelled in the happiness, they never forgot that it is only happening because the music strikes a connection. That connection is why their ‘normal’ photo on Instagram gets thousands of likes. It’s also why there are air importance and value to whatever they say, so they seek for a solution to address the slump.
They hunt and capitalise on what’s left of their relevance to get into creative spaces with sharper and younger producers and artists. They try to glean what they can to create another winning record and get back on the path of greatness. Sometimes they win; the song picks and blows again. This extends its public lifespan, and the world goes back to normal. But that’s being too optimistic. They are more likely to lose than find joy. They are on the decline from external factors, such as the law of marginal utility. Life is cyclical. You can’t be hot forever.
The dumb ones ignore the music and begin to focus on the use of gimmicks as a strategy. They devise the most desperate ploys to become hot again, by commodifying and selling parts of themselves for clout. Some go fishing for a scandal. Many perform the most controversial acts like wearing the most outlandish outfits and hoping that they get to make the news again. Skiibii, before ‘Sensima’ validated his hustle, died and rose again from the dead.
I have seen a number of artists orchestrate pathetic public beef to get back into the news. Blatant lies are told for clicks and retweets, false relationships are engineered and promoted. Or in the current case of Iyanya, personal lines are crossed and the public is invited for a feast of controversy. The dumb ones lack the range to understand their plight. And their desperation diminishes them.
May we never be dumb in our old age. Amen.