By: Zac H.
Ultimately, I’m really interested in the caricature of pop culture icons and how they go from an approachable subject, then head into this realm of the extreme. Several artists have done it throughout their careers and I can see how this is what makes them stay relevant, but is it what makes them icons? It’s really kind of hard to explain so it’ll be easier to describe what I’m talking about with examples.
I’ll start with the most recent example I can think of: Lady Gaga. In the beginning she was just this girl who wore blonde wigs, usually those with a bow in it, and talked about what her hopes were when it came to being famous. Then she made her expanded version of “The Fame” and titled it “The Fame Monster.” This is where she makes the change from just another pop artist to a popstar. She claims it’s because she’s always felt weird, and never been a part of the mainstream, but her music is easily the most popular at this moment.
Following suite we have Katy Perry, who went from an edgy/cutesy pop-rocker to this exaggerated version of herself too. Then there’s Rihanna whose hair color is never the same, Ke$ha the queen of trash bags and the list can go on and on when it comes to contemporary pop culture. Shock and awe is what it should be called because this is exactly what happens with their rise to fame.
But where did this icon creation come from? When did the need to be extreme come into play? This is so much a part of pop culture. Reinvention has become nothing new; it’s been done over, over and over again. You could argue that Madonna was the one who definitely set the stage for the female headliners of the modern age, or Michael Jackson who underwent a first change from Jackson 5 singer to independent music phenomenon and then became publicly scrutinized for his behavioral change and physical ones as well. However, I would argue this change started further back. I am uncertain as to when exactly, which is why it would be a great thing to get to study it, but I feel it was really first noticed with the Beatles.
They were originally the ones who came from across the pond dressed in all black. They were classy lads, but soon things got a little wacky. With the rise of the 60s their target demographic changed. It was with them that we found this sudden reinvention of their image. They changed their persona in order to become more relevant with the audience. With this change we find that they also turn into a more exaggerated version of
themselves. “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Yellow Submarine,” it was a psychedelic world and to remain relevant they had to change. They illustrate the modern reinvention that comes along with fame.
I’m not completely certain in what I’ve said, but using icons was the whole point. These people are all icons in our modern day culture and why is it? I can’t claim that it’s entirely because of the changes that they make to their appearance and image, yet it would seem that those who last longer in pop culture are those who change their images enough and radically enough that they would remain consistent to our culture.
The changes over and over again are almost like standardization. We are all aware of these changes and we take them with a grain of salt. Nonetheless it’s enough to make you have a chance to be in the blogs, in the news, in the magazines, somewhere, you will remain a part of our lives. If you happen to successfully do it long enough, you will become the icon.
I would argue that this is relevant to pop culture simply because it becomes a defining factor of how you will define something. For example if you were to describe music of the 80s you would use icons like Madonna and Michael (who can be referred to by their first names and you know who they are). 60s would be the Beatles, but today you can define a decade of music with thousands of names simply because of their longstanding power in our minds. The icons are consistently moving forward, exaggerating themselves, going from a simple act with a real person to a caricature of someone. We know they aren’t real but they still inform what we purchase, how we behave, what we think and what is normal.