Imposter Next Door: A Critique of Authenticity in the Modern Pop Star
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At the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, twenty-year-old Taylor Swift became the youngest person ever to win the Grammy for Album of the Year for her sophomore album Fearless. The singer had lead writing credits for every track of the album, which debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart and spawned the three multi-platinum selling songs, including ‘You Belong With Me,’ ‘Fearless,’ and ‘Fifteen.’
Less than a decade later, Taylor Swift has become the definition of an international pop star. She has broken records with sold out stadium tours, a series number one albums, and over 131 million Instagram followers. The aforementioned Fearless has since been certified Diamond, having sold over ten million copies worldwide. Despite this success, Swift maintains the humble, girl-next-door charm that sparked her initial success in music, becoming the quintessential blueprint for this trope in music.
We’re currently in the era of the instant star, wherein everyday people have the chance to quickly become viral hits, earning them celebrity status almost overnight. This has inspired a wave of fame-seeking individuals that vie for their moment in the spotlight. How, then, does an everyday person build a career from their fifteen seconds of fame? Further, how does the entertainment industry sell the charm of these “regular” people in a market saturated with cool and glamorous artists? The answer lies in the kid-next-door trope popularized by Taylor Swift. This brand of marketing has been used by some of the most critically and commercially successful recording artists of the past decade, including Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, and Khalid.
While grassroots marketing of musical artists has existed since the beginning of popular music, the modern class of kids-next-door artists are unique in that the goal is never to evolve into a glamorized public figure. Instead, these celebrities establish their niche by becoming the voice for the everyday fan existing outside of the industry. They become the bridge between the common world and world of celebrity. Artists like these are critical because they represent both the media and the peer group, two vital institutions process of socialization. Therefore, these artists carry the influence to not only guide personal entertainment, but ultimately shape American culture.
Still, the kid-next-door trope is not without flaw. While these artists successfully reflect a large portion of the American experience, there are distinct gaps in the communities they represent. Their experiences are limited to the model that Swift initially constructed. How, then, can I fill in these gaps with my own experiences and identity in a way that still serves the kid-next-door trope that is so easily palatable to the general population?
My research seeks to analyze the various methods these artists used to build their following and maintain the kid-next-door aesthetic in their work. Analyzed content will include a series of music videos, song lyrics, and select social media used in the construction of these celebrities. From there, I will critique the trope altogether, focusing on the missing spaces, and how my artistic contribution seeks to fill these spaces. I will then use this information to write an EP in the style of these artists, promoting and branding myself accordingly in a manner that will attempt to break me into the music industry.
CitationCantu, C. J. (2020). Imposter next door: A critique of authenticity in the modern pop star (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos.