Does Legacy Ruin an Artist?

Hello, I’m MusiCommentator, and imagine this scenario:

“You are a music listener.  You hear people talk about an artist.  You have never heard of them before, but more time passes and they’re all over.  You finally decide to look up the artist and see what the rave is about.  You end up loving the artist!  The artist is being talked about more and more.  Millions of albums are sold and multiple Grammys are won.  This artist is an a roll.  Fast forward ten years and said artist is still making music, but something is far different.  Maybe their musical quality declined slightly, maybe they changed their style up a bit to stay fresh, or maybe they did not change at all, but the artist is no longer talked about as much.  You hear people say “Yeah, (artist) released a new album, but it’s not as good as their first one.”  Ever so slowly, the artist loses momentum, and soon their albums are seen as bad.  Their name is still talked about, and their albums are still listened to, but it is mainly all about their old stuff.  The artist can no longer reach how good they once were.  This is the power a legacy can have.”

You could have imagined almost any artist that has been around for a long time in that scenario and it probably would have stayed true.  There are always exceptions, but when an artist has been around for so long, people eventually start to look at their music differently and no longer like it.  Is this bad, though?  I mean, it’s bad for the artist, but should our standards be so high when looking at things like this?

I say we look at the most recent example to find this out: Eminem’s new album “Revival”.  It was not received well to say the least.  Pitchfork gave it a 5 out of 10, and that may seem okay, but for reference, they gave Lil Pump’s recent album a 6.9, almost two whole points above “Revival”.  Many are saying it is his worst album yet, comparing it to the likes of “Encore” and “Relapse”.  Of course, there are those that still like it.  For one, I think it’s a great album (not one of his bests by far, but not terrible), but the main critic consensus is that it is a bad album.  Can this be boiled down to legacy?

Eminem is a very, very popular artist.  At this point, he’s a legend, and debated as one of the best of all times.  His first three albums are all still considered classics.  But, this is where the problem comes in.  He had a rocky middle road of his career, but at “Recovery”, he bounced back.  Still, people said that it was not as good as his originals.  I could see this, because “Recovery” is a bit pop, but then “Marshall Mathers LP 2” came out a couple of years later.  This is one of his greatest albums, close to his best, but people still hated on it.  Yes, it did get a lot of positive criticism, yet there were still legions that hated it.  You could crack this up to every artist having haters, but people would say for this “Oh, it’s not as good as the first MMLP”.  Arguing about this gets mucky, because maybe the original was objectively better, but people not liking it just because it is not as good as his old stuff is where the problem comes in.

When an artist gets to a certain point of popularity, they no longer grade their music on an objective scale, but by comparing their new music to their old music, which becomes very subjective.  Some would ask, “Why is this harmful, though?  Wouldn’t comparing it be a good thing?”  Well, you curious questioner, there is harm when this is done.  Comparing like this means that whatever you thought of the first album is your platform, and if you think it is one of the greatest albums of all time, nothing will compete.  Even I can be guilty of this, but once you have that image burned so clearly in your brain, you can not look at the album without looking at it through the eyes of the previous one.  I probably could have worded that better, but it’s all about self-made standards.

As a side note, it is ironic that Eminem predicted this for himself on the lead single for his new album, “Walk On Water”:

Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set?
My arms, I stretch, but I can’t reach
A far cry from it, or it’s in my grasp, but as
Soon as I grab, squeeze
I lose my grip

It’s the curse of the standard
That the first of the Mathers discs set
Always in search of the verse that I haven’t spit yet
Will this step just be another misstep
To tarnish whatever the legacy, love or respect
I’ve garnered? The rhyme has to be perfect, the delivery flawless

What makes this situation even worse is when the album is old.  The power of nostalgia is quite a potent one.  When you have something in your childhood you love, you connect with it the more you grow up and it becomes a part of you as you look back in the past.  You directly relate to it, and any attack on it is an attack on you.  When you hold something to such high standards, it is impossible for anything to reach it.  Even if an album that is ten times greater than the other one comes out, you will still say it is not as good as the one you’ve connected to.  It makes the ratings unfair.

After long and grueling hours struggling over this topic, I came to the conclusion that there is only one way legacy can positively affect an artist: if they’re dead.  Yes, that sounds morbid, but it is pretty true.  Staying with rappers, lets’ look at Tupac.  Even if you aren’t a fan of rap, I know you’ve heard this name.  Tragically, we lost him in 1996, but this helps me make a point.  Tupac made five albums before he died, the last three being much more popular than the first two.  His flows and meaningful lyrics set him up for a good legacy, but his sudden death cemented it.

Since his death as so sudden and tragic, he died in his prime.  He did not have time to make bad albums and let his later music become shadowed by his past self.  His music will always be seen as good not only because he is dead, but because what he gave us is all we have to go by from him.  Of course, I wish no disrespect for the dead, but his death put rose-tinted glasses on everyone, and people see his music as untouchable.  There is nothing he made to compare it to, so his music is not compared to anything besides greatness.

So what do you think?  Is legacy bad for an artist?  Should we rethink the way we look at older artists?  Leave your thoughts in the comments and I can respond to them.

Thank you for reading my legacy analysis.  I know you all probably don’t care for my think-pieces like this one as much as my other material, but I have an album review on the way, so don’t you all worry. If you liked this post, make sure to follow my website, Twitter, and Instagram, like this post, and be sure to check in to read my future content. Also, if you have something you want to see me review, tell me in the comments. Until then, keep on listening to good music! I know I will.






10 thoughts on “Does Legacy Ruin an Artist?

  1. The musician that came to my mind when reading this was Madonna. Nobody listens to her new music anymore, but I’m 100% sure when she dies (which hopefully isn’t soon) everybody’s going to be treating it like Michael Jackson’s death. Man, creating a legacy like that can be kind of scary. The image becomes way bigger than the actual human being.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great, thoughtful post. Another band I thought of is Coldplay. Most people tend to like their first two albums, but many dislike their following ones and some downright hate them. I’ve liked all their stuff, though their most recent music does sound more pop and over-produced. But, as you state, the point is that having set their own bar so high in the beginning, a lot of critics and fans feel their later music hasn’t measured up. The same could be said about many other long-running bands, like Weezer, Foo Fighters, Fall Out Boy, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Have you heard of the fan who-{this is a friend of mine} who loves an artist until the artist gets really popular then abandons them? My friend’s two favorites were Bruce Springsteen and U2- He loved Springsteen when he was kind of a cult figure who was popular- but once Born In The USA came out and everyone liked Bruce – he didn’t like him anymore and probably hasn’t even given the post- Born In The USA Bruce a try. He did the same with U2- he loved U2- then The Joshua Tree came out and they became HUGE- and he was done with them….. Another friend and U2- He was a big fan- heck he even liked POP- {which I don’t like at all} but now he doesn’t give them a chance- he goes to see their concerts but the albums- he claims he listened to Songs Of Innocence once- didn’t like it and that was it. The latest album he may have given a few listens to before he discarded it as rubbish. But he can’t wait to see them on their tour this summer. Puzzling….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think for a lot of people, if they know of a small band/artist no one else knows about, it’s like their little secret. They might tell others about them, but finding said artist all by themselves feels like a little accomplishment for them, almost a badge of honor if you will. If that artist then goes on to become huge, that intimacy in being one of the only ones to know about the artist is gone and their music isn’t the same in the listener’s perspective. There are lots of people, though, that like it when their favorite underground act becomes big, so that’s just a theory of mine. You take it however you want it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With my friend – he liked U2 and Bruce early in their careers and it was both getting big that did him in. I don’t think it was the actual music.

        Liked by 1 person

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