Putting yourself in the public eye as a music artist—whether you’re Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Jay-Z, a minor label indie band, or a composer—is putting yourself in the position of a teacher. It means automatically assuming the role of lecturer; it means announcing that you have something to say. For me, that’s one of the coolest things about the music business: the potential to do something good and to educate. The media should be conscious of, and prioritize, educational value over business objectives. Ideal, moral celebrities should be self-aware and own their responsibilities.
When thinking of people who exemplify the ideal music celebrity, I think of Ani DiFranco. Ani is one of those artists who is confident and comfortable with who she is and isn’t about to change herself just because a record executive thinks it’ll make her sell. Not only is she a talented songwriter, lyricist, and guitar player, a hard worker, and a savvy businesswoman, but most importantly she is self-aware. She’ll make informed political, feminist, or queer statements because she understands her sphere of influence as a public figure and her status as a role model. My choice of Ani comes, of course, out of some serious personal bias.
I’m not going to name drop anybody I would consider a “bad role model,” because that’s dangerous territory and them’s fightin’ words, but certainly flaws of such a failed role model would include lack of talent, originality, articulacy, education, or work ethic; a lack of respect for minorities, women, and the queer community; and alcoholism or drug addiction. When listed in this way, these flaws seem obvious almost to the point of not being worth stating. But if they’re so obvious then why do they apply to so many Top 40 music artists?
There’s a thin line between parenting and censorship. After all, who is to judge what constitutes morality? I don’t have a solution, just a problem. I think there should be more of a cultural awareness about the intrinsic educational quality of celebrity, as opposed to a disregard for this responsibility in order to make money. Though this is less of a problem in the world of contemporary composition and more an epidemic of the commercial music world, the same rules should apply to composers. When trying to frame my everyday decisions into some sort of moral context relating to my career aspirations as a composer, lately I’ve been more self-aware. By throwing my music into the public forum, I am throwing myself into the public forum as a figure to be judged, and I want to be judged as a positive role model.
What do you think of this theory? What would you say are the qualities necessary for a good role model and who, for you, exemplifies this ideal celebrity?