Release schedules can be a big part of the singer’s pressure to be perfect: the idea of creativity being scheduled can be overwhelming to any serious artist. However, by far the most problematic aspect of the industry’s control on artists is the cult of personality. Unlike in the film industry, where studios largely rely on IP to build their brand, in the music industry the individual is at the centre of the experience being sold. Not the music. The individual.
This explains why, according to ABC News, “recording artists are 10 times more likely to have mental health problems”. Though probably a bit one-sided, the newly released documentary Miss Americana shed some light on the extent the industry controls the lives of musicians. In the case of Taylor Swift, the decision to speak about politics was probably felt, and right for the moment: however, it went against the brand she built. That is, one of a girl next door who sings about break-ups and doesn’t concern herself with more serious topics. The pressure to be perfect doesn’t refer to individuals per se, but rather the image they project. As long as that image remains intact, the actual individual is forgotten.
A clear example of this can be inferred by the notorious break down Britney Spears suffered in 2007. When asked why she decided to shave her hair, she answered “I just don’t want anybody touching my head. I don’t want anyone touching my hair. I’m sick of people touching my hair”. The cult of the personality requires, particularly of young women, to continuously reinvent themselves: this is simply because narratives sell. Her going from a teenage popstar to a fully-grown woman was probably not done because she wanted to change: rather, the industry required her to, to keep the interest alive. With so many people depending and deliberating on her appearance, her gesture becomes completely understandable.
Though the extent of the control the industry can exercise on one individual is undeniably suffocating, it becomes more understandable once why this is the case in the first place. Why does Taylor Swift feel policed in her decisions? Shouldn’t an artist be able to determine their own career? The answer isn’t that simple. What an extremely successful singer chooses doesn’t only impact them: every choice has the potential to reverberate across all the people that rely on their success to live. The truth is that singers, more so than other artists, are treated like products, because they function like one. Designer collaborations, albums released, and even tweets. Everything is carefully considered in function of the place the individual occupies within the music industry. Most often people are drawn to these ‘products’ of the music industry not only because of their music, but what their music means to them. And that is largely determined by the image the singer chooses to project.
In order to materialize the extent of the music industry, the best cases to look at are those singers who have been shaped entirely by the industry. Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, they have all cited the pressure to be perfect and conform to a external ideal as the result of an overly invasive industry.