As I sit here nursing a Haagen, I ponder musical fame. What brings fame to relatively talentless slags like Weezer, Holly Valance and Eminem? Why do many quality bands (and yea, artists) go unnoticed? Even some of my own favoured bands, like NOFX, are essentially musical hacks. What makes them popular?
The answer, my friends, is gimmick
Not all gimmicks are as easy to spot as Slipknot’s. Holly Valance’s gimmick is “I used to be on Neighbours and everyone in England loves that show so I moved to England, sucked some cock and now I have a very popular, extremely over-produced hunk of tripe with my own breathy vocals on top because I don’t have a strong enough voice to sing.” It always amused me that a band as shitty as KISS could achieve such fame by painting their god-damned faces. I mean fuck. They looked like women with that shit on. Gene Simmons attempted some kind of satanist look, bringing a little attitude to the mostly-stale musical subculture that is bassists, but he generally just looked like an ass.
I’m convinced that Eminem is a really nice guy under the media story. He probably has a teacher’s certificate and taught 3rd grade at his local primary school before breaking into the music biz. I’ll bet he has a painting on his fridge from one of his students. It says “I love you Mr Mathers” and has a picture of him next to a building that says “I love school.” You wanna know how he broke into the music biz as a misogynistic, homophobic white trash homey? Gimmick. Anyone can do it. Come up with a gimmick you can live with, writing music you can also live with, and bust up your local scene. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, and you’ll get plenty of attention both ways. There is no such thing as bad publicity.
Anyone that has ever heard your music and thought that you were OK will react strongly to being told that you suck. Telling a person that their favourite band (or even one they are only casually interested in) sucks is a direct insult to them because it insults their taste. It’s the new discrimination: you can’t discriminate against people based on things out of their control; like sex, race, religion or sexuality; so taste-based discrimination has hit new highs. You like Ron Howard? He’s a fucking dweeb who should’ve disappeared when Happy Days did. You like techno? Go jive your phat jams somewhere else, synth boy. Like I said, there is no such thing as bad publicity, since people get offended when you dis their taste. Publicly-expressed negative opinions of you and your work cause massive backlash in your favour. Genius.
Of course, finding your niche is the hardest part. You need to find a genre you can write good music within, whilst pushing the boundaries just a little so that everyone knows you’re innovative. You need to like that genre, so you won’t get bored playing it on your world tour. And finally, you need a gimmick. Sexiness, trashiness, weirdness, angst, rebellion, they’re all so common but they all work so well. Again, stick with a gimmick you feel comfortable doing for years. If you value your kidneys, you might not feel comfortable getting hammered every second night so you can be the larrikin on stage. If you value your public image, being a xenophobe won’t help with the news crews... and Reverend Fred Nile will probably rally to stop you touring in Australia.
Sure, I have a genre and a gimmick picked out, but I wouldn’t tell you... you’d probably steal it. You’d probably have a tough time guessing it just by looking at my Top 10, but go knock yourself out if that’s your thing.
So why, you ask, does a powerful gimmick bring fame to a mediocre band? And why does a powerful gimmick bring superfame to a good band? Identity. Adolescent teens are looking for an identity, and you’re it. I hate to admit it, but the same happened to me in my teens. When you’re growing up you’re looking for a sense of self, something that defines you as an individual — as something other than your parents’ child. Most often, music fills the void. Angry? Try rap, or even Rap-Metal. Angsty? Try punk. Horny and pilling off your tits? Electronica. Sad and stoned to boot? Any English band. You get my drift? Good.