Music sales are hitting historic lows. So what does it mean, now, for a musician to become 'famous'? We talked to seven artists about how they measure and experience fame. Turns out social media is a pretty big deal, and that having a big personality is just as important as making great songs.
Meghan Trainor, 20, hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart with "All About That Bass"
I have 20,000 followers on Instagram, but that ain't nothin' nowadays. [Ed.: Trainor now has almost 100,000 Instagram followers.] So I don't consider myself famous at all. But I mean, T-Pain called me? I was like, "You know who I am?" So that was a pretty big step up. I got to talk to John Legend too. That makes you feel a little cooler. And all this glam squad team stuff? These cars that pick you up and your name's on them? Definitely makes you feel like a baller.
I got a fan group now, called Megatrons. Me and my friends were struggling, thinking, like, "Should we call my fans Trainors, or Trainees?" I was like, "That sounds awful?" Then my friend looked at me and said, "Let's just do Megatrons." And I was like, "Yeah, badass." My mom hates it. You know, the other day, she said to me, "I can't keep up with all the famous people following you on Twitter."
Tinashe, 21, singer and producer, will release debut album in October
The biggest [mark of success for a musician] is being able to sell out shows, to play venues and have people come to you to see you. Getting a song to top the charts. Maybe winning a Grammy.
For a 'famous' person, when they leave their personal space, people recognize them. They can't go anywhere by themselves. The way people treat you starts to change. People can become fake and less genuine. When you're a famous musician people are much more fanatical about you. They get really, really invested in you.
Paparazzi don't stalk me everywhere I go. For the most part, I feel like I can be relatively normal.
Ray J, singer, star of VH1's Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood
People think they're famous because they got a million Twitter followers. People think they're famous if they have 800,000 Instagram followers. People think they're famous 'cause they made it on Bossip or WorldStar — people's lives change when they're on WorldStar, for that one day! There's so many ways to be famous, so I can't call it. I just know that whatever you're doing and whatever fame you get — bottle it up and sell it. 'Cause a lot of people get into the fame but they don't find a way to put it in a bag and put it on some kind of platform and get some money off of it.
If you can crack the code of television, that's a good way to get people's attention. Everybody wants to get on TV — there are billionaires who want to have a television show. But you can't buy yourself into a TV show. It's gotta be dope and it's gotta be authentic. It's gotta be something people want to gravitate to. If you have a dope product and you're a talented person, get people's attention so they want you. Make people want you.
Mary Lambert, 25, singer-songwriter and author, co-wrote Mackelmore's hit Same Love"
I'm not famous. I'm quasi-famous. At least I don't think I'm famous. If I'm famous, will someone let me know? I've been waiting for a royal scroll from Kim Kardashian or the Scientologists or something. The bottom line is, I am always me. I still lay around naked, eating Cheez-Its while watching The Colbert Report on Hulu which is precisely what I did before "Same Love."
My perception of fame is mostly media saturation resulting in recognition from strangers. I tend to see those interactions [with strangers] in a myriad of ways: "You are so excited to meet me! That is so cool!" to "Please don't ask for a photo, this is a funeral," or "This was so cool until you told me to follow you on Instagram!" I really crave honest connections with people, but sometimes [these meetings] end in me feeling invaded or less like a human and more like a commodity. (Hopefully this doesn't come across as a complaint, more of an observation; I'm way better off now than when I was sleeping on all my friend's couches).
We are now in an era where it's expected of artists to have not only their music be consumed, but their actual personhood. The product of music is not what is solely consumed anymore — you as a person are now a commodity. We're also in a time when so many different people are getting recognized for things that they do well. There's also no longer a formula for any of it. So many of the No. 1 songs this summer ("Stay With Me," "Rude," "Am I Wrong," "All About That Bass") were sung by newcomers who didn't seem to fit a major label calculation. I think that reflects our culture's hunger for authenticity.
I can't really fathom what it's like to be Harry Styles or Katy Perry. Your entire life is under a microscope. An interaction with you wins the ultimate trophy of bragging rights forever. How many truly genuine conversations can you have with a human being when you are commodified like that?
Fame freaks me out in a lot of ways. It's a double-edged sword I guess. I feel like there is this thing inside of me — these stories, lessons in healing, answers for trauma, a hunger to dismantle stigma, an invitation for vulnerability, a quest for subversive social justice within pop music — that could potentially reach millions of people. That would make me happy. And I'd love to buy my mom a beach house. It would be so fucking cool if I could have all of these awesome perks without sacrificing beautiful human connection. Maybe I can have it all — I don't know. Or maybe the next time you talk to me, I'll be wearing my sunglasses indoors, and writing songs about all five of my Subaru Outbacks. (The life!)
Bobby Shmurda, 20, rapper, signed a deal after his song "Hot N****" went viral on Vine
I didn't want this. It happened. All the stuff that happened in my life? I didn't call it, it just happened. But I'm glad I'm in this life. I don't wanna sleep in a house with crackheads all day for money, going to jail if someone tells on me. I wanna make money and lay on the beach somewhere. And smile up in shows.
I seen Beyonce doing the Shmoney Dance. My mom was going crazy. And they pay me to go to parties now. It's crazy. I love parties. If I can get paid and go to parties? Why not? I love parties.
Metro Boomin, 21, producer, go-to collaborator for rap stars like Future, Wiz Khalifa, and Migos
I have a lot of hit songs out and I got a lot of shit I'm proud of, but none of it makes me feel like I'm famous. I don't know what that feels like. Maybe when I got some millions saved up, I'll at least feel famous to myself. But I'm not famous till I'm walking around in New York, right out here outside of BuzzFeed, and everybody knows who I am like they do in Atlanta.
I think I [promote myself] just as much as I make music. Automatically, people don't take producers as seriously as artists. So you've gotta make your own identity and your own sense of stardom, so everything you do comes off as if you were rapping.
I go a lot of places with Future, and things are different for him. A lot of people always want to take a picture. He's not rude, he'll do it sometimes, but sometimes you can't take a picture. You'll take one, and then you gotta take a picture with everybody.
Niykee Heaton, 19, YouTube cover song performer turned major label singer
In today's society, "fame" is something much different than what it used to be. Now, 13-year-old kids punching one another in the face on Vine are considered celebrities. I feel famous sort of, I guess in a way. I feel famous when random teenage girls and boys come up to me in the mall, shaking with tears in their eyes, asking for a photo. But then again, when I consider myself on the larger scale, next to Rihanna and Lady Gaga, I still feel small. I feel like a nobody. I still have a lot to prove, so I guess I would consider myself semi-famous. And I'm fine with that for now.
To most, fame is having a song in the top five on the iTunes charts, being voted Best New Artist at the VMAs, or reaching 10 million followers on Instagram. But I don't consider that fame, or at least it's not the kind of fame that I want. Reaching fame for me, is having your 4-year-old nephew singing the words to your song at the same time your grandma is bobbing her head to it on the radio. It's having fans that look up to me so much that they are willing to tattoo my lyrics on their skin. It's having my song listed on the top 100 Best Songs of All Time 30 years from now. For me, to be regarded as a "famous musician," it is imperative that I create real music that makes an impact. Maybe it only affects a single life, or perhaps it sparks a global movement, but as a musician, I feel it is my duty and role to create something bigger than me, not just wear the term "celebrity."