Elton John and Billy Joel are currently the hottest ticket in North America, taking in more than $2 million in box office grosses in each city where they play.
Have either of these guys released an album lately? Weren't they old news 10 years ago?
A perusal of the top 20 concerts this past week reveals John and Joel are in good company. Several hot tickets from the 1970s and '80s are still the hot ticket today: Bon Jovi, George Strait, Cher, Yanni, the Scorpions and Whitesnake (seriously!), B.B. King and The Pretenders.
Others who always pack 'em in include Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Paul McCartney.
Since the superstars of yesteryear are still the superstars of today, it raises a compelling question: Which of today's artists will be selling out arenas in 30 years?
Modern artists on the top 20 tours list include Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, David Gray, Disturbed, Coldplay, Tori Amos, Audioslave, 3 Doors Down and Erykah Badu. Will any of them still be playing to large crowds in 2033? Let's take it on a case-by-case basis.
If pop country gives way to classic country, which it seems to be doing, McGraw and Keith will go with the flow. But not Chesney, who should have one less "n" and one extra "e" in his name. The loyal fans of Tori Amos and Erykah Badu aren't going anywhere. However, the pack of up-and-coming folk and Brit rock artists will leave Gray's and Coldplay's mellow stylings in the dust.
I like 3 Doors Down, but in 30 years they'll be playing cozy reunion shows in Mississippi bars. The issues that Audioslave sings about might be universal enough for 2033, so count them as a maybe.
As for Disturbed, it depends on how ironic our nation is in three decades. Whitesnake is still selling tickets today, so one shouldn't be too hasty to dismiss the appeal of reliving the atrocious music of one's formative years.
The question of which of today's stars will still be stars in 30 years really gets fun when you delve into pop music.
I already feel like I'm dating myself by even mentioning Britney, N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys, whom I've been referencing for the last four years whenever I needed an example of why radio stinks (although, odd fact: I've never actually heard Britney on the radio).
But they've already given way to their newest clones, haven't they? Avril Lavigne is a sexed-down version of Britney, but what's rarely mentioned is that her music is just as disposable and she's just as hot as Britney.
Gangster rap/hip-hop (is there a distinction anymore?) is also disposable. Snoop Dogg has had a long, successful career, but it's hard to imagine he'll still be lighting up and hitting the stage in 30 years. Intelligent rap (of which Eminem is only the most well-known example) will probably depose gangster rap in a few years, and that reinvention will be harder to pull off than the pop-to-country transition.
Now let's approach the issue from the other angle. Who will be the John and Joel of 2033? This one is easy: Ben Folds. He's a little more depressed than Elton and Billy, but just as talented at tickling the ivories.
The future Springsteen & the E Street Band? Music that blends emotional energy with political statements just doesn't exist on that scale anymore (although I have to give a nod to Butch Walker, who has the energy of Springsteen, if not the seriousness).
Bruce fans Pete Yorn and Jesse Malin are among my favorite folk rockers, but Yorn looks half asleep and neither of them have a proper band. Jakob Dylan, who also perpetually looks like he woke up from a nap, has a great band in the Wallflowers; however, one of the guys recently quit. Maybe the softer side of Springsteen is what will be passed down through the generations.
The future Madonna? Xtina, or Christina, or whatever she calls herself, has a great voice, and if she wants to parlay that into three decades of success as a diva, she can do it. Michelle Branch also has a chance. Seeing her collaborate with Santana certainly ratchets up her credibility rating.
There isn't a pop band that springs to mind as the future Fleetwood Mac. Maybe The Corrs will get really talented and popular in the next few years.
A lot of today's artists seem to have the longevity to still be playing valid music in three decades. But hardly any of them will be doing John- and Joel-level business. It has nothing to do with a talent deficiency, however.
Everyone bashes modern radio. And it's true, there was more variety on the radio in the 1970s than there is today, and the notion of superstardom was more legitimate.
But today, we have more choices overall. Sure, the way music is distributed is asinine. (Maybe people just have terrible taste, but I prefer to blame Nickelback's success on the corporatization of radio; it's less disturbing.) However, there is a wide range of smart music consumers out there, something that's reflected by the recent expansion of the review section in the mainstream Rolling Stone Magazine.
Music is more diverse today than it's ever been. Arena-fillers are already becoming a rarity: In the second half of the aforementioned top 20 concerts list, the artists are filling mid-size venues with a niche audience. Thirty years from now, the notion of arena-filling acts will be limited to the realm of country music, where lyrical substance will never be much of a concern and the fans will never go away (except Dixie Chicks fans from Texas, apparently).
But we'll have a nice trade-off: There will be more good music filling mid-size venues than ever before.
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