Music on Trial: Which artists will stand the test of time?

Ours is a generation obsessed with nostalgia. Many of us look to the past for our icons, like Bowie, the Beatles and Zeppelin. Contemporary stars tend to rehash the aesthetics of bygone eras à la T-Swift’s recycled new-wave 1989, rather than innovate something that resonates with the moment.

I don’t mean to demonize anyone; it’s not like we’re any more or less original than our forebearers. This is not the first era to be hopelessly derivative. However, I often wonder which artists from our generation will withstand the test of time and be hailed as true visionaries 20, 30 or 50 years down the road.

Here, I’ve compiled my predictions for the artists whose legacies will endure after Katy Perry retires to be a soccer mom and Coldplay has sunk so deep into the electro-pop scene that Chris Martin will reinvent himself as a B-list underground DJ.

Lana del Rey

For every hater, there are three ride-or-die fans I’m so devoted that I’ve considered getting an LDR-style hand tattoo. Lana’s evocative and orchestral sound exhibits a level of musicianship absent from most pop music with as big of a following. Her meticulously-crafted persona may be the target of ridicule and accusations of melodrama, but no one can deny her intense, poetic glamor.

Gorillaz

The genre-fusing brainchild of British legend Damon Albarn set the standard for 00s dance music with 2005’s Demon Days. Its follow-up, Plastic Beach, further schooled the world on how atmospheric dance/hip-hop/rock should be done. Collaborations with Lou Reed, Bobby Womack and Little Dragon proved that not only does Albarn have a lot of friends, but one of the most versatile musical minds working today.

Skrillex

Who would have thought that a member of the forgettable early-aughts post-hardcore ensemble From First to Last would metamorphose into the face of dubstep in the U.S.? He wasn’t the first to construct his own music from technology alone, but Skrillex almost single-handedly normalized it. His cutting-edge marketing and investment in growing the industry made little Sonny John Moore a king, even among those who wouldn’t usually get down with the “womp-womp.”

John Mayer

Just because he epitomizes the colloquial use of the world “tool” doesn’t mean that the man isn’t a demigod at composing perfect pop melodies. His affinity for womanizing and spewing megalomaniacal nonsense in Rolling Stone is an unfortunate distraction from his simple and resonant songwriting. He does not got enough credit for his blues guitar mastery . . . or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize paying the arena-ticket price to see him play.

Kanye West

I’m not going to say he’s the greatest rapper in the game, but he is possibly the greatest crossover artist of our time. Kanye West is the cultural institution that brings together rap neophytes and seasoned fans. He is the force of nature you cannot ignore. Indifference is futile.

Beck

Beck has been lurking in the nebulous territory between indie and mainstream since the early 90s. No matter if his work is met with worshipful acclaim or crickets, every album he turns out is distinctive. The grace with which he embodies different genres calls to mind a great actor embodying different roles. His latest release, Morning Phase, carries a rare, authentic introspection that testifies to his decades of experience in the industry.

grosse@stolaf.edu

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