Nowadays, the term “icon’ is thrown around as a joke, a sarcastic taunt, and even as an over-enthusiastic compliment. Due to heightened connectivity through social media, artists’ fanbases are arguably more intense and involved than ever. But 10 years from now, many of the “iconic” performers and musicians we see on our daily feeds will fade into obscurity—only a select few will continue to build their legacy.
The viral factor on social platforms is commonly used to measure success and influence, but timeless artists are remembered for more than numbers. Legendary artists are often celebrated for their musical talents, but their ability to innovate and their cultural contributions beyond music make huge impacts on their careers. For instance, Queen is remembered for their diverse discography, as well as Freddie Mercury’s high-energy performances and flashy style. Aretha Franklin’s powerful, soul-bearing music has influenced the sounds of countless other musicians, but her stance as an artist also created anthems of strength during the Civil Rights movement.
In my opinion, certain current artists have the potential to stand the test of time. Here are three musicians whose influence and discographies have stood out to me.
From casual music listeners to dedicated music bloggers, many think of Lamar when evaluating the best rappers, songwriters, or discographies of our time. His groundbreaking career has led him to win fourteen Grammy Awards, and he became the first rapper to receive a Pulitzer Prize for his album DAMN. Like many influential artists, Lamar blends the craft of music with social activism, creating innovative ways to stay conscious of current political and cultural issues. His lyrics range from simple memories about hanging out with a friend to complex stories that uncover racial and wealth inequality. Lamar is also praised for his unique rapping styles that fluctuate throughout his albums—from spitfire rapping to laid-back crooning. While his funky songs are great to casually listen to, pay close attention to the narrator in each song and you’ll see a vivid tale unfold.
While she might be a popstar, Charli XCX has a unique stance in the pop music industry. Her music is constantly evolving and incorporating different genres—including hyperpop, Eurodance, and synthpop. The British singer and songwriter has contributed to many hits, featuring on songs like “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea and “I Love It” by Icona Pop. While these songs gained popularity in the early to mid-2010’s, Charli’s recent work shows her eagerness to experiment with her music. Working with distinctive producers such as SOPHIE or 100 Gecs, Charli mixes over-autotuned catchy hooks with crunchy, robotic sounds to elevate familiar pop sounds and subjects. Her music takes odd, niche turns in ways that adapt to larger audiences. Although she is categorized as a pop singer, Charli’s loyal fanbase understand and cherish her the most. Unlike many artists, Charli’s unreleased music is highly sought after and prone to leaks. Soundcloud, YouTube, and other random corners of the internet hold albums worth of her yet to be dropped music. Her third album, which was never officially released, gained streams and downloads because of a mostly fan-led leak. Additionally, Charli’s music provides a safe space for 2SLGBTQI+ fans. Through collaborations with many 2SLGBTQI+ artists, Charli has embraced fans within the community just as they have embraced her.
The idea of a virtual band may seem ordinary these days, but just 20 years ago, a mysterious new band by the name of Gorillaz entered the mainstream and redefined storytelling through art and music. Although this band has been around longer than the other two artists on this list, they consistently reinvent their sound and maintain their relevance in the music world. At risk of making OG fans feel old, I would argue that they are already considered a timeless band. Created by musician Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, the band consists of four fictional cartoon characters. Jumping from dance to alternative rock to hip hop, the virtual band’s discography is catchy and kitschy. Hewlett’s bold and scratchy illustrations bring life to wacky characters and iconic music videos. Updating their characters’ 2D renditions to 3D, the band keeps their look modern and tech savvy. In addition, the collaborations featured on Gorillaz’ albums are always exciting. From world-renowned artists like Stevie Nicks or Elton John, to modern artists like Bad Bunny or Tame Impala, the Gorillaz universe grows with each project. Their music doesn’t replicate a specific time period. Instead, their groovy beats and peculiar visuals are nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.