New ANU book examines stardom in the music industry

16 July 2018

Stardom and celebrity are ubiquitous in our culture. Notions and ideas of stardom are talked about all the time.

 A new book produced by three academics from the ANU School of Music examines the notion of stardom since the dawn of the record industry and how it has morphed into our modern-day fame-obsessed preoccupation with YouTube and Internet stars.

The book "Popular Music, Stars and Stardom" emerged from research papers presented at the 2015 International Association of the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) A-NZ branch conference at the School of Music on the same topic and was compiled by Dr Stephen Loy, Dr Julie Rickwood and Associate Professor Samantha Bennett of the ANU School of Music.  

"Stardom and celebrity are ubiquitous in our culture. Notions and ideas of stardom are talked about all the time," said Assoc. Prof. Bennett.

"We wanted to really drill down into what's behind this. We look at the mythology of stars and stardom and why we even use those words; these are astronomical metaphors that, on the one hand, encapsulate something intangible that we can't actually pinpoint, yet we say stardom is somehow achievable."

"The term spun out of the film industry but in the record industry, auteurs like (American Record producer and founder of the Motown label) Berry Gordy would take a performer and shape and guide their image, ultimately producing stars."

"Now we have stars contrived from TV talent shows and Internet stars," said Assoc. Prof. Bennett.

"We talk about 'fallen stars' when an artist dies or commits a crime and we've also seen the blending of stardom with politics."

The book also looks at what and who makes a star; household names like Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain, but also shines a light on "hidden stars" who may have influenced a whole genre of music, but who never made it as mainstream stars.

Dr Julie Rickwood wrote a chapter on Australian Blues and Soul singer, Wendy Saddington who died in 2013 at the age of 63 of esophageal cancer.

Virtually unknown outside of the Australian music festival scene in the late 1960s and early '70s, Saddington has been described as Australia's Aretha Franklin and was cited by Divinyls lead sing Chrissy Amphlett as a major influence.

"So we ask 'why do some artists becomes stars and others not?' said Assoc. Prof. Bennett.

"Popular Music, Stars and Stardom" is published by ANU Press available now.