#TBT: Everybody’s a Rock Star Somewhere

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Everybody’s a Rock Star Somewhere.

It occurred to me that Andy’s Warhol’s thing about “everybody being famous for 15 minutes” had to be revised. He had been right, of course. When he said it, the world was one of three TV channels and serious journalists decided what to use the limited print resources to tell you about. He saw that as media began to be more abundant and as his generation began to change the way media was produced and consumed, there’d be less scarcity and more, well, frivolity.

In a 24-hour cable news-based world, he had it exactly right. Some little thing would happen — say a house fire in Missouri wherein a dog woke the neighbors, who made the call to the firefighters, who came and saved the family — and for a short period of time, that news and those people (and even the dog) were everywhere. Famous for almost literally 15 minutes.

But then things turned again. In the ’80s and ’90s, media was bountiful to consume, but it still got produced by relatively few. The internet and all the associated technologies (webcams, blogs, etc.) changed all that, making the production of content possible by everyone. This isn’t exactly breaking news by 2010.

Yet, the revision that’s necessary to Warhol’s concept has not been fully absorbed. It’s not that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. In fact, if you’re talking about ubiquitous fame, fewer people than ever (or at least since the advent of television) will be famous. One significant data point on this is that the number of copies sold that it takes to be a No. 1 song is lower than it’s been in decades. Even the person with the No. 1 song in the country could be a relative unknown if you asked 100 people.

Which means that a “rock star” isn’t what it used to be. I think of the past era of rock stars as being the “Rolls-Royce in a Swimming Pool” era because in the idealization that probably exists purely in my imagination, if you were a real rock star in, say, 1974, you could conceivably end up driving a Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool, but it would all be in high spirits and the hotel would clean up after you.

Alas, that dream is dead. And you’re also not going to be famous for 15 minutes. Sorry.

But in return, I offer the following revision on Warhol: Everybody’s a rock star somewhere. This is the world of the future, especially entertainment. No one really knows who Amanda Palmer is.

Out of 100 Americans, I’d be surprised if more than five to seven could tell her apart from any other hipster musician. Everybody, even your great grandmother, even kids in the slums of Calcutta, knew who Michael Jackson was.

But to many of the 5 to 7%, Palmer’s a rock star in the sense that she’s got their loyalty, their love, their devotion.

And she’s a pretty obvious example, but 5 to 7% of people is gigantic. There are people, like Hans Rosling, for example, who probably 1% of you have heard of, but for devotees of his work, when Hans walks into a room, everyone is struck with the nearly unbearable urge to say hi and just be in his presence.

And on an even smaller scale, there are people on Facebook that you know who rule their little social circle. Whose status updates get more comments and likes than everyone else’s. Who just seem to draw attention to themselves, but if they step outside of their “magic circle,” no one knows who they are.

So everybody’s a rock star somewhere now, and this is the model that has to be applied to all thinking about developing live entertainment. What is the size of your rock star magic circle? Do you want to grow it?

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