Charisma the key ingredient in making a star

“We were fascinated by this idea of how popular music is often contextualised using astronomical metaphor,” she said.

“We talk about stars, stardom, reaching for the stars in terms of attempting to be successful, we talk about fallen stars when musicians die or when they’ve committed crimes, and this discourse is absolutely intrinsic to all discussions of popular musicians. It’s part of the vernacular of both academic studies of popular music, and cultural commentary as well.

And what was really interesting to us was that there wasn’t much academic writing on it. It’s almost as if this is so ingrained in the discourse that scholars had written round the subject but actually not tackled it head-on.”

Wendy Saddington in the 1960s.

Wendy Saddington in the 1960s.

Photo: Martin Boulton

She and two colleagues, Stephen Lloyd and Julie Rickwood, decided to host an entire conference at the School of Music in 2015 with around 80 papers on the topic of stars and stardom, and were bowled over by the result.

Professor Bennett said their resulting book featuring eight diverse chapters on the topic has already been making waves among academics across Australia and the United States.

“So many ducks have got to line up,” she said.

“You’ve got to have the germ of the musical talent, there’s got to be the charisma. If it’s a solo artist it’s often easier, but if it’s a band, then the members of the band have to have the right chemistry.”

She said while megastars like Beyonce and Amy Winehouse will always fascinate, for different reasons, even more intriguing was the question of why some musicians never quite make it to stardom.

This was especially interesting in the case of musicians who were repeatedly referred to as vital influences to other, more major musicians, but never became well-known themselves.

The book contains an entire chapter on the Australian folk musician Wendy Saddington, who was a major inspiration to the lead singer of the Divynals, the late Chrissy Amphlett.

And who could forget – although most have – the oddly-named New York band the Raincoats?

“[They were] an all-female band from the turn of the 1980s, and they did a couple of albums,” said Professor Bennett.

“Really unknown, but they were one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands, and one of his biggest influences.”

Popular Music, Stars and Stardom is published by ANU Press, and is available for free online at press.anu.edu.au.

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