Anonymity in the Music Industry / by Andrea Schmid

Pop stars and rappers have historically held a strong presence in the media and public eye. Our favorite artists have become even more accessible in today’s social media driven society. Rather than wondering what it would be like to hang out with our favorite artist, we can now watch them in a live video. Instead of writing fan mail, we can now send tweets and direct messages. Perhaps in an effort to combat this invasive and overwhelming sense of fame, the industry has seen an influx of artists’ adopting increasingly generic stage-names. Artists such as H.I.M, THEY, SiR, and Noname have opted for generic stage-names that seek to place an emphasis on the music they create rather than the individual themselves. 

The role of anonymity in the music industry is not a new concept. In fact, many artists have taken this idea one step further by concealing their appearance as well. When Experimental R&B singer The Weeknd dropped his debut mixtape series in 2011 his identity remained a mystery. Refusing to conduct interviews and leaving his appearance off the mixtape cover art, The Weeknd emerged as a mysterious and shadowy figure. Similarly, Sia, the Electropop singer who gained popularity with her Billboard charting single Chandelier, became notable for her blonde wig that concealed her face and kept her identity anonymous. Sia’s enigmatic appearance permeated the minds of popular culture. Society’s fascination with her anonymity is illustrated in Chance the Rapper’s verse on the track Ultralight Beam. Chance raps, “My daughter look just like Sia you can’t see her.”

More recently, an anonymous singer/songwriter by the name of H.E.R dropped projects that caught nation-wide attention. With H.E.R Vol 1 in 2016 and H.E.R Vol 2 in 2016, the artist’s appearance has remained anonymous. The visual art on both covers reveal only the silhouette of the artist against a vibrant background. This anonymity extends into the singer’s digital media presence on Instagram. H.E.R promotes her upcoming tour and music release dates using unconventional promotional tactics. The artist’s Instagram feed consists of images of a general silhouette on stage, close ups of a blurred out face, and shots in which the her visage is concealed behind a large set of sunglasses and a scarf. In an interview with the LA Times she explained the reason behind her anonymity, “I want it to be about the music — its honesty and realness.” 

Much like H.E.R, The Weeknd and Sia shared similar motivations in remaining anonymous at the beginning of their careers. The Weeknd described that “In the beginning, I was very insecure. I hated how I looked in pictures…I’m going to let the music speak for itself.” In her Anti-Fame Manifesto, Sia wrote, “If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous.” Although these artists’ wish to remain anonymous was motivated by personal desires rather than business pursuits, the sense of mystery created a strong buzz around the music. The Weeknd’s 2011 House of Balloons mixtape received universal acclaim and was named the Best Album of 2011 by Complex. Sia’s single Chandelier earned 4 Grammy nominations and sold over 2 million copies in the United States. H.E.R. has over 77 thousand followers on SoundCloud and the number continues to climb. In a digital society in which we are constantly confronted with self-promotion and branding, anonymity functions as an effective marketing tool in the music industry.

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Written and Edited by: Rose Seabrook, Social Media Coordinator