The appeal of anonymity in music

Jordan White /
Jun 5, 2017 / Music

Take a moment to sit and wonder what the music biz has left to offer. Hard one, right? Living in an era where everything is handed to us on shiny platters has left us spoiled in more ways than one.

Now hear me out, being ‘spoiled’ isn’t particularly a bad thing, we all love to see our favourite bands post Insta vids of a late-night studio sesh and the odd post about their wild antics at the BRITs after party; but when does it start to get exhausting? Rewind to when we knew the bare minimum about our favourite artists; a period that constantly had us on the edge of our seats.

2011 was prime for all things alluring; with Gaga, Perry and Rih reigning the world at the exact same time. Each tweet from a major pop act felt like an event. Back to where the only time us fans would see musicians interacting with each other was through viewing the VMA’s audience live feeds. We’d clutch onto our keyboards waiting to swoon over who was wearing what at The GRAMMYs, only cause we hadn’t already seen what they were glammed up in from dressing room photos posted before the event had even started.

It’s not that being informed of when artists hit the gym isn’t intriguing, it’s just that it’s not essential to the job description.

Mystery is more pivotal than ever before, the crave of wanting to dig deeper and discover more about our favourite musicians is something we’re lacking right now. Excessive insights into their lives have left them naked, and unfortunately for us there’s not much left to uncover.

Take Sia for example, the perfect modern-day figure to represent anonymity. Throughout her career Sia has bared all; we know about her destructive past and how she doesn’t want to associate herself with those life events any longer. So, guess what… she doesn’t. “Think you know everything about me? Ha!” She stripped herself from right under our noses, and it might’ve been the smartest career move she’s ever taken. We tune into her music to get a glimpse of her being, since there’s nothing to see on social media – genius! Pre-Chandelier fans know what’s up, but 80% of the public still have no idea what Sia even looks like. HOW EXCITING IS THAT?

It’s a key technique that almost anyone can use to their advantage; the way I see it, the less you know of something, the more intrigued you are to explore further. ‘Exploring further’ could relate to streaming the artist’s new single, checking out their latest music vid or even buying gig tickets to get the full experience – the world’s your oyster.

Albeit Sia didn’t pave the way for mystery, anonymity has existed for decades in every genre imaginable. Daft Punk have been the masked heroes of electronic for as long as we can remember; Slipknot gave themselves a terrifying image to lean focus on their music, and how can we ever forget Ziggy Stardust – the saviour Bowie knew we always needed.

Anonymity = hype = bigger and more successful career. Not to mention the attention is set purely on the music, not the artist themselves. It’s a formula that almost never fails. Almost. Exceptions have been made, which I can only blame lousy label decision making for. We’ve all heard about Who Is Fancy, haven’t we? How about ‘Fancy’? Erm, the guy that did that one track with pop leaders Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor? Surely I’m ringing some bells here… You see I can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of the guy, going MIA became his new thing once the big reveal didn’t go quite to plan.

Let’s backtrack for a second; Who Is Fancy was some huge campaign funded by Republic Records in 2015 to help make singer Jake Hagood a global phenomenon, and when you’re signed by Scooter Braun you assume it’s going to be a smooth sailing ride. The debut single ‘Goodbye’ drops along with three separate music videos, all featuring a different individual singing the track. What we can assume here is that one of these three individuals are in fact the man himself. But which? As you could imagine, the hype began to build itself, and all is going to plan. It seems almost too perfect that the social media stats were rising and a colossal of features were being wrote about the mystery man.

But where did everything go wrong?” April 7th, 2015 – just two months after the release of ‘Goodbye’, Who Is Fancy is set for his first debut live performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. This is where it all went disastrously wrong. A great performance by no means, with individuals taking the stage, over-dramatically miming the lyrics to its audience whilst Fancy faces his band. But as he turns to face us in the second verse, identity on full show, all hope was lost. We now know the face behind the voice, but with just one song put out into the world we’re just not familiar enough with Fancy to truly care about him from this point forward.

The performance itself was an incredible idea, unfortunately the premature delivery made it fall short. Perhaps if Jake Hagood hid his identity for a few more tracks, possibly after the release of an EP, then the odds would still be in his favour. “Where is he now?” Well, after the second single with Grande and Trainor failed to cause any traction whatsoever, parting ways with Braun and Republic was inevitable. It was back to the drawing board for Haygood, along with two swift changes to his stage name. ‘Fancy Haygood’ is the new identity, but what could’ve been was bound to be more magical

Still, let’s not get caught up in its failures. Wonders have been granted to the likes of Elohim; LA wanderess with an edge for alt-pop. Being in the music industry whilst suffering with mental health issues is a conflicting battle, but she conquers with the helping hand of her trusty weapon: the animal mask – a façade that has assisted her to the top of the mountain. Unlike Fancy, Elohim stuck to her guns with this one, playing the waiting game and gradually revealing herself once the core fan base had been solidified; that’s where he completely missed the mark.

This is why anonymity is extremely important. Not only can it be used as an advantage to further your career, it’s a coping mechanism for those who can’t co-operate with the standard role that comes with being a musician.

Hiding your appearance can be seen as a gimmick, in some ways yes, but when it works faultlessly what is there to possibly lose? Elohim can continue creating stellar pop gems with collaborators the likes of Louis the Child all whilst sustaining a healthy mind-state and gaining further interest from the listeners.

You see, there’s no true moral to this rambling of thoughts, only a nostalgic whirlpool of emotion of how exhilarating the pop scene appeared to be just half a decade ago. Don’t get me wrong, every artist shouldn’t just magically delete their social media to portray themselves more enigmatic than they actually are, though who’s to say a lil more mystique in one’s self couldn’t get them back in the top league again?

Whichever way you look at it, the game is ever-changing; it’s how you compete that makes it all worthwhile. And whilst anonymity isn’t for everyone, for me, discovering the inner-workings of your favourite artist instead of handling a cheat sheet is a warm fulfilling victory that simply cannot be beat.

Words by Jordan White

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