They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and perhaps nowhere is that more apropos than in the world of music. I was reminded of this dynamic this week with the news that Phil Collins, he of Genesis and solo fame, is planning his first LP of new material since 2002. While most of us strive for retirement at 64 years of age, Collins is coming out of it to record and tour. He’s obviously ready. Are we?
As New York Post music writer Hardeep Phull put it this week, throughout the 1980s and 90s, Collins’ music, “used to saturate radio and TV to the point of mind-numbing omnipresence.” And, indeed, Phil was here, there and everywhere – including radio stations from coast to coast, MTV, even “Miami Vice” – year after year after year. And, after multi-million-dollar sales and sold out concerts, Collins flamed out and went away on an extended leave of absence. I know I, for one, welcomed the extended sabbatical.
More contemporarily, the seemingly unstoppable Justin Timberlake experienced this same dynamic with his legion of fans. In the brightest spotlight of fame beginning in 1995 with NSync, his 7-year boy band career saw the selling of more than 50 million albums. An even more successful solo recording career would last another decade including major forays into TV (“Saturday Night Live” and “Jimmy Fallon”) and movies (nearly twenty silver celluloid appearances). When “20/20 Experience” was released in 2013, fans had grown weary with Timberlake reading the writing on the wall and heading for the mountains – for a time at least.
Today more than ever celebrities in general walk a fine line between popularity and overexposure. Never have we had more access to news, information, photos, video and overall artist content. From TV talk shows with “The Jimmys” to YouTube and other online media there exist a multitude of communications mediums for engaging fans – and potentially burning them out. Do too little and you risk not capitalizing on what could be fleeting fame. Do too much for too long and you risk alienating your fan base and also becoming a footnote. To be sure, it takes a balance directed by audience input and gut. And, rather than being too available perhaps keep ‘em guessing and coming back for more.