I once wondered out loud why famous musicians are almost expected to burn out and overdose at some point in their careers, and other types of celebrities less so. I forgot who my partner was in that conversation, but they responded that it’s much harder to be a musician than to be an actor, because an actor’s personal image & brand is not at the center of their success.
Playing yourself, vs. playing a movie role
Actors are known and beloved for the roles they play, while musicians largely play one role continuously. They play themselves. Sometimes it’s an alter ego (Snoop Dogg), sometimes it’s who they are, but they can’t just switch it up every year (remember Snoop Lion?). If you screw up a movie, there’s a next one. If you screw up your brand as a pop star, it’s very hard to recover. This was an ‘aha’ moment for me.
Playing yourself, and staking your business on it
In the world of influencers and creators (the creator economy), this issue becomes even more pronounced. Influencers around the world are starting to turn their personal brands into bonafide businesses. They’re not businessmen – to quote Jay-Z, they are the business, man.
Here’s where things get risky. In a regular business, a CEO can most definitely bring the company down with them, but I’d argue, only if they truly screw up, not if they announce their marriage. When everything you say or do can bring your entire business down because it is staked on your personality, there’s a high chance to become increasingly change-averse: Changing your partner? religion? stance on a political topic? hair style? body type? announcing you’re gay? Let’s first think about whether my fans will be understanding & accepting.
A perfect mental health storm waiting to happen
This personality/business connection also puts creator mental health into a different light. Creators are already under intense pressure to perform and are burning out and breaking down at an alarming rate. When creators realize their personality is a business collateral, I suspect they might end up worrying daily about their public persona and effectively freeze it in place, but that’s not how humans grow and flourish. This modern day Sword of Damocles is a cruel punishment.
Here would ideally come the part where I would try to offer a bunch of solutions, but I’m not sure there is one. I want to see creators flourish and build businesses. I want to believe that their greatest fans will accept a certain amount of personality volatility (and the I know many creators have awesome, supporting fanbases!). But I just can’t help thinking that creators building businesses, like musicians, have it harder than others. Being a business, man, is too much pressure, man.