The Impact of Image: The Iconographic Celebrity of the Musician

Caroline Aylward


In today’s pop culture, a musician’s image is as important as, if not more important than the music they create. This phenomenon is not as new as one might think, but rather dates from the Romantic Period, when society began to view musicians as creative geniuses, rather than craftsmen. These musicians were held in such high regard that they were recognized as musical celebrities. Musical celebrity can be defined as an individual or group who represents the ideal of the period, has the ‘It’ factor, and can be associated with the following criteria: a sense of attraction to their creations from both sexes, self-confidence, and physical attraction though not necessarily beauty. These criteria derived from depictions of musicians publicly promote this celebrity status. As early as the 19th century, the portrayal of celebrity can be seen in the media of portraiture, photography, caricatures, and album artwork. Due to changing aesthetics over time, analyses of these media must consider the transition from passive to active inspiration, the study of physiognomy, the musician as a political figure, the effects of a musician’s race and gender, as well as audience reception. This paper uses iconography from various media to gain understanding of the developing form of musicians’ popularity. It explores how the different facets of a musical celebrity have changed over time, and how those changes have led to a consideration of the notion of image versus talent that currently prevails in today’s music industry. This research provides a new, multifaceted approach to linked notions of musicianship, musical innovation, and talent, as well as their affiliation with public perception via image.


Celebrity; Image; Musician

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