Being a dope singer, producer, or whatever musical niche you’re in will always be your calling card. But will anyone call if you don’t have the image to match?
This year, the #1 important thing for all creatives to master is their brand identity. The juggling act of learning how to stay authentic and true to yourself, while connecting with an audience and holding on to an image that makes a memorable imprint. There’s no cookie cutter formula, and opportunities for growth and natural transformation will always present themselves.
Take two artists like Cardi B and Rihanna, for instance. Cardi started out as a mixtape-creating stripper from the Bronx who was shameless about her sexuality and brash personality, and known for said qualities on the show Love and Hip Hop. Ultimately, she was in the “ratchet” side of the industry, where Nicki Minaj was the more cleaned-up “Black Barbie”.
Then “Bodak Yellow” happened, and her fan base grew exponentially, turning her from hood rapper to mainstream radio star in a very short amount of time. Her rise to fame was called a “hip hop cinderella story” by Billboard. After that hit single, Cardi started refining her image from skin-baring stripper to classy escort, adopting more of the luxury factor that Minaj had mastered years ago.
But the fame didn’t get to her head - Cardi’s natural hilarity, swag and authenticity still shone through, even at the Golden Globes where she told a flabbergasted E! red carpet host that she had “butterflies in her stomach and vagina”. She had refined her overwhelming image to fit the mainstream spotlight better, but still kept the roots of her personality that kept her OG fans around. She’s still not as clean as Minaj, which makes her more relatable to the everyday people. She’s a normal hip hop girl, but has created a flourishing niche within that.
Rihanna, on the other hand, went from innocent Barbados girl next door and creator of “Umbrella” to “BBHMM”, with rebellious pot-smoking antics, faux locs, and becoming the ultimate bad gyal icon. But somehow, the evolution was totally authentic.
Rih used the PR and personal nightmare of that Chris Brown debacle to make her image slightly darker, and “realer”, which resonated with many listeners. Others who had experienced abuse and a loss of innocence related to the singer and her experiences. Out of this new image, she used her entrepreneurial, and newly edgy spirit to spawn Fenty for Puma, and ultimately Fenty Beauty, skyrocketing her success even more.
She forced a dark period of her life to extend to her artistry rather than stunting her growth, and flourished as a result. It’s a helpful reminder that you can turn your demons into a positive thing, and it can even help grow your brand.
So anything negative that you thing will hinder your brand, if you think that being vulnerable will drive away your audience, it will actually do the opposite. Sharing your personal demons makes you more relatable, and an advocate for those who are experiencing the same. And holding on to your personality instead of trying to fit some pre-made mold will help you stand out as unique - perfection is the anti-goal!
If your vision is foggy, create a vision board of everything that’s true to you, and your key messaging. Your brand is your business, and you need to reflect on what will set you apart from the other artists in your class. Your look and sound should be cohesive and unified, but they should also reflect you, not just some one-sided appeal. That's what allows for emotional attachment and consistent devotion from a crowd, even during musical lulls, which Rih Rih and Cardi have excelled at. It might be daunting at first, but focused, patient baby steps are the only reason why any successful artist has gotten to the point they are now.