Fans have always felt a deep connection to their favourite artists by listening to their lyrics, but outside of their music, few artists really engage with their fans in a personal way, with many preferring to keep a distance in the name of privacy. Should artists keep their personal lives separate from their fans, or should they be engaging more with the listeners to whom they owe their success?
Throughout the years, artists have always tried to maintain their privacy. It can be argued that musical icons like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury maintained their legendary status by being eternally mysterious. Yes, their lyrics were profound and personal, but there was always some unknowable divide between their stage personas and the real-life artist. Tabloid journalism posed a threat to this privacy that continues in the new form of social media. When we compare the press’ obsession with defining the late Queen frontman’s sexuality with Twitter’s similar speculation about artists like Harry Styles, we can understand why more and more musicians choose not to speak about their personal lives. Fans are simultaneously the reason behind an artist’s success, but the pressure put on their personal life is perhaps too high a price for fame.
On the other hand, some artists choose to take a much more personal approach to engaging with their fans. Nick Cave recently launched The Red Hand Files, a website on which fans can submit questions, no matter how personal, which he answers in a regular newsletter. It’s an insight into the singer which is every bit as eloquent as his songwriting. He’s never been one to shy away from his emotions; the latest album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds dealt with the death of Cave’s teenage son. On his website, he talks about everything, from love and grief to past relationships and writing. Advice is given, stories are shared and respect is mutual. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen from an artist; such a raw honesty and desire to connect with fans.
It’s easy to understand why an artist would want to keep their distance from fans; in the age of social media privacy can quickly become a thing of the past, your words can become over-analysed and people can get more involved in your life than you’d like. But when it’s done right, as Nick Cave has succeeded in doing, a musician can create a beautiful dialogue between artist and fans which supports one as much as the other. Of course, fans will always be attached to their favourite musicians. Online speculation and a desire for interaction have been the norm for a long time. But at the end of the day, fans must be respectful of people’s boundaries: they are human just like us.