Musicians Likely to Stand the Test of Time

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Projecting which musicians may withstand the test of time is best served by analyzing how artists have done so throughout history. While those who attempt to answer this question today rely on the fixation with sales and current popularity, history’s canvas is not so easily painted upon. The musicians which transcend time are more than simple sales (though that is a part of it), they are charismatic and unique personalities who capture the hearts of humanity. Not simply of the moment, these figures continue to inspire new generations of musicians and music lovers to innovate and to have joy in creation. 

Music Revolution

The current music climate is as diverse as the global tastes for music. However, there is a definite disconnect between biggest selling artists and the artists who truly stand the test of time. A keen example of this disconnect between sales and longevity is exposed by a list of the top selling artists through history:

(List redacted for preview. Available via download).

While Eminem may be one of the highest selling artists in the past twenty years, the likelihood of his music standing the test of time is slight. While the artists on the previous list may have captured their moment of stardom, the artists that will be remembered and make a lasting impact on music must have more going for them. For instance, Adele may have been very successful in the last few years, but so far her music has been single season. Each one of her songs sound very similar as she belts out similar tones. Artists who stand the test of time are innovators of their style while retaining a strong connection with the fundamentals of what makes music great. However, there is a fine line between being inventive or “experimental” and being unapproachable. These fundamentals are: 1. The Melody – this is usually considered the “core” of a song. It’s the part you would typically whistle or hum. The melody in its barest sense is simply a combination of linear pitches and rhythms. 2. The Tempo and Rhythm – the speed of the song and the “beat” or pulse of the song that supports and gives the song momentum. 3. The Harmony – you know, the chords – the C majors, F minors, G 7ths, or F# minor 11ths that fill out the sound of the song. The Texture or Timbre – this refers to the type of sound, the musical colors used, so to speak. 4. The Lyrics – the words that are sung. 5. The Genre –  whether it be classical (used in a very loose sense here), country, jazz, rock, pop, techno, hip-hop, and so on. And anyone with children knows just how important this is – one certainly wouldn’t want to confuse “thrash metal” with “screamo.” 6. The Production – I am referring specifically to “recorded” songs here – the quality of the sounds, mixing, and performances of the players. (Smith).


One of the likeliest musicians to stand the test of time is Madonna. Not only has she sold over 300 million albums worldwide, and been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the best-selling female artist of all time, she is an actress, filmmaker, producer, author, dancer, and activist.2 Madonna has been one of the largest innovators in her field, pushing the boundaries of pop exhibitionism as well as expanding the music industry for women. Female artists today such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Beyonce owe her work ethic and uncompromising spirit quite a bit. A few more facts about Madonna’s career will support her choice as one of the likeliest to transcend time:

(List redacted for preview. Available via download).

Any personality worth their salt will receive a good amount of flak and negativity for their success, and that goes triple if that someone is a woman. Asked about what artists may stand the test of time, Lionel Richie offered; The beautiful part of where we were – we had shock value. But what came with shock value was hit after hit . Madonna was outrageous – but she had a catalog of music that was unbelievable. At the end of all the theatrics with Michael (Jackson), he had nothing but the most fabulous catalog. (

Richie’s perspective echoes why so many projections on who will last are likely far because these projections are not taking into account the trends of history which do not care who is “hot right now”. Richie emphasizes: Now, we’ve got a lot of theatrics… but where’s the song that is going to stick around forever years from now, let’s take anybody – where’s the body of work? I’m going to judge you not by your popularity but by your longevity, your staying records. I’m thinking about Miley, Justin Bieber. We’ve made amateur music mainstream. There’s a difference between a stylist and a singer. Everybody can sing! Go to karaoke, there are some guys seriously singing their a**es off! But do they have a unique or distinct voice? (

Madonna has had the courage to bank on her uniqueness, and unlike many women in the industry has not compromised on self-expression to please. This is why she is likely to continue to be listened to, watched, and appreciated into the future. 


Coming from the other side of the musical spectrum, Radiohead is also likely to stand the test of time due to their musical mastery, innovation, and long-steeped history in the vibes of the European underground. Compared to Madonna, Radiohead’s success seems paltry, but that only emphasizes how far above average Madonna is. Radiohead has sold 30 million albums worldwide.4 What makes Radiohead likely to stand the test of time is 1) Their diehard fans, and 2) They have created and carved out a unique niche.

Before Radiohead hit the music scene there was no music that sounded like them, and the imitators they have inspired in the past twenty years are just that imitators and not innovators. Like other iconic figures, Radiohead’s front man, Thom Yorke, has a unique and charismatic personality that is a result of self-acceptance. At the beginning of Radiohead Yorke did not want to be the singer because he did not like how his voice sounded, but when he could not find another singer the band gelled with he took on the responsibility with confidence resulting in new definitions of quality. Now because of this embracing of self, Yorke has been named 66th on the Rolling Stone’s list of all-time greatest singers.

This fact emphasizes that want transcends time and boundaries is often born of self-acceptance, and the enigmatic charisma which is translated to screen, record, or the stage. Like great artists of the past, Radiohead builds an oeuvre with the totality of the music they create, revealing an evolving tapestry of sound: Radiohead, who titled their ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, have a unique grasp on how easily profundity can slip into banality. Their music is obsessed with the point where great truths harden into platitudes, where pure signal meets wretched noise. In the past, Thom Yorke has sharply peppered his lyrics with everyday clichés to suggest a mind consumed by meaningless data, but on the new album, he largely moves beyond cynicism. (Greene).

Radiohead captured the spirit of the populace in ways they may not have even realized needed expression, and as a they will likely continue to unveil and surprise listeners into the future. 


Musicians are one of the groups of innovative artists who help expand the conception and expression of human nature. Those musicians who stand the test of time do this with creativity and passion which ignites the passion of others. While it is likely Madonna and Radiohead will stand this test, there are many more who will make their mark in unique and impressive ways. Ever expanding with the easier access of music creation and sharing technologies, the future musicians to make their mark may do so in untold ways.


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Works Cited

Greene, Jayson. “Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool.”, 11 May 2016. Retrieved from:

Smith, Kirk. “Why do some songs stand the “Test of Time?” Oak Stream Music, 28 Nov. 2010. Retrieved from: “OT: Lionel Richie: Nobody will stand the test of time, unlike Madonna and Michael Jackson.”, 27 Sep. 2014. Retrieved from: