Madonna and Bruce Springsteen are 2012's Richest Musicians: All the Money's in Touring

Categories: DFW Music News

Timothy Norris for LA Weekly: Slideshow
Age ain't noting but a number.
I don't know how much else Madonna and Silvio Berlusconi have in common--her extremely visible fight against aging is going much better than his--but here's one connection: This weekend Italy voted in an election that's serving as a referendum on a decade of economic stagnation caused by, among other things, an intersection of cronyism and regulation that's led to massive youth unemployment. Meanwhile, Billboard announced that the top-grossing pop stars of 2013 were 54-year-old Madonna and 63-year-old Bruce Springsteen.

While we wait for an Ezra Klein think-piece on the subject, it's worth considering the plight of poor Justin Bieber, who finished No. 10 on the list. Will pop culture's leading symbol of its own youth-obsession be able to beat the long-reigning kings and queens of pop in 2014, or will he have to be 50 himself before he tops this chart?

If this year's list is any indication, it might be a while. The top acts are all either nostalgia trips or country music acts, who've built up enormously successful tours and still sell a lot of physical albums. The only outliers ahead of Bieber himself are Dave Matthews Band, a well-oiled touring machine, and Coldplay, who seem to have taken it upon themselves to be the last globally successful rock band.

Even Taylor Swift, who apparently sold nearly 16 million digital songs last year and was last not in an issue of People magazine sometime in 2008, clocked in at No. 15. Unless you have a devoted niche or first achieved global fame some time before Bill Clinton became president, it's tough to break into the first rank.

All of this is maybe a little more exaggerated than ever--the baby boomers are an enormous, incredibly wealthy generation, they came of age at the peak of the pop monoculture, and they're uncommonly interested in their own history. Succeeding generations have been more fragmented from pop-culture-birth, which has artificially extended boomer stars' reigns as pop symbols; even now 18-year-olds who feel locked into small-towns and doomed to humdrum lives turn to the Bruce Springsteen instead of inventing their own. Even though they might not care about motorcycles; even though they weren't born until after Human Touch came out.

(Related boomer-hegemony note: Does that "Faster is better" AT&T TV commercial where a girl who can't be more than eight years old makes a jokey disco reference unnerve anybody else? Her grandparents are probably the only people she knows who were alive in 1977. Will I have to show my children all the goofy things we did in the aughts myself?)

That is, it might be unprecedented that Madonna is so far out in front of this generation's stars so late in her own career, and it might be strange that the nearest non-country competitors from the 90s are Dave Matthews Band, an incredibly successful niche act.

But this sort of thing is inevitable: Pop culture may be permanently tilted toward the youthful and novel, but the pop culture tastes of actual, job-holding adults are just as locked on what was youthful and novel when they were young.

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Springsteen is hardly a nostalgia act. He's still churning out powerful contemporary and relevant albums and touring in support of them. As for country music, well, he claims he'd been working on one, but hasn't released it yet.


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as a boomer, I can tell you that when we were young it was not cool to listen to your parents music. today, kids seem to be okay with that.


@ChrisYu Yeah, I think that's the big change: Members of this generation believe listening to their parents' and grandparents' music is MORE authentic, sometimes, than listening to their own. 


@danup @ChrisYu because they have a whole big bag of artistic nothing to offer, due to the fact that they were internet and facebook sapped of any iota of individuality..good job corporations you've turned us into a nation of mindless zombie idiots...Is it any wonder that the Walking dead is so popular?  It hits home, man

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