(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I first started noticing the diluting of the term "rock star" in the '80s after true rock stars had reached their peak in the late '60s and '70s and started fading. Then the term "new rock star" started popping up, and it won't go away. Just the other day, I heard Defense Secretary Robert Gates referred to on NPR news as the "new rock star."
In one of her first letters from the editor when she became editor of Vanity Fair magazine in the 1980s, Tina Brown declared flatly that businessmen were the "new rock stars." And the magazine proceeded to give fawning attention to businessmen and generally treat them like they were, well, like rock stars.
Along the way, Tom Cruise declared that bartenders were the new rock stars in his movie, Cocktail. And the floodgates were opened. The coffee roaster, the barista in upscale coffee houses, briefly was crowned the new rock star. Meanwhile, new rock stars like Kurt Cobain administered the final demystification to the role of and the glorifying of rock stars.
In headlines and excerpts from a variety of sources, here are a few examples of the "new rock stars" that have been foisted upon us as a society.
Librarians: My librarian can take your librarian any old day! Even the New York Times agrees with me, because my librarian is Nancy Pearl! This woman is the rock star of librarians, and even has her own action figure.
The Seattle Traveler, 10-5-07
Entrepreneurs: It's official: Entrepreneurs are the new rock stars.
Real Business, 1-29-09
Entrepreneurs: Dutch Social Network Hyves celebrated its 5th million member tonight. We were there and found out that the new rock stars are Entrepreneurs. Even the DJs play second fiddle to these guys.
The Next Web, 12-7-07
DJs: DJs Are the New Rockstars
Chefs: Chefs are the new rock stars -- and they've got the groupies to prove it.
Time Out, 5-7-08
Chefs: "Chefs now have a sex appeal that's usually attached to rock stars," says Kate Krader, restaurant editor at Food & Wine. "They can be disgusting and sweaty and still walk into a bar and have girls swarm them."
Peterman's Eye, 9-3-08
Designers: Design charts -- designers are the new rockstars.
Interior Decorators: Interior Decorators the New Rock Stars?
Writers: Jonathan Lethem, Brooklyn's Newest Literary Rock Star
The New York Sun, 9-16-08
Accountants: The accounting profession is starting to see itself in a new light too. At a recent auditing conference in Baltimore, it dubbed itself "the new rock stars."
CA Magazine, October 2006 issue
Realtors: Real estate rock stars believe they do more than sell homes. They believe their customers are more than just leads. They believe in the big picture.
Presidents: Are presidents the new rock stars?
Hello! magazine, 4-17-08
School Superintendents: Superintendents are the new rock stars. What do you think of the phenomenon of rock star superintendents?
Dayton Daily News, 4-1-08
Poker Players: Poker Players Are the New Rock Stars
Activists: "Changents: Agents For Environmental Change Are the New Rock Stars."
Stock Investors: The head of Greenlight Capital has just been given the New York magazine treatment, which solidifies his rock-star status on Wall Street.
Bollywood Wannabes: It's become increasingly easy to get yourself photographed with a guitar, stand in front of a microphone and have the media shout "Next Bollywood rockstar!" as the backing track you were syncing to skips and you don't care if anybody noticed cos your name ends in Ali Khan.
Politicians: Politicians As the New Rockstars?
[Cricket player] Albie Morkel: Albie Morkel the new rockstar in town.
Architects: And what defines the architecture like that's produced by this club of rock star architects (also including fellow boomers Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Jean Nouvel, Herzog and de Meuron and the slightly younger Zaha Hadid)? It's flamboyant, spectacular, and iconoclastic ... in sum, the architectural equivalent of a rock concert.
WordPress Designers: To help promote this fantastic new series, we'll also be giving away fifteen free copies of the just-released "How to be a Rockstar WordPress Designer"!
Bloggers: If a rockstar blogger were to announce that he's launching a new blog, then his reputation would be one big factor in helping tip the scales toward some success in terms of traffic and readership (and even money, if that is the goal).
There are no more real rock stars. I know, people like Bruce Springsteen and U2 and Coldplay are still out there trying to wave the flag, but the stardust is gone. And now there's crop after crop of little wannabes, little toy rock stars, like the Jonas Brothers. Poor little guys. They never had the chance to spend years playing clubs and holes-in-the-walls like the Beatles and Stones and Elton John and Springsteen did, learning their instruments and their voices and learning to read audiences and to write songs to fit their own circumstances. No, they were thrust out onto an international stage to sink or swim. Sorry, guys. That's the way it is now. So be it.
Country music has had its share of superstars who were regarded and treated like true rock stars, from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline. These days, given their audiences and the numbers they generate, candidates include Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and, of course, Taylor Swift. When you run all the numbers and add up the press and TV and all the other auxiliary star trappings, I would venture to say that Swift is the biggest sort of rock star in the world today. Although, I don't think being called a "rock star" is all that desirable these days. That title and $2.50 will get you a latte from your neighborhood rock star barista.