Should secret identities be worth more to listeners in music?

For the last half-century or so, success in the music industry has relied heavily on how visually stimulating a band's frontman (or woman) can be. It’s an unfortunate, and pretty inescapable fact. Elvis wouldn’t have been shit without his signature coifed hair and The E Street Band, without Bruce Springsteen’s nut-hugging jeans, would have been ignored like salty leftovers shoved towards the back of the fridge. Artistry after the advent of television struggles without eye-candy, but those star-centric days seem to be coming to an end as music fans know it to be.

Lately, a slight attention shift away from attractive and heavily promoted bands, to somewhat secretive individual musicians, singers and producers is taking place. Of course, there are still plenty of great bands and beautiful, talented musicians at work today, but the thing that really builds hype and gets people talking anymore isn’t a sexy leader or prominent guitar player; it’s total and complete anonymity.

Particularly in the world of electronic music, anonymity is the greatest buzz-inducing gimmick to come along since McDonalds reintroduced the McRib for the 800th time. What used to be the sneaky ploy of a handful of musicians and producers is now the go-to method for just about any musician to gain an online following.

Much like a glory hole in a public restroom, the mystery of not knowing who is on the other side is what makes the whole experience so thrilling. In this case, not knowing who is responsible for an awesome track or insane mixtape is partially what makes it sound so good — sort of the auditory equivalent of eating in complete darkness.

Looking back a few years, one can see the theory in practice when ZHU — one of the foremost purveyors of anonymous productions — was first dropping tunes on his SoundCloud page like little random mouse poops. Even if ZHU’s music was arguably “meh,” the fact no one knew who he was or where he was from had people wetting their Huggies with excitement.

Of course ZHU wasn’t the first to go faceless — SBTRKT and Deadmau5 were wearing masks and misspelling their names before it was cool — but ZHU can certainly take credit for making it a trend — some might even say a movement. 

In any other field (besides orgies) remaining nameless and faceless would be incredibly creepy, if not slightly unethical. Imagine a masked man showing up to snake your drain and never giving his name during the whole process; that would be fairly unsettling.

Likewise, if you show up to a house party with a mask and don’t tell anyone who you are, people will definitely be talking, but only about it when the police arrive. In music, however, anonymity is perhaps the smartest choice a hopeful producer could make these days — artists like Slow Magic and UZ have made an estimated killing from remaining in the shadows.

One of the most recent success stories of an unknown producer is Marshmello, an anonymous producer from “the grocery store” who has amassed a following of 78,000 users on SoundCloud, due to the fact that no one knows who he/she is and Diplo says s/he’s “a’ight.“

With so many artists partaking in this ambiguous trend, it’s easy to write anonymity off as a silly stunt to make an artist appear cooler than they really are. But we think it runs a bit deeper than that. By remaining anonymous, an artist makes the conscious choice to separate him/herself from the music, forcing it to stand and be judged solely on its quality and artistic merit. Rather than liking the music because it comes from a recognizable name (as is the case with just about anything that Avicii farts out), listeners are forced to like a song because it’s actually a good song. Because it moves them.

Artists without names or faces can (and should) be seen as righteous crusaders against the tacky, pretty-boy caricature that EDM has become. They should be championed for putting music and art before stardom and notoriety — which is not an easy decision when there are Calvin Klein endorsements to be had.

Granted, there's a fine line between a cheesy marketing ploy and bold artistic expression, but the movement of anonymous musicians is, at its core, a powerful one that ultimately drives music (at least in EDM's case, for now) into exciting, uncharted territory.