How the 2000s' biggest pop stars became masters of social media
From the days of MySpace and Bebo, right through to the plethora of modern platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, social media has been as much of a boon to pop stars as it has been a curse.
For any musicians trying to make their way after the millennium, there was a choice: to seize this new means of communication and make it your own, or pretend it's not happening and hope it goes away.
Lily Allen was the first pop star to have her name closely linked to her social media account, but revealed to Jo Whiley & Simon Mayo that she has mixed feelings about using the internet, as you can hear in the clip below.
As successive stars have followed their paths, they've taken up the challenge in very different ways. Here's how the noughties' biggest pop stars became masters of social media...
Lily's 2006 breakthrough coincided with the peak of MySpace, the networking platform within which she built a firm fanbase that then propelled her into the mainstream limelight. Allen spotted very early on that she could speak directly to her audience and have the media rush to cover what she had to say.
Despite acknowledging that some mega-stars like Ed Sheeran are "doing alright" without social media accounts, Allen told Radio 2: "I can't really do my job without it. I need to be on there." She added: "I'm totally addicted but it's a generational thing - everyone's addicted. I think it's pretty obvious that the Internet is damaging on mental health, actual health and our relationships, but it's a necessity in this world that we live in now."
Allen's own online presence has become essential to anyone with a social media account. She's a sometimes provocative, always entertaining figure - retweeting praise and insults in equal measure and giving as good as she gets. In May 2018, she handled a bodyshaming troll with sheer ease, before going on to plug her very aptly titled new album, No Shame. Bravo, Lily. Bravo.
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It's fair to say the fans who grew up loving McFly continue to track their lives using Instagram and Twitter, maintaining the same affection for the band that its members have for one another.
All four members of McFly use their Twitter and Instagram feeds to trade jokes and generally lark about. And while we all know about Tom Fletcher and his astonishing viral wedding video - the one he recently recreated for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle - there are other tender moments hidden within the respective timelines of the band and their families.
There was recently this viral clip of Danny Jones playing the song he performed at his wedding, to his bride Georgia Horsley. Such tenderness was always going to go down well online.
James Blunt takes great delight in finding all the people who have rushed to Twitter to complain about him, and then - in most circumstances - proceed to actually gain their respect in the process.
Sometimes he'll go in hard, like a comedian dealing with a heckler, sometimes he'll just be silly. But the underlying message is always the same - I'm not embarrassed of being who I am. Who can disrespect that?
He reads a tweet like, "James Blunt just has an annoying face and a highly irritating voice", and replies, "And no mortgage". Or if someone says, "Can we all take a moment and remember just how terrible James Blunt was?", James will reply, "NO NEED. I HAVE A NEW ALBUM COMING SOON."
It's ingenious stuff, really.
Taylor Swift may have deleted all her social media posts in order to launch her own social media app, but Kate Nash has taken a far more ground-level approach to maintaining her audience. Inspired by the Riot Grrrl network of punk-driven feminism in the early 90s, she has challenged her fans to form bands, make posters and art. And as she herself started to write and perform in more challenging ways, Nash turned to her fan community to help fund her fourth album via Kickstarter.
Having established her community online, the Foundations singer then set up Girl Gang in 2015, a YouTube and Tumblr community encouraging like-minded people to express themselves. She told The Guardian: "The internet has exploded in ways that most of us couldn’t have imagined – and even at 27, I feel like I fall fast behind the teenagers of 2015. Tumblr is the new teenage bedroom wall: a perfect place to express yourself, an eternal stream of images and ideas."
So his Instagram is a record of his hard work and gratitude - a social media CV and thank-you card all rolled into one. There'll be shout-outs to fans he'll be seeing in Ibiza, next to old clips of him performing on Top of the Pops and backstage snaps of him looking grateful while he thanks everyone for coming to the show.
There's a few little comedic moments too, like the image above, which came with the caption: "And you thought it was only about making love on Wednesdays. Nah, leg day Wednesday".
Honey-voiced Josh Groban has also mastered the art of the pithy one-liner that lifts him above people who would judge him harshly for making pretty and romantic songs. At its most humorous, his Twitter feed is less about dealing with hecklers and more about finding little one-line thoughts that sit nicely in the mind, such as "Can we all just stop a moment and give thanks for our thumbs?" or "Twilight and Candy Crush really aren't doing the word 'saga' any favours in the credibility department".
There are also political thoughts and charity endorsements, but no matter what you may think about Groban's music, his tweets are pure pop star magic. Or to put it in his own words, "Stop crying, children. I'M your Bieber now".
The giant figures in global pop music are all social media titans too, and that's partly because social media can offer a curated version of the star at their very best - free from intrusive questions from journalists. So Katy Perry can pose with a kitten and Kanye West can shoot off some fresh idea he's just had, and it'll be seen by fans long before anyone has time to try and interpret their motives.
The queen of this approach is Beyoncé, whose Instagram feed is a carefully sculptured look behind the curtain at one of the biggest stars in the world. There are hardly any properly candid snaps, and certainly none of her kicking back at home after a hard day, but there's a lot of statuesque photos from her professional life in which Beyoncé looks appropriately regal. That's how a queen wishes to be seen, so that is how she is seen.