Dante DiDomenico

Research Project

Pop Prodigies: Defying Odds In The Digital Age


Dante DiDomenico is on a mission to be iconic, and he wants to help others achieve the same status through his uplifting and comedic driven content. Based in Toronto, Canada, Dante is a university student passionate about pop culture and personal growth to defy the odds through FLAB-ulous viral posts.

His followers are drawn to his infectious energy on their feed to take realistic, implementable action to improve their lives drawing from today’s legends. Dante has previously worked with brands such as Bioré and SmartSweets, as well as being featured in outlets such as Glamour, PopSugar, and Billboard.

Additionally, Dante is the co-host of the podcast PenPop with his best friend Ary Dominguez, dissecting classic pop song’s lyrics into their own improper interpretation. He is also the founder of the social media agency STUDIDO54 based on the 1970s hot spot, and is the face behind the viral TikTok series ‘How to Be Iconic 101’ with 2M+ combined views. Recently, he was featured in the Wall Street Journal for his other viral series covering Beyoncé’s 2023 Renaissance World Tour, KNTY4News. 


Connect With Dante!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dantedidomenico_/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@dantedidomenico_

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dantedidomenico/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@DanteDiDomenico_

Podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/penpoppodcast

Research Summary


The rise of social media platforms like TikTok has introduced a novel era characterized by short-lived fame, challenging traditional notions of pop stardom. For aspiring music icons, this fragmented pattern of decentralized media consumption leaves singers no template to balance exclusivity with engagement for a lasting career. In examining academic journals, interviews, documentaries, social media posts, and magazine articles, this research proposal evaluates diverse forms of academic and media-driven celebrity content. It explores how aspiring musicians can navigate mass fame through unconventional mediums in seven ‘pop pillars’. With practical strategies for individuals aspiring to prominence in the public sphere to implement in their journey to fame. These include shock focused reinvention,
relatability + self branding, genre innovation, mystique, purposeful pop, virtuosic talent, and diversification. As well, the ‘pop mascot’ for each pillar, and stars that overlap these categories within the history of fame. This capstone project proposal aims to contribute valuable insights into the evolving landscape of music in the context of social media saturation and shifting consumer trends.

Keywords: Celebrity, influencers, content creators, social media, fame, pop stars, music icons, digital age 

Research Summary

#1 Shock Focused Reinvention 

While some singers continue to maximize their popularity by creating the same music or imagery they are anonymous for, others pivot with changing pop culture. These artists slowly reveal new facets to discover from their star nature, and convince the public that it is impossible to know the ‘real’ figure as a postmodern myth or deity (Barlow & Mills, 2014). From genres, appearance, symbolism, or demeanor, this group of artists attract moral panic and notoriety from their constant artistic evolution. 

Madonna, known as ‘The Queen of Pop’ expressed her sexuality fearlessly in her music and visuals, combined with fashion, art, and political statements that pushed the envelope. Despite her harshest critics, the ‘Material Girl’ remains the “biggest-selling female recording artist of all time” (Newman, 2023). Other pop stars in this category include Prince who is also no stranger to controversy, Lady Gaga who reinvented from meat dress provocateur to Hollywood starlet, David Bowie traversing mediums, and recently Miley Cyrus who has pivoted genres with ease. 

#2 Relatability + Self Branding 

Social media has been heralded for allowing fans to access and interact with their favorite artists directly. In retrospect, this tactic has been used by artists for decades to create an “illusion of intimacy” between the celebrity and their fans, encouraging their parasocial behavior (Meyers, 2009). Allowing them a sense of co-creation in their music, contributing to their self-worth, or their aspiration of fame themselves (Greenwood et al., 2018). Singers in this pillar regularly interact and involve fans in a curated authenticity which seems genuine from the spectator view. 

Taylor Swift has long left her ‘girl next door’ image to become one of the biggest pop stars of her generation. Swift’s vulnerability in her songwriting and mighty PR machine has amassed a cult of dedicated fans that feel a personal connection with the star, even if they can’t get tickets to her show. Her title as the only artist with four Grammy wins for ‘Album of the Year’ proves that the world just can’t ‘shake’ her off (Recording Academy, 2024). In addition to Swift, there is Britney Spears who became one of the first major teenage stars, Ariana Grande who has mastered her brand of ‘therapy pop’, and Lana Del Rey who amassed her own cult of fans without conventional success from the Tumblr Millennial generation 

#3 Genre Innovation 

The artists who originated musical forms or mediums are forever cemented in history as they completely revolutionized the music industry. Often for artists within marginalized groups, their musical assets were used as a vehicle to be permitted into social spaces that entertainers of their caliber would be typically denied while avoiding the pitfalls pushed by nonnormative expressions of race and gender (Gates, 2010). Artists in this pillar have laid the blueprint for all the artists after them to thrive in new genres, visual forms, technological advancements, or appearance standards. 

It’s hard to imagine the state of pop music before Michael Jackson. His solo career has pioneered the art of music videos, dance forms, elevated the pop genre, broke racial barriers, and is still selling records in his passing. The biggest-selling album of all time Thriller (1982), could only belong to the ‘King of Pop’ (Guinness World Records, 2017). Alongside Jackson is Donna Summer who brought viability to the disco genre from its underground subculture, becoming the face of the movement, and Mariah Carey who popularized the pop-hip-hop remix, took holiday music to new heights, and broke several chart records. 


#4 Mystique

The realm of pop requires some stars to be constantly in the limelight or mass releasing singles to maintain their public consciousness or appease streaming platform algorithms. The mystique category entails artists to release music infrequently with little or no promotion, through three stages of mainstream discovery, a fall or hiatus, and a comeback redemption period before the cycle starts again (Goodman, 2010). Artists in this pillar also may not ever collaborate with other artists, endorse products, or attend award ceremonies. 

Rather than showcasing her personal life online or conducting interviews, Beyoncé lets her art & live performance skills speak for itself and keeps fans on their toes with her infamous surprise album or visual ‘drops’. It’s no wonder her Renaissance World Tour has become the “highest grossing female world tour” of all time (Frankenberg, 2023). Apart from Queen Bey, there is Adele who thrives with physical sales, in a digital era, without having to follow trends, Sade who takes decade long breaks between albums without seeing a dip in sales, and Lauryn Hill achieving icon status with only one studio album. 


#5 Purposeful Pop 

The critical consensus of pop music can be perceived as superficial or catered to younger audiences, therefore not credible in comparison to other genres such as rock. However, several artists have challenged this notion by using their platform to make political statements in their music to encourage action for social change. This stance is actually used by all celebrities that seek to appear as an alternative to the superficiality of other celebrities deeply embedded in Hollywood, out of touch with ongoing social issues in society (Waarden, 2021). Artists of this pillar aim to make their songs or music videos a call to action. 

Janet Jackson will always remind her audience to get “The Knowledge” about the “State of the World”. From racism to feminism, to homophobia, Janet has never shied away from confronting social issues head-on. The world undeniably became a part of her ‘Rhythm Nation’ in 1991 when she became the only artist to have 7 top 5 singles from one album, with three #1 singles in three separate calendar years (Vogel, 2014). Additionally in this category, is Nina Simone whose talent matched her activism during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, Bob Dylan’s sophisticated songwriting becoming anthems for anti war movements, and Janelle Monáe who continues to bend gender with her androgynous and Afrofuturism imagery. 

#6 Virtuosic Talent

Some artists’ legacies can never be written off because their talent will always prevail. Their craft and stage presence rises above career valleys which enables them the rare opportunity to earn their fame as a credible performer (Moulard et al., 2015). Additionally, this group of artists do not have to solely rely on commercial success to earn a living as their publicity converts to a loyal fandom or casual listener. 

Tina Turner survived an abusive relationship and shattered ageism by having one of the biggest comebacks with her 1984 Private Dancer album. The ‘Queen of Rock n’ Roll”’s’  first #1 single, worldwide stadium tour, Grammys sweep, blockbuster biopic movie, and revived career all in her late 40s (Recording Academy, 2024). Other divas who fall into this category are The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, The bilingual Queen of Power Ballads Celine Dion, and simply ‘The Voice’ (and shade) Whitney Houston. These ladies also all gained popularity, sold out stadiums, and stylistically influenced generations of artists with their performance skills. 

#7 Diversification

Being a pop star is no longer as lucrative with most artists relying on touring sales over album sales from the rise of streaming. In response, artists have leaned into their creativity to create their own brands that sometimes surpass the popularity and networth of their discography. Musicians are already their own brands, promoting the ‘advertainment’ of certain lifestyles or products to their audiences. As well, using their hits as a platform to extend the life of their career through endorsements or their own assets to start a business venture (Gloor, 2014). 

It’s been 8 years since Rihanna’s last album Anti in 2016 and she remains more relevant than ever. After releasing hit singles back to back, the starlet diversified her legacy into beauty and fashion. Her companies Fenty Beauty and Fenty Savage have made the pop icon a billionaire, but her demand as a singer remains. In 2023, her Super Bowl Halftime show became the most watched of all time at 121 million views (Mamo, 2023). Music icons who have also shaped pop and the economy include the top headphone brand Beats by Dr. Dre, former Tidal Music mogul and goat Jay-Z, and cheerleader, choreographer, American Idol judge, and superstar Paula Abdul. 

Pop Stars That Overlap Pillars:  

Diana Ross could fall under both virtuosic talent and reinvention as the ‘The Boss’ transitioned from the star of The Supremes to a popular solo artist and acclaimed actress as the first major pop diva. George Michael could fit in the virtuosic talent, purposeful pop, and mystique categories as he also transitioned from the duo WHAM! And rivaled his 80s peers with his solo career. Pivoting to an artist that stopped doing traditional promotion for his albums and tackling issues such as homelessness and the AIDS crisis. Finally, Cher could qualify for any of the pillars as the entertainment icon’s career ranged from singer, Oscar winning actress, sex symbol, television host, fashion icon, and the first artist to popularize the usage of autotune in her 1998 hit Believe (Martin , 2023). 



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Frankenberg, E. (2023, October 13). Billboard Boxscore Top 10 Tours of All Time: Beyoncé Breaks Ground. Billboard. https://www.billboard.com/lists/billboard-boxscore-top-10-tours-all-time-elton-john-harry-styles/elton-john-farewell-yellow-brick-road-tour-2018-20-22-23/

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Waarden, B. van. (2021). The concept of an “anticelebrity”: a new type of antihero of the media age and its impact on modern politics. Celebrity Studies, 14(3), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/19392397.2021.1968918

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