The king is dead, long live the king! Superstar extinction and allocation of symbolic resources in the music industry 1959-2014



What do John Lennon's, Otis Redding's or Marvin Gay's story have in common? Of course, all the three artists are widely considered as some of the brightest stars in the 20th century music industry. Also, one can be tempted to say that all had disproportionate impact on the artistic process, being carriers of novel music styles. Yet, their personal stories shared a tragic aspect: all died prematurely and unexpectedly. John Lennon died on December 8, 1980 at age 40. He was shot in the back by Mark David Chapman, whom Lennon gave an autograph to earlier that day. Otis Redding died on December 10, 1967 at age 26.  He died tragically in a plane crash travelling between gigs.  Marvin Gaye died on April 1, 1984 at age 44. He was shot by his father, who used a gun that Gaye had given him as a gift.


Regarding the sociological side, what we do not know is how dramatic, revolutionary events like the sudden, premature death of a super-star can impact the (re-)allocation of symbolic resources in cultural markets. In this paper we attempt to get a closer appreciation of this issue by embracing a core-periphery theoretical perspective. Particularly, we have a twofold aim. First, evaluating the impact of exogenous shocks—as super-star extinction events—on subsequent audiences' decision to grant accolades—as key form of symbolic resource—to 'peripheral' over 'core' actors. Second, we are interested in detailing the causal mechanisms through which exogenous shocks influence the (re-)allocation of symbolic resources.


We perform our study in the context of the music industry, one of the most prominent yet less investigated cultural markets. Specifically, we rely upon a novel, completely-disambiguated database of archival and on-line data spanning over 60 years, around four million of unique releases and almost five thousand accolades in the form of Grammy awards. Cutting-edge software is  applied to analyse a bipartite graph containing more than 80 million of artist-release dyads and to provide statistical evidence about the effects and mechanisms related to super-star extinction events.