“You have been asking for this, and I can’t wait to get it to you!” Lil Peep’s mother wrote to her son’s 4.7 million followers via his Instagram account. She was referring to more new music: a second posthumous album in as many years; not far off the amount of music the artist, who died in 2017, had released in his short life. He is far from the only one in a wave of posthumous releases this year that includes an album from the late Avicii and a single from Mac Miller. The estate of controversial rapper XXXTentacion, meanwhile, will release his second, and apparently final, posthumous album Bad Vibes Forever this week.
While the demand for more music is certainly not unanimous (“This sounds like black mirror’s episode of miley cyrus,” ran one comment under Peep’s mother’s post), a scattergun approach to posthumous legacy-building has been widely accepted by young fans as the new normal. The old consensus decreed that in order to build a respectable legacy, an estate should protect what the artist had already put out and be discerning with anything more. Fans were furious with Drake’s bungled attempts at putting together a posthumous Aaliyah album, and frustrations arise whenever a Prince release is announced. Administrators for the Purple One’s estate reportedly drilled into a locked vault to get at unreleased recordings, and ignored Prince’s views on streaming services, uploading his catalogue months after his death.
But those artists come from an era where the album was the respected format and fans wanted little beyond the occasional alternate version of a hit they had known for 30 years. In the saturated streaming market, made up of audiences with shorter attention spans, the idea of a traditional legacy is being passed over for a more-is-more approach. The expectations that fans of new, predominantly streaming-era artists have are different. What do young people want from a living artist? A commitment to content: lots of singles, access to their personal life, the latest merch. Why should it be different when they are gone? So, fans accept social media accounts handled by estates or management, uploading new Instagram stories as if the artists’ presence lives on.
Such musicians’ careers were built swiftly on Instagram and streaming, and their legacies will be formed at a pace to match. It doesn’t matter if that is an ephemeral pop-up shop – a Lil Peep store in New York, filled with graffitied pink T-shirts, hoodies and black poetry books – or a new video packed with home footage, taken from a new documentary, featuring an album and spin-off merch. To build a legacy is to consume, enjoy and repeat, but mostly to keep that relationship with the fans as something that still lives.