10 Music Legends Who Redefined Aging in the 2010s
Elton John, pictured on stage in Melbourne, Australia during a December 2019 stop on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road retirement tour, is among the music legends who redefined aging in the last decade. Photo: Mackenzie Sweetnam/WireImage/Getty Images
It’s one of the great rock ‘n’ roll ironies that, 55 years after The Who released its seminal hit “My Generation,” declaring, “I hope I die before I get old,” the surviving members of the band, Roger Daltrey, 75, and Pete Townsend, 74, are still on tour. The famed lyric takes on a renewed relevance in terms of aging, challenging conventional notions of what it means to “get old.”
Acts like The Who, Paul McCartney, Loretta Lynn, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, the Rolling Stones continue to rock and, more than ever, musicians ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s are reinventing themselves, breaking new musical ground, setting records and challenging attitudes about aging. With a new decade upon us, we look back at 10 music legends who helped redefine how we think about aging in the last 10 years.
From music to photography to Broadway to activism, Bryan Adams serves as a prime example of staying vital, active and engaged.
The Canadian rocker kicked off 2010 with the duet “Bang the Drum” with Nelly Furtado at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. A live album, a compilation disc, a Christmas EP and three studio albums followed throughout the decade, including 2019’s Shine a Light, which debuted on top of the Canadian charts. He also performed at Prince Harry’s Invictus Games in 2014 and again at the 2017 Games in Toronto, alongside Bruce Springsteen.
But its not just music that occupied Adams’ time. He continued to dedicate himself to photography, including his Wounded: The Legacy of War exhibit in 2014, featuring portraits of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a collection of portraits of noteworthy Canadians staged at the Royal Ontario Museum for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. And, of course, he photographed multiple notable personalities for Zoomer throughout the decade, including the Dalai Lama, Jann Arden, Christopher Plummer, Tony Bennett, Pamela Anderson and Bruce Springsteen.
In 2018, Adams travelled to Parliament Hill to compel the federal government to amend the Copyright Act to allow artists to obtain rights to their work 25 years after a music label or company bought them. That same year, Pretty Woman: The Musical, for which Adams and long-time song writing partner Jim Vallance wrote the score, landed on Broadway before heading to London’s West End in February 2020.
And in 2019, the year Adams turned 60, the rocker saved a whale from hunters and published Bryan Adams: Homeless in May, a photo book of portraits of people living on London’s streets, with the proceeds going to the U.K.-based homelessness charity The Big Issue Foundation. Did we mention that this all happened as he travelled the world on his Shine a Light tour?
In a 2014 Zoomer cover story, journalist Brian D. Johnson asked the rocker about aging, career longevity and the possibility of slowing down.
“I don’t sit and think about how I’m going to make myself rock in my old age,” Adams replied. “I’m grateful and I love singing and I’m going to carry on doing it as long as people like it and as long as I’m loving it, too.”
Then, as Johnson noted, he seized on one of his lyrics and added, “I’ll answer that question with one phrase: ‘18 till I die.’ ”
While some celebrities embrace a public facade, Jann Arden, 57, isn’t afraid to bare it all — which she did twice in Zoomer over the past decade.
The Canadian singer-songwriter celebrated aging and turning 50 by penning a cover story for the April 2012 issue and posing in her birthday suit for the cover, photographed by Bryan Adams. She wrote that posing in the buff “appealed to my sense of frustration with body image in mainstream beauty and fashion” and that she aimed to make a statement about women learning to love themselves as they are.
Five years later, Arden bared it all again — this time her soul— in a second Zoomer cover story about caring for her parents as they battled dementia and Alzheimer’s. Her father died in 2015 and her mother in 2018, and Arden used the illnesses to connect with people around the world facing similar struggles. In 2017, she wrote Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives With Memory Loss, a combination cookbook and memoir, while her 2018 album These Are the Days included songs about caring for her ailing mother.
And while the decade contained numerous high spots for Arden as well — carrying the Olympic torch at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, the release of four studio albums, the 2019 debut of a highly rated sitcom based on a fictional version of her life called Jann and receiving both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012) and the Order of Canada (2017) — it’s the authenticity, vulnerability and strength she showed in the face of adversity that endeared her most to fans around the world.
Forget aging — if anyone exemplifies the notion of “forever young,” it’s Tony Bennett, a 93-year-old music legend who spent the last decade setting records, topping charts and bridging the generation gap in the music industry.
In 2011, Bennett, then 85, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart for the first time in his career with his Duets II album, becoming the oldest living artist to ever achieve the feat. The record lasted three years, when he broke it again at age 88 with his Grammy-winning duets album with Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek.
“I’m anti-demographic,” Bennett told writer Jacob Richler in a 2012 Zoomer cover story. “I never liked when [the record labels] split it up and said this is your music, and your parents like something else … if you’re an entertainer, you’re really just supposed to sing to an audience. You don’t care what their ages are.”
In 2016, Bennett marked his 90th birthday with a star-studded Radio City Music Hall tribute that aired on NBC. But far from resting on his laurels, in 2018 he set a Guinness World Record for “longest time between the release of an original recording and a re-recording of the same single by the same artist” when he debuted a new recording of the song “Fascinating Rhythm” nearly 69 years after releasing the original.
Bennett still records and tours, and he explained why music remains so important to him when Zoomer caught up with him in 2016.
“There’s so many things in life that bring the public down and make them unhappy. And the one hour that I perform, I try to lift up their spirits and make them feel good about life. And when they feel good, I sleep well.”
Few late-career renaissances rival that of Leonard Cohen who, undeterred by aging, enjoyed the most fruitful period of his career in the last decade.
Between 2010 and his death in 2016, Cohen released three studio albums and one live album, including Old Ideas which, in 2012, became the highest charting album of the then 78-year-old’s career. His next two albums — Popular Problems and You Want It Darker — topped the charts in Canada and abroad, with the latter snagging him the Grammy for Best Rock Performance.
During that time period, he also performed sold-out world tours and beat out the likes of Justin Bieber for the 2013 Juno Award for Artist of the Year — much to the chagrin of Beliebers everywhere. And then, as his life drew to a close in 2016, Cohen offered a blueprint for a graceful exit.
While living with cancer, the troubadour worked with son Adam Cohen to record and release You Want It Darker and lay down tracks for a posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, which dropped to the surprised delight of fans in November 2019.
Other posthumous releases and accolades include Cohen’s 2018 book of poetry, The Flame, induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame, a major career retrospective at Montreal’s Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and two murals of him painted on buildings in the city.
“To fill stadiums and arenas at the end of his life, to be at the summit of his powers, to have this triumphant and unusual ending, was delicious,” Cohen’s son, Adam, told Zoomer in November 2019. “He wouldn’t admit to it as freely as I am, but I think it was surprising and delicious.”
The 2010s began on a high note for Dion, including being voted the most popular musical act in America, the launch of a Las Vegas residency, a new perfume and hit albums in both French (Sans attendre, 2012) and English (Loved Me Back to Life, 2013). But by 2014 the health of her husband and manager, René Angélil, worsened, and in January 2016 both Angélil and Dion’s brother, Daniel, died of cancer within two days of each other.
Dion subsequently retreated from the spotlight, emerging later in 2016 ready to move forward with her life. She played sold-out concerts and released new music, including the song “How Does a Moment Last Forever” for the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast film. Heading into 2019, she made headlines with her wardrobe at Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week, went viral with a new version of her Titanic mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On” on The Late Late Show’s “Carpool Karaoke,” and announced a new English language album — Courage — and ensuing world tour.
And in November 2019, Dion, at 51, topped the Billboard album charts for the first time in 17 years with Courage — edging out Whitney Houston as the woman with the longest period between No. 1 albums. With that, she joined Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Barbra Streisand as the only four women to score No. 1 albums in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.
Yes, aging comes with its share of difficulties. But Dion remains a musical powerhouse and a paragon of strength and inspiration for starting anew in mid-life, after heartbreak.
Elton John stands as a prime example of the fact that, although aging is a natural part of life, there’s no need to grow stale.
At 72, John closed out the decade as one of the most celebrated musical artists in the world with the release of his hit biopic, Rocketman (which landed three Golden Globe nominations including for Best Original Song ), his autobiography, Me, and his ongoing Farewell Yellow Brick Road retirement tour — which made him the top-selling touring artist in the United States.
The pace John kept in 2019 is par for the course for the last decade, during which the rock legend became a father, released three studio albums and collaborated on others — including revisiting his Oscar-winning Lion King soundtrack for the rebooted 2019 film — toured the world, played his 3,000th concert, enjoyed a three-year residency in Las Vegas, began scoring a stage musical version of the film The Devil Wears Prada and championed his Elton John AIDS Foundation. Oh, and he also overcame prostate cancer, complications following prostate surgery, and a life-threatening bacterial infection he contracted in South America.
And with his retirement tour and other projects continuing into the 2020s, there’s no reason to think that John won’t land on this same list at the end of the next decade as well.
Madonna made a career of blazing trails and breaking barriers, but the 2010s saw the Material Girl take on a new roadblock: ageism.
In 2014, at the age of 56, Florian Philpott, vice-president of France’s National Front Party referred to her as “Granny Gaga” after Madonna criticized the party’s success in that year’s European Parliament elections. She also took heat for wearing outfits that revealed her buttocks at both the 2015 Grammy Awards and 2016 Met Ball.
Madonna responded on Instagram in 2016. “The fact that people actually believe a woman is not allowed to express her sexuality and be adventurous past a certain age is proof that we still live in an ageist and sexist society.”
She took on BBC Radio 1 in a similar battle in 2015, levelling charges of ageism when they wouldn’t play her latest single, “Living for Love.”
“We’ve made so many advances in other areas — civil rights, gay rights,” she told the U.K.’s Sun, “but ageism is still an area that’s taboo and not talked about and dealt with.”
And earlier this year, Madonna told Vogue that, “Now I’m fighting ageism, now I’m being punished for turning 60,” noting that it’s the latest “hook” for haters “to hang their beef about me being alive on.”
Some may punish her for turning 60, but Madonna’s bucking of stereotypes associated with aging earned her laurels from fans around the world. And in 2016, Billboard magazine named Madonna their “Woman of the Year,” for which she delivered a candid speech about her life and the lessons she learned about double standards pertaining to women and aging.
“To age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio.” She, however, added toward the end of her speech, “I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones and every day I count my blessings.”
In 2017 Dolly Parton offered Zoomer some simple advice about aging: “Don’t think old.” And at 73, the country music legend doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks the walk — in heels no less.
Parton enjoyed a career resurgence in the last decade that began in 2014, the same year her album Blue Smoke charted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, a personal high for a solo album. That June, she captivated a crowd of 100,000 partygoers — some young enough to be her grandchildren — at the famed Glastonbury Festival, leading to a resurgence of all things Dolly.
That included a 2015 Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors TV movie on NBC, a viral collaboration with the hit a cappella group Pentatonix on a reimagined version of her classic “Jolene” in 2016 and, that same year, a new album, Pure & Simple, and 60-city North American tour — her largest in decades.
In the ensuing years, she released her first children’s album, appeared at the 2017 Emmys alongside her 9 to 5 co-stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, enjoyed a Grammy tribute in 2019 and was named the 2019 MusiCares Person of the Year (the first country artist to received the honour). A Netflix miniseries based on her songs, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, also launched in 2019, as well as a Hallmark holiday special called Christmas at Dollywood, a stage production called Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol and Dolly Parton’s America, a podcast exploring her music and legacy.
Parton’s legend grows with every generation, to the point that she’s transcended music and spawns headlines like “Can Dolly Parton save the country?” and “Is There Anything We Can All Agree On? Yes: Dolly Parton.” Which is all to say that aging only makes Parton more relevant.
“I wake up with new dreams every day,” she said during a 2016 stop in Toronto, “and I hope to never retire, because I love my work.”
Diana Ross received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016) and the American Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award (2017) within five years — a sign, some would suggest, that the recipient’s most vital days are behind them. But not Ross.
Instead the Motown legend owned the last decade from the get-go, embarking on a massive 2010 North American tour that, thanks to overwhelming demand, was extended for two years. From there she enjoyed multiple Las Vegas residencies and dropped the 2017 compilation album Diamond Diana, The Legacy Collection (released in conjunction with a fragrance), which included a remixed version of her hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that landed the then-73-year-old a top the Billboard dance charts — a feat she matched in 2018 and 2019.
The Motown legend continues to tour (and is known to invite her grandchildren onto the stage with her), including a headline performance at the Glastonbury Festival in 2020. But it was her appearance at the 2019 Grammy Awards that epitomized how Ross embraces aging.
After being introduced by her nine-year-old grandson, Raif-Henok Emmanuel Kendrick — who noted, “Young people like me can look up to her for her independence, confidence and willingness to be her unique self” — Ross took the stage to rousing applause. “Together we have no limits. You can learn, dream, unlock new doors. All is possible,” she said, shouting, “Happy birthday to me!”
The moment became an instant hit on social media, as Ross’ actual 75th birthday wasn’t for another month and a half.
Aging has a way of slowing some of us down, but the Boss, who turned 70 in 2019, proved an exception. In fact, he showed off his endurance with various four hour-plus concerts over the last decade, including a 2016 Philadelphia show that clocked in at four hours and four minutes, his longest ever American show. That same year he danced with an 88-year-old woman at the same Toronto concert where he decided to crowd surf.
Musically, he didn’t skip a beat either. His first two albums of the decade, Wrecking Ball (2012) and High Hopes (2014), tied and then eclipsed Elvis Presley for third most No. 1 albums in history with 11, while his 2017 stage show Springsteen on Broadway became one of the most coveted tickets on the Great White Way.
The “Born in the U.S.A.” singer also remained plugged into the American consciousness, using his platform for everything from boycotting performances in North Carolina following the passing of a prejudicial transgender bathroom law in 2016 to performing at a Hillary Clinton campaign event. And if that’s not enough, Springsteen’s 500-page autobiography, Born to Run, topped bestseller lists while the rock legend received the Presidential Medal of Honour.
Springsteen closed out the decade by once again breaking new ground, making his directorial debut with the documentary Western Stars, about his new album of the same name, which premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
And, of course, the Boss enters the new decade on the cover of Zoomer magazine’s January/February 2020 issue courtesy of an exclusive photo by Bryan Adams.