Superstar musicians don't die, they're only murdered. Superstar musicians rarely make their own artistic choices, they're controlled by a higher, sinister power. Just consult any of the mega-conspiracy theories that rule music.
Conspiracy theories aren't unique to music. But music is especially suited to conspiracy theorists.
"Rock has always been fertile ground for the sowing and growing of such myths," Andrew Mueller wrote for the Guardian. "And little wonder: The field is disproportionately populated by people who are overendowed with spare time, money, hallucinogenic drugs and delusions of grandeur, and/or correspondingly underequipped with common sense."
The Internet has provided us with access to the craziest, most concerning and undeniably entertaining conspiracy theories in the world. This is a working list of some of the biggest.
1. The Illuminati is using hip-hop to create a New World Order.
According to the Internet, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West and Nas all belong to a secret Bavarian cult founded in the 17th century, popularly known as the Illuminati. Since the Bavarian Illuminati's dissolution in the mid-1780s, rumor has it that it persisted underground, governing world affairs from behind the scenes. The cult supposedly has taken a special interest in hip-hop, attempting to use the genre to promote Satanic ideals of violence and materialism.
Sites like Illuminati Watcher provide almost every hip-hop and pop music video or televised performance with a thorough conspiracy theorist treatment, looking for Satanic symbology and other suggestive materials. The way the theory specifically target black hip-hop artists reveals its fundamentally racist undertones. It subtly argues that black artists couldn't possibly be successful unless they were aided by a Satanic organization.
2. Music executives invented gangsta rap in order to fill prisons.
This one has been bouncing around the Internet since at least 2012, when the blog Hip-Hop Is Read posted an anonymous letter written by a self-proclaimed music industry "decision maker." In the letter, the writer describes attending a meeting with music industry leaders and representatives from the burgeoning privately owned prison system. The leader of the meeting claims that the music industry has invested money in this prison system and encouraged marketing "music which promotes criminal behavior, rap being the music of choice."
After describing the meeting in full, the writer bemoans the decision to go along with this seditious plan: "I see how the criminalization of rap music played a big part in promoting racial stereotypes and misguided so many impressionable young minds into adopting these glorified criminal behaviors which often lead to incarceration."
It's one of the less far-fetched theories on this list. Credible scholars have postulated that the music industry did deliberately promote black artists who told gangster stories because they believed that a sense of danger is what white consumers were looking for in rap music. But doing so as a way to encourage people to commit crimes and fill prisons? That may be a bit of a stretch.
3. Stevie Wonder is not blind.
Wonder lost his sight after his birth in 1950 due to damaged retinas resulting from birth and hospital conditions. But according to Internet truthers, he's actually been sighted this whole time — we're the ones who have been blind.
Deadspin writer Greg Howard did a thorough investigation last year, evaluating evidence from various truther blogs and interviews with ESPN personality Bomani Jones, who has been quite vocal over the years in his belief that Wonder can see. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence is the above video of Wonder catching a falling microphone at a concert at the White House. Or this video where he hugs a man he's singing with on The Oprah Show. Slightly suspicious but ultimately ridiculous.
4. Paul McCartney is dead.
The guy performing these days with West and Rihanna, the guy who formed Wings, the guy who wrote "Let It Be" and much of the greatest pop music of all time is not Paul McCartney. This man is a nearly identical replacement. The real McCartney apparently died in 1966. According to The Beatles Bible, the first known reference to this conspiracy theory occurred in a September 1969 edition of the Drake University newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa. The writer admitted it was only for entertainment, but other pranksters and journalists soon picked up on it and the rumor ballooned to mammoth proportions.
Truthers have scraped together long lists of sonic and visual clues that they say the Beatles left for fans throughout their recordings, one being an ending line of "I'm So Tired" that when played backward says: "Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him." McCartney himself playfully denied the rumors in November 1969 edition of Life magazine, quoting Mark Twain to say, "If I was dead, I'm sure I'd be the last to know." Though that only added fuel to those fires.
5. The CIA murdered John Lennon.
Lennon was too much of a legend to be killed by some deranged nobody. It had to be someone or something bigger — an organization like the CIA. Phil Strongman and Fenton Bresler have written books on the subject, unpacking some of the shadier details surrounding his murder in 1980 in New York City.
Both cite Lennon's political ideologies as cause. In his book Bresler quotes radio journalist and queen of conspiracy Mae Brussell. "It was a conspiracy," Bressler claimed. "Reagan had just won the election. They knew what kind of president he was going to be. There was only one man who could bring out a million people on demonstration in protest at his policies — and that was Lennon." That last statement at least is true.
6. Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain.
This conspiracy got a fresh breath of life in March 2014 when Seattle police released never-before-seen photo evidence of Cobain's death scene. The police confirmed the old ruling — that his death in 1994 in Seattle was a suicide. But this still hasn't put the rumors to bed. The most oft-cited piece of evidence that his death couldn't have been a suicide is that he died with a lethal dose of heroin in his veins, yet still somehow managed to shoot himself with a 20-gauge shotgun.
Love has long been one of the most plausible suspects. Love's own father, Hank Harrison, came forward in May 2014 to blame her for Cobain's death. "I can't prove she pulled the trigger, but I can prove her involvement to a high degree of certainty," he told Radar Online. The book he claims will prove that involvement has yet to get a wide release.
7. Led Zeppelin worshipped Satan and tried to brainwash their listeners.
In 1982, televangelist Paul Crouch dedicated an episode of his show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network to unpacking subliminal Satanic messages in rock 'n' roll. He played a segment of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" backward, saying it revealed a backmasked Satanic message. The clip in question does sound surprisingly similar to the following lyrics: "Here's to my sweet Satan / The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan / He will give those with him 666 / There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan."
According to the band, it's simply a strange coincidence. "Who on Earth would have ever thought of doing that?" Robert Plant once said as reported by Rolling Stone. "You've got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider that people would do that."
8. Elvis is alive.
In all likelihood, Elvis left the building in 1977. But the rumors that he's alive still haven't. In January, on what would have been Elvis' 80th birthday, Newsweek ran a piece looking into the conspiracy theory. They ran down all the evidence such as the supposed misspelling of his name on his gravestone, questionable photos from his funeral and the secrecy surrounding his autopsy — secrecy which was likely simply orchestrated to "protect the reputation of the hospital that had treated him," as Salon shared in an excerpt from Elvis Presley: A Southern Life.
9. Tupac is alive.
No one has ever been arrested for the murder of Tupac, one of the most influential rappers of all time. Why is that? "Because Tupac not dead," music mogul Suge Knight told TMZ in May 2014, "If he was dead, they'd be arresting those dudes for murder. You know he's somewhere smoking a Cuban cigar on an island."
The rumors began shortly after he was shot to death after a Mike Tyson fight in September 1996 in Las Vegas. Every so often, fans share new photo evidence that he's still alive. But no one, not even the CIA, has any solid proof of his whereabouts. Probably because he was cremated. Because contrary to popular belief legends do die. All the impersonators claiming they're prolonging his life and legacy aren't exactly helping the rumors fade.
10. Britney Spears was employed by the Bush administration.
Idolator was the first to break this conspiracy in a 2007 article "An Idolator Conspiracy Theory: Is Britney Spears 'In the Zone' With the White House?" They claimed all of Spears' headline-grabbing outbursts were timed to line up with political scandals as a way to distract from the Bush administration's incompetence.
"Her most recent public outburst — during which the singer ducked out of rehab and shaved her head — was an especially headline-grabbing feat, one that just happened to occur as Bush was announcing the reformation of al-Qaida," Idolator wrote. She definitely was a fervent supporter of Bush, as the above CNN interview proves. "Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes," she says. Very suspicious indeed.
11. The Iranian government killed Michael Jackson.
When news broke that Jackson had died at his Los Angeles home on June 25, 2009, the response was so massive it pushed all other news out of the way. The flood of RIP tweets even broke Twitter for a time, replacing #IranElection as Twitter's top trending topic. According to some pundits, this prevented Iranian protesters from using the service to organize protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's manipulation of the recent election, effectively killing the movement's momentum.
Following similar reasoning to the above Spears conspiracy, theories that Ahmadinejad had Jackson killed in order to quell a possible Iranian revolution soon started popping up around the Internet. Though there never was and never will be any evidence to support these claims.