This past weekend a huge controversy occurred at the GRAMMYs. Let me break it down for you just in case you’re one of those magical people who can somehow tune pop culture news out. Prince swaggered on stage and everybody assumed he’d be handing the trophy over to Beyoncé for Album of the Year. It was just how it was supposed to be according to the masses. That is, until the surprise of the night happened and a scrawny middle-aged rocker won. Commence the world losing it’s shit. I’m not kidding. Twitter was a madhouse for a few minutes. Even days later the situation hasn’t calmed down since now multiple artists have come forward (a few more than others) giving their opinions on the entire situation at large.
It got me thinking and doing my favorite thing. Analyzing the complexities of pop culture. I have plenty of issues with celebrity and fan culture. I did my senior thesis on the culture of celebrity even. Today, I’m pondering the cult of celebrity. What do I mean by this? In the last year I’ve noticed a cult-like thinking for certain artists. One opinion or bust, you must agree. If you don’t, well, watch your back. The latest GRAMMYs dispute has brought this issue to the forefront of my mind again.
There are a handful of artists that have seemingly transcended from celebrity to an ethereal leader status. The celebrity has become infallible and cannot do anything wrong. Nothing negative exists about this artist. If you have those “impure” thoughts you must have a character flaw. How did we get to a point if we aren’t gushing about a celebrity we are in the wrong? Even mild disinterest can leave you open to attack. Anything different is outlawed and opposite beliefs are shunned. When did we accept the mindset of one ideal trumps all? What happened to disagreement and discourse? This line of thinking towards these celebrities borders on group think and collective narcissism which can both end up being very problematic mindsets.
I am all for being a hardcore fan of a celebrity. I mean, I practically pledged allegiance and signed my life away to One Direction. However, I am willing to criticize them when necessary. That doesn’t make me a bad person or bad fan. Criticism allows for growth and allows an artist to not stay complacent. Discussion is meant to be used as a tool of learning in the arts.
I’m using Beyoncé as an example because the current situation and her stature in pop culture are a perfect backdrop for the greater discussion. As I’ll repeat multiple times throughout this piece it has nothing to do against her except timing. Many other artists could be interchanged with the meaning of this post staying the same.
A person should be freely allowed to dislike something. They should also be able to criticize something if there is substance to the critique. Having these thoughts causes room for growth and knowledge for the celebrity and the public at large. For instance, I dislike the song “Drunk in Love” because of the Jay-Z line “eat the cake Anna Mae” because it’s making light of domestic violence. (Here’s the Urban Dictionary definition for explanation.) That creates a conversation. I’m not asking or giving free reign to bullshit and hatred such as gender, race, or genre for excuses to trash something.
On Sunday night after the big OMG moment of The GRAMMYs, I made a comment about how Beck’s album was wonderful, because it was, and I got harassed. I never put Beyoncé’s album down, I never even praised Beck’s album above the others. For simply sharing my belief that all the albums in the category that were nominated were worthy of that nomination I got sent a hate message. Am I still shocked Beyoncé didn’t win? Yes. Did her album have merit to win? Of course. Saying anybody else but Beyoncé couldn’t win is a slap at the artistry of music. Beck is an musician who plays multiple instruments, writes his own songs, has been in the industry for over three decades, and Morning Phase may be the highlight of his almost 20 album long career. If you look up reviews for Morning Phase, it was critically acclaimed across the board. The album had solid reasons behind the deserved nomination and according to The Recording Academy it deserved that win. Alternative music may not be as wide stream, but there are still artists worthy of nominations and awards too. It isn’t always about sales and mass appeal. Liking Beck over Beyoncé doesn’t mean you don’t have any taste in music or don’t understand what true talent is. We all like and appreciate different things. It means they are both wonderful artists in their own right and you can be a fan of whatever the fuck you want.
I am not saying you can’t be upset at Beyoncé’s loss and think she deserved the award more. However come up with good reasonings. I wanted to scream every time I saw anybody say Beyoncé should’ve won because she’s Beyoncé. That is not a good reason. Simply because you are a somebody does not give you the right to win an award, no matter how loved you are. That there is proof of what I’m saying about the cult of celebrity. Tell me Beyoncé should’ve won because her album was innovative and inspirational, or that it had a wide range of genres and tempos perfectly mixed, tell me anything other than she’s Beyoncé.
The way fans are handling somebody disagreeing with them is absurd. They have tarnished this moment for Beck, which should’ve been the biggest win of his career. It’s gross. It’s okay to stand up for your artist, but hacking Wikipedia pages and saying things like Beck committed an act of terrorism is ludicrous. Handle it like Beyoncé, with calm dignity. You damn well know she’ll use this determination to make an even better album somehow the next time around. (Here would be appropriate to say “Because she’s Beyoncé.)
Do I wonder if there’s bigger societal issues in Beck’s win at play? Of course. It’s possible due to the basic structure of our society. So many of our systems are entrenched in longstanding and engrained issues that we are still working through. Even if you believe Beck’s album was solid and worthy of winning Album of the Year, it’s good to have this proper discourse and look at every angle. We just have to act like adults.
Now, I want to make it perfectly clear I think Beyoncé deserves every ounce of recognition she’s gotten. She has had an incredible career. As both a solo artist and in a group, she has accumulated multiple records and feats that many other musicians haven’t achieved. Beyoncé has some of the biggest sales numbers in the world. She also had a massive hand in shaping the music industry. That’s not even going into the massive props she deserves for bringing up social activism in her music.
Beyoncé is far from alone in achieving pedestal status. It’s becoming more of a norm for celebrities to be viewed as this “other” – I don’t know when or how we decided a celebrity is suddenly untouchable. What’s the criteria for not being an average celebrity, but an infallible one?
In spring of 2014 Saturday Night Live jokingly spoofed this ever increasingly mindset with the popular sketch “The Beygency” – while theirs was just to poke fun, it hints at a bigger issue. SNL is a comedy show, but they often tackle issues through laughter. The fact that the cult of celebrity was even a topic brought up, says that there’s something to the subject in our society. It’s borderline ridiculous that you can’t disagree without fearing for retribution even though it commonly occurs in our lives each day with these certain celebrities.
I’ve talked to a few other writers and many don’t even dare to bring up any issues surrounding certain celebrities. If they ever take the chance the articles end up being full of hate comments and troll comments. Absolutely no discussion. To be honest, I’m terrified of publishing this and not even because it’s the most controversial thing I’ve written. It’s because the fans are overzealous and may miss that I’m not criticizing Beyoncé or any other artist in any form, but examining our stance with celebrities.
Maybe this is all subjective. It could be the corner of the world I exist in. It could be the way I view pop culture as a form of discussion. I view the best and worst in all artists and art forms. Take Taylor Swift for example. Anybody that knows me can pick up that homegirl is not my favorite person out there. While I may have issues with her marketing and image, I can still easily give her praise if it’s due. When I discuss Taylor with two of my closest friends who are diehard Swifties I always try to verbalize my problems with Swift in a meaningful way. I look for wider effects in pop culture.
Maybe this cult like mindset is spread across all fandoms? An instinct to defend their favorite. Fan culture and celebrity culture are two beasts that we have created, there’s no denying that. In the modern day age of social media and paparazzi they’ve gotten even more out of control. The cult of celebrity is just one of many problems. Is it our fault for entitling these actions?
I don’t have any definitive answers to any of this. I’m one person with my own set of opinions who enjoys pondering pop culture that is playing out. Right now this cult like mindset of only one chosen system of ideals accepted for a handful of celebrities makes me uncomfortable. It may only be in music I’ve noticed it so far and many may consider it a brush off topic, but the ease at which we’ve assimilated to group think is uneasy. I think celebrity inspiration can be good to a point, but when we start treating them as gods does it get unhealthy? Will this mindset leech into other aspects of our lives? It’s easier and more simple than it sounds. All I can say with certainty is that I feel uncomfortable with the cult of celebrity status that has shrouded the entertainment industry.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable by the mindset many fans have about their favorite artists?
P.S. – For something a little more lighthearted, but still music related, why don’t you expose yourself to the artists I think will become huge in 2015.
Until next time,