There was a time when stars were more like the celestial bodies they are named for, mysterious and unattainable. Prince’s two-syllable interview non-responses and the mystery hands covering Janet’s breasts on Rolling Stone (that turned out to be her secret husband) come to mind. The most dynamic cultural icons kept you wanting more by staying slightly out of reach.
Cue the internet age. Fans are now privy to the most miniscule details of their favorite celebrity’s life. What they ate for breakfast and what kind of toothbrush they used afterwards is just a click away. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
To be fair, the internet has made everyone more open. It demands that we continuously generate content for one another. Celebrities are not immune to the new kind of intimacy and community social media creates.
A New Kind of Star
Making stars used to be the job of an exclusive group of gatekeepers. Editors, studio heads, label executives and the like engineered what the story of the day or the phenomenon of the summer would be. That system has been blown to smithereens.
Well-established stars scoffed at Facebook and Twitter at first. Then they realized cat videos and GIFs were stealing their spotlight, and suddenly became keen to open up.
“Celebrity” has been democratized with the public setting the news cycle. Anyone can be one. If you can connect with people and keep them interested, you can build a career, whether your medium is video or 140 characters or less. Regular folks are using techniques previously reserved for the old guard of gatekeepers to promote themselves. A well-placed piece of news and a devout following birth a star.
Playing the Online Fame Game
Rihanna, named the top Social Networking Superstar by Forbes, and Chris Brown crooned that their tumultuous love affair was “Nobody’s Business” on her recent album. Days after its release, intimate photos of the pair were posted on their respective Instagram accounts. Both of which have millions of followers.
It’s a contradiction many stars play out (hello Robert). They want a personal life, but like many social media users, they can’t seem to keep anything to themselves. The ones that do are criticized for not giving fans enough. The once private Beyoncé has made a foray into social media. Yet she’s still met with cries for more personal footage.
Going offline is not an option for the new generation of celebrity. Forums, blogs, and overzealous fans work around the clock to predict and perpetuate gossip. Social media gives stars an avenue to take control and elevate the conversation above the salacious. The trouble is many of them have no clue how to do that.
New Game, Old Tricks
To be a new age phenomenon, social media is based on old school principles. It’s about forging personal connections. Whether they’re on the playground or tweeting to millions, it is up to the individual to decide how to connect with another person. Gossip and private matters grab attention, but there are other things to talk about.
Some stars on catching on. Tracee Ellis Ross and Angela Simmons have launched websites based on their lifestyle interests. Starlet Jurnee Smollett uses her Twitter feed to bring attention to social issues.
Social media has created an audience that recognizes its power and wants to engage everything on a deeper level. Many in the public eye are still learning that a deeper level doesn’t always equal the tawdry or inane details of their private business. Forbes breaks it down like this:
We’re looking for celebrities who will acknowledge their dependence on us and their engagement with us. We want celebrities in fact who will admit that they are like us and… will also show us how they are different, bolder, more outspoken, funnier but not distant.”
Social media shrinks the distance between the stars and the rest of us, but we still want them to shine a little brighter.