Pop Fame and How It Uses You: Mick, Kanye, and the rest of us
The casual observer, the type who may indeed be unable (or unwilling) to identify the product, to put a name to the face, is yet prey to the side-effects of any particular pop-icon’s off-track ramblings. When the pop star inserts him/herself into the wider spheres of opinion, or feels obliged to sound off on something beyond their own artistic output, the situation becomes dicey, and we end up with something like the proposition of Matthew McConaughey running for political office; in the state of Texas no less.
How the famous handle fame, or the wider opportunities afforded by their given platform, becomes, by default, part of the package; the part of the package that has the above otherwise disinterested consumer finally voicing an opinion on, say, Kanye West. This also goes to the question of how much money any one person needs (or deserves) and what really underlies the quest for renown once one is sitting on their own First National Bank. It goes to the social conundrum and over-riding cultural aspects of: power, that addictive substance that stands side-by-side with abiding renown.
Fame is undeniably corrosive, as attested to by the, well, famous. I recall Mick Jagger being queried about Amy Winehouse and he said something along the lines of how fame makes one a little bit crazy (thrown into the maelstrom, as it were), but when further queried about any advice he might offer Ms. Winehouse, he was quick to reply, “absolutely not”. Which might be the best approach — to simply step back and mind one’s business.
There is a notable minority of pop stars who refuse any and all requests for interviews or statements on any particular topic, or indeed, their artistic output. Mick Jagger, in this case kept his opinions to himself, while on other occasions he has been all too willing to sound off, case in point being when he was, after the infamous 1967 Redlands bust, interviewed by the establishment figures of journalism, “the church”, and politics. Mick was flown in by helicopter to the mediated event, if you want to keep tabs on the excessive perks of fame and its attendant spectacles.
The Rolling Stones’ other half/better half (or vis versa), The Beatles, appear to be a somewhat good example of how to handle the pressures and responsibilities of over-the-top fame. To my eyes and ears, this had to do with (#1) their sense of humor, and (#2) the interior camaraderie and friendship among The Beatles themselves. They had a built-in support system (the kind you couldn’t deliberately plan for), which, as we all know, eventually wore itself out. In the meantime, John had his Jesus/Beatles misstep (though, in my opinion, he was essentially correct, rather than “right” about that) and then John segued himself out of The Beatles and into social-art-activism via his other support system, Yoko Ono.
Mr. Lennon eventually chose to withdrew (for a period of time); there being the kind of pop star more than willing to disappear, to obscure themselves, avoid the limelight, case in point being the singer Sade, who is still able, on occasion, to make a respectable “come back”. As she puts it, “I’m uneasy with fame, so I do my best to avoid places that will bring me more attention”. She has testified to the absolutely nutty circumstance of finding a paparazzo hanging upside-down outside her window trying to get an “exclusive”. Sade is understated or strategic, but the fans themselves might be irritated by the star who belly-aches about fame, or denounces it as an imposition. That other Beatle, Mike Nesmith of The Monkees, when asked on David Letterman if fame and its prying eye (at the height of The Monkees) was unnerving, gave the off-hand reply that “it’s part of the deal”, this while appearing in the blandest of celebrity-disguising business suits.
This brings us up to date, when all the publicity agents, franchising and spin-offs are still in place, but with the hyper-speed social media add-ons that instantly loop how stupid one can sound under its un-retractable conditions. George Clooney has stated that he doesn’t use Twitter because he would be Tweeting at night and he prefers to drink at night, which sounds, for a Hollywood star, about as smart as you could get. On the other hand, we have the social media debacle of Nicki Minaj, who manages to get in Twitter spats with of-all-people Piers Morgan (amongst many others). And I don’t want to get into a social media spat, so it’s best to say that after a few choice “statements” by either of those parties, I find myself obliged to cut off the oxygen supply, that is, the noise might be juicy but it’s packed with empty calories.
Fame is a two-way street: there must be the fan, being the diminutive of: fanatic, itself an over-the-top equation. Nicki Minaj has “The Barbz”, Lady Gaga “The Little Monsters”, contingents who have sworn undying allegiance whether it’s through the CD bins of Walmart or on the battlefields of Twitter. The sheer scale of concern is out-of-whack, with “the leader” swept along in the stampede. Even with all that loot someone is still dissatisfied. The counter-weight of someone like Nora Jones comes to mind. Jones hit the big, big time with her debut album Come Away with Me and as she uneasily watched sales skyrocketing, she naively asked her label if they could simply stop selling the thing.
It’s not like I don’t try, in my own inimitable way, to be famous. Americans like me tend to insert themselves into whatever late night talk show is on the air. Show biz is ever-present. But I was never truly entranced by gold. Nevertheless, I’m obliged to consider my public sentiments, unless I unaccountably slip into the rant, which can veer into the embarrassing. No matter how wide the bandwidth, it’s always an act, an actor. Actors tell us not to confuse the character with the “real” person, but the off-stage presence is certainly part of the act, a script that defaults to a responsible self or yet another publicity agent. I’m not famous, but I also hope my act avoids the tropes of greed, spite, and egotism, things hard to avoid, but I can, at the very least, not broadcast negative qualities at large.
DāM-FunK, the L.A. based musician/singer, signed to Stones Throw Records, a so-called alt or underground hip-hop concern (for the most part), a circumstance that would keep one’s career on a certain and/or reasonable scale while yet maintaining success, consistently Tweets out messages like, “It’s all in the way we use our mind. Stay mentally sound. We can do it.” or “Keep it fantasy. . . that’s refreshing”. Now that’s not so hard, is it?
“How Did Kayne West Get Here: Chronicle of the first misstep of the world’s most questioned rapper” — Kiratas, September 21, 2021
“World in Action — Mick Jagger-1967-Part One of Two” - YouTube video
“BED PEACE starring John Lennon & Yoko Ono (1969) — YouTube video
“Sade Is Uneasy About Fame” — MTV online magazine, February 18, 2010
“Michael Nesmith (Monkees) on David Letterman” — YouTube video
“Nicki Minaj’s COVID-19 vaccine tweet about swollen testicles signals the dangers of celebrity misinformation and fandom” — The Converstation, September 20, 2021
“Piers Morgan Defends Article Bashing Nicki Minaj: I’m Not Remotely Sexist, Nor Racist” — The Wrap, July 22, 2015
“Nicki Minaj’s Dark Bargain with her Fans” — The New Yorker, Carrie Battan, September 3, 2018
DāM-FunK Twitter account