When it comes to pop stars and the media, where do you draw the line between reality and sensation? Are the lines too blurred?
Lady Gaga and Katy Perry entered a fierce competition weeks before either of their comeback singles surfaced on radio playlists and in lyric videos. Clickable headlines like “Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry: Fall’s Pop Star Showdown” or “Will Katy Perry or Lady Gaga Have the Better Song?” blazed across social media platforms and talk show tickers this summer, manipulating many people into thinking the two artists have beef. But as “Applause” and “Roar” burst onto the airwaves, both musicians made a point to dissolve these money-amassing ruses by supporting each other and demanding positive attitudes from their fan bases on Twitter and in interviews. So why all the drama?
Pot-stirring drama has always been around where press relies on sensational, relatable content to generate conversation and revenue for their own agenda. It’s becoming clearer and clearer, however, that the especially fast coverage of female pop stars and their imaginary, forced rivalries is a problematic means for hype and cultural exposure. By comparing and speaking for iconic women in our nation’s pop world, we’re diluting their unique talents.
Last month’s MTV Video Music Awards presentation was one of 2013’s epicenters for comparison and fabricated drama. Gaga and Perry respectively opened and closed the show, creating a polarizing and immediate tension that ran through the entire night. Surprisingly, neither was able to stand out in the VMA’s spectacular style because the American public was busy detesting Miley Cyrus’ performance with Robin Thicke. For all the wrong reasons, Gaga was cornered and labeled as “out of ideas” while Perry “underwhelmed.” In reality, both put on immaculate shows with consistent themes. It’s painfully ironic, then, that the heavily negative critiques of Cyrus’ sexualized and appropriated dance moves were elevated to a level of attention-grabbing hysteria that led to absurdly harsh critiques of Gaga and Perry. Thus, American media critics dismissed three strong female idols. Instead of evaluating each individually and based on their own career arcs and performances, they were grouped and bashed together.
It’s especially disturbing to think about how often this happens to female celebrities: We shame Cyrus for becoming blatantly sexual and quietly shake our heads when Taylor Swift has breakup songs about multiple partners. Beyoncé’s image as the “perfect” woman of pop gets obliterated when she lip-synchs the national anthem once, and Rihanna’s still portrayed as the sucker when she keeps her former assailant in her life. At the end of the day, they’re all brilliant and life-changing live performers, and their music will always finds its way into our daily routines and future memories. Instead of letting their private lives and artistic influences shape our opinions of them, we should evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as artists in a country that’s slowly becoming an accepting, progressive place. But before we’re able to critique each star alone, we need to remove the double standard that stifles so many women in pop.
The acrid reaction that America had to Cyrus’ latex grind-fest is the perfect example — she was not only wrongfully stealing from a culture that she knew nothing about, but was also viewed as a sexual heretic for dramatically sticking her tongue out and wagging her butt. Inversely, Robin Thicke’s participation in her act was pitied and sympathized with, as if the star was tainting his saintly presence with her gyrating behind. The truth is that American males in pop culture can get away with a vast array of sexual innuendos and violent acts for which women would be endlessly criticized. If Cyrus portrayed a toned-down, demure image that night, she would have been roasted for failing to create a spectacle — so she created a spectacle and chose the opposite end edge of the sword to fall on.
This need to compare and debase icons isn’t going to stop. However, our awareness of the media industry’s rapid building up and tearing down of pop culture’s most powerful women can be strengthened. In the future, an extravagant event like the VMAs can be more about artistic expression and harmless shock than about the shameful judgment of the entertainers who sweat and strain to present something new and exciting every year.