Two things got me to thinking about today’s topic: Chuck D’s call to Kanye and Jay-Z to give listeners more meaningful music and the release of a 911 tape, on which Nicki Minaj can be heard screaming after getting struck in the face by her alleged beau (which she originally claimed to be false). What exactly is it, if anything, that celebrities owe their fans? Are they required merely to stay entertaining and die? Are they obligated to contribute to the greater good of society? By means of their influence or simply by giving to charity? Do they have to let us in to their personal lives? What is it?
There is no one definitive answer to that question, as we all view our relationship to people of note very differently. First Lady Michelle Obama considers Beyonce to be a roll model; others have challenged her sexually provocative music and denounced her as a bad influence on the nation’s youth. The same can be said for her husband and his rise from dope dealer to millionaire mogul; one observer’s inspirational tale is another’s commentary on the depravity of our society. However, the very common feeling that we are to have certain expectations of our celebs is worth examining.
Personally, I agree with Chuck D when it comes to his flip of “Otis”, in which he asked the creators of The Throne to be mindful of the fact that most people who look like them are in the midst of “a great depression” when sitting down to craft odes to consumate materialism that actually point fun at listeners for not having the same means to travel the world, shop, etc. Rap has always been heavy when it comes to boasting about having things, but there’s a big difference between name checking a pair of sneak that is widely attainable versus describing affluence that most people could not even fathom. This isn’t coming back to the hood and saying “If I can do it, you can do it.” We honestly cannot do what these two have done and what they have achieved wouldn’t be so remarkable if we could. So when someone asks them to look down from that ‘throne’ and feed the peasants something more substantial than a description of a meal they cannot afford, I have to say…that’s a pretty reasonable expectation.
When the incident occurred between Nicki Minaj and her maybe-boyfriend last month, she almost immediately took to Twitter to inform the world that she couldn’t have been the victim of domestic violence, because old boy lived to tell the tale. Now we have a 911 call that makes it seem like she may have been dishonest about that. I’m not going to jump out the window and assume she lied, but let’s just say that she did…is she simply flexing her right to protect her privacy and her brand? Or doing her fans a major disservice by pretending that a “strong” woman can’t be a victim? Many people called on Rihanna to be the poster child for domestic violence after her assault, something that she vehemently refused to do; in fact, it seems her label went even harder in branding her as “Hard”, her hit single by that name being but one example of such. What do these PR moves say about partner violence and our inability to talk about it productively? Did these women need to let their stories be known (Rihanna did sit down for a number of interviews to discuss her history of abuse at the hands of Chris Brown, but didn’t take on the activist role that some had wanted for her)? I’m not sure myself.
We love to say “it’s just entertainment” when it comes to decidedly apolitical art or that which glorifies antisocial behavior, yet we have been faced with an abundance of evidence that suggests otherwise. People of all ages look to entertainers for cues on how to behave because our society is celebrity obsessed. We’d rather follow stars than those who make it their business to promote revolution, healthy living or the betterment of humanity, for a myriad of reasons- the most glaring being displaced values, apathy and brainwashing by corporate entities. But it’s so much bigger than Hip-Hop, Pop or the gossip that comes from either of the two.
So, dear readers, what say you? How much leadership should we be asking of people who have entered our consciousness because they can rap really well or look pretty in a video? Where does our right to order their steps end and why? Speak on it.