Sometimes it is hard for me to really get what my kids see in celebrities like Justin Beiber. To my eyes they seem styled, fabricated, packaged for consumption. It’s all so obvious and driven by money. My daughters and I talk about how songs like “One Less Lonely Girl” are written with full knowledge that they will prey on the universal longing of tweens. They are aware that it’s not an accident that it seems like their favorite popstars are singing directly to them, for them alone.
But they are ok with it.
“Mom!” they tell me, “Justin LOVES his fans. He performed with strep throat. He did 14 shows with a broken foot. He tweets at his fans. He is committed to his following. He CARES. He cares about us!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure he does,” I say.
And then they show me his funny YouTube videos to prove how “real” he is.
But I’m singing a different tune today. I wasn’t a Bieber fan until last night, when I went to a Cody Simpson concert.
We were the invited guests of the tour’s sponsors – Walmart, Unilever, and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. Because I have a teen and a tweenaged daughter and a significant following who are interested in popstars, and because I have long been a fan of the Dove campaign and their wonderfully positive messaging, I felt the event was a good fit for me.
It turned out to be a bad fit, but a good lesson.
Cody Simpson was not just late for his concert on a schoolnight. Inexplicably and without much apology, he was close to two hours late. Door opened almost 3 hours after promised. Three hours while his fans sat chanting and screaming to be let in. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Thanks to our VIP tickets we were able to go off and purchase dinner for ourselves at Downtown Disney without losing our spot and our excellent seats. The other fans were not so lucky. No dinner for them. They stood on line for hours as the sun set. They did not dare to budge. They knew they would have a chance to be on camera and to possibly meet the budding popstar, and for many of them that was enough.
For some it was enough to just meet his entourage. At one point the fans got the opportunity to take photos with (what I think were) Cody’s siblings. Or friends? It was unclear. But they squealed and snapped away at these strangers on cue.
This, I think, was exactly what the producers of this event had in mind. The fans delivered. They obediently practiced their popstar screech again and again in the hours before the concert, as handlers, videographers and photographers egged them on and encouraged them to give it up for Cody.
Give it up. But what are they getting back? A moment on camera? A brush with a maybe celebrity or his cousin? Is that really enough?
Maybe for them. But not for me or my daughter. Thank Goodness!
Which brings me back to the campaign messaging and the reasons I and my daughter were there. I believe in authenticity. I’m not about elitism. I’m about respect. The two way kind. Talent that earns it, production and advertising values that deliver as promised and yes, I may be dreaming here, performers that care about their audience. All those hopeful souls who come out to meet them and show up to hear them. They are all worthy of some respect.
This for me, was the worst part.
As we were waiting for the concert to start, waiting and waiting, we watched the producers plucking pretty girls from the audience to place in the first three rows. They moved those girls around like meat. Like extra garnish on a buffet platter. Just to be PC, I am assuming, they plucked a single chubby girl and a less than gorgeous one too. Those two lucky ones got to stand on the outside edge of the stage where they’d be fortunate to get a second or two on camera. My daughter noticed. She asked me why certain girls were being ushered to the front row. What was it about them? What made them special?
I honestly felt queasy as I looked around the theater and what was being engineered there. Sorry for the girls who were plucked and the ones who weren’t. Yes, I know they were happy. I know they got what they wanted. What they wanted makes me sad because it’s a sign of the times: A moment on camera; A nod that you’re pretty enough to be part of the marketing. That’s what passes as respect these days. Once upon a time that was called being used.
It was just about the opposite of everything I have striven to teach my daughter about respect for herself and for others. So despite the fact that she’d promised all her pals (fans of Cody) to return with an autograph, after 2 hours and 40 minutes of waiting around and no idea when or if the show would ever start, at 8:40 on a schoolnight we bailed. We left the concert before it even started. My daughter was crestfallen and anxious about what she’d tell her friends. But she was also concerned about getting her homework done and not staying out till midnight for the chance to maybe meet a dude that was already 3 hours late for a date.
Brava! I’m proud of her.
Campaigns and celebs and concerts are a tricky combo. I’m sad today. Sad because of my daughters disappointment and disillusionment. But I’m consoling myself with this:
She’ll always have Bieber! At least he shows up on time.