Stephen Lovekin, Getty/ Andrew H. Walker, Getty / Michael Kovac, Getty It's…
- Posted on Aug 9th 2011 4:30PM by Shelley White
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Looking for a little attention in the star-saturated blogosphere? Try shutting up. While the 24-hour news cycle and rise of entertainment/gossip sites has created a ravenous desire for provocative celebrity blabber, these days the shrewdest stars are zipping their lips.
Unsigned Toronto alt-R&B upstart the Weeknd, for instance, whipped the hipsters into a frenzy by doing no press and only reluctantly revealing his real name. With a Polaris Prize nomination and mainstream media attention, he's one of 2011's hottest acts and doesn't even have a label. Who knows if this will translate into commercial success, but he's undeniably tapped into an invaluable selling point -- mystery.
In an era where bitching and boasting about your activities on Facebook is ubiquitous, knowing such inner details of celebs has become so commonplace, it's boring. What's novel now is not knowing.
In recent years, celebrity interviews have fallen into two distinct modes. There's The Big Spew: artists who sound off on everything, from their relationships, politics, and sex lives to their addictions, disorders and depressions. And there's The Blank Slate: artists who either do no interviews at all or reveal next to nothing.
The undisputed master of the Slate approach is Beyonce, who has done thousands of interviews and told us very little about herself. And this is a woman who could fill volumes if she wanted to -- Outrageously successful female pop star! Manager-father embroiled in numerous scandals! Married to a musical legend/former pimp! -- but she never does. And this brick wall of smiles and polite "no comments" has worked beautifully for her.
The mystery surrounding Jack and Meg White's relationship (Are they married? Are they siblings?) helped propel the White Stripes beyond simple rock star status into generational icons.
Though she presents herself as an open book, Lady Gaga has remained enigmatic when it comes to her personal life (in particular her maybe/maybe not boyfriend Luc Carl). It's a coyness that only adds to her appeal -- the world would rather wonder who she's got in her bed than know it for sure. And while Taylor Swift's songs are filled with emotional outpourings, she is meticulous about never talking about the famous people she has (reportedly) dated. Swift keeps it all sweet, friendly, polite, a bit dull, and her records sales continue to grow.
When it comes to longevity, silence seems to win. Keep 'em guessing and people will constantly come back for more. Tell them too much and they may eventually quit asking.
It's tempting to let it all hang out. In the short term, the Internet will eat it up -- a shocking personal revelation, a nasty barb aimed at a nemesis or a "leaked" nude photo will garner millions of hits, and be tweeted and retweeted until the next one rolls along. But there's a risk to telling the world your business. The more we know about someone now, the less we may want to know a year from now.
A celeb like Katy Perry has been happy to wax poetic about her past as a Christian folkie and her relationship with Russell Brand -- even using their wedding video in her Grammy performance -- but risks talking herself into a corner. Perhaps she's catching on, as she recently told Good Morning America, "Privacy is really important, especially in my personal life with my husband and I....We go to great lengths [to get it]. Whether it means riding in the back of a laundry truck to get out of a place unnoticed, we'll go for it."
M.I.A., Lily Allen and Kanye West are all examples of Spew artists who made a point of saying exactly what was on their minds at all times, a quality that initially won them kudos for being honest, bold and "real." But in each case, the backlash was extreme, with journalists and fans alike calling them out for being arrogant, hypocritical, narcissistic, annoying loudmouths. And the most damning complaint? People got sick of them. Lily has been keeping her commentary to a minimum, but M.I.A. recently piped back up, tweeting to much derision that she'd bring tea and mars bars to the rioters tearing up London.
And then there's Kanye. Oh, Kanye. Though he'd been quiet in the months leading up the release of his highly-anticipated album with Jay-Z, 'Watch the Throne,' he recently caused a flap by comparing himself to Hitler while onstage at a music festival in England. Cynics might say he's just courting negative attention because any publicity is good publicity, but it's probably more likely that Kanye truly can't help himself. Whether it's poor impulse control or just a congenital compulsion to express themselves -- after all, that is the point of art, no? -- some artists are unable to stop spewing, even when it hurts them.
Britney Spears exemplifies the power of learning how to shut the hell up. In her most recent video, 'I Wanna Go,' the resurgent pop star stands in front of a group of journalists peppering her with questions and says to them, 'Half-Baked'-style: "F--- you, f--- you, f--- you, you're cool, f--- you, I'm out."
It's the most energetic and engaged she's looks in years, and a reflection of her new status as an unabashed Slate. In the past, Britney became the butt of jokes for her comments to the press (2004's "I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that") and her "revealing" reality show with Kevin Federline, 'Chaotic,' was the beginning of her descent into public, head-shaving humiliation.
Now, she says next to nothing to the press, and her fame has returned with a vengeance. In a July MTV poll, voters named 'Femme Fatale' the best album of 2011. Despite the fact that she's an artist who does not sing live and barely dances anymore, Britney has been able to regain a huge fanbase just by keeping quiet and getting back some of that mystery. Like so many sex symbols before her, silence only intrigues the public more.
Of course, we music fans can lose out when an artist is too tight-lipped about their lives beyond the studio. An entire media industry has developed to satisfy our thirst for information about the people who create the music we love. When artists reveal themselves to us, it's a way for us to relate to them, to understand the motivation behind the artistry, to feel we can, in some way, truly know them.
But perhaps when an artist is shrouded in mystery, it makes seeing them live all the more potent -- that brief glimpse of them in their element, in the moment, elicits an intimacy that might not feel so special if you had all the deets about their bitter divorce or teenage eating disorder.
Most celebs will keep blabbing, of course, but sure seems like lately keeping quiet speaks louder than words.