We are dealing with a massive machinery here. In fact, with the increasing number of people supporting this well-oiled system, without having any remote idea that they are doing so, the machine only becomes more massive. The scary thing is that the structure is becoming more corrupt. The internet, of course, only supports this megalomania.
It's the celebrity machine, but the celebrity is just one golden keg inside it. To be brutally honest, if another golden keg, in each individual case, has to replace the present celebrity-keg it means nothing. The machine needs a golden keg. Which one? Absolutely irrelevant. If the keg is not en vogue any more, you just get a new keg. A thousand one-hit wonders have suffered the same fate, ex-boy-groups fading, brilliant actors such as Mickey Rooney or Mickey Rourke falling into obscurity. And what ever happened to Macauley Culkin?
Everyone wants to be a golden keg, but as soon as you become one you wonder if that was all it was.
As soon as the press, the managers and the money makers notice they can make money on you, they will squeeze any cent out of you they can. When they stop making money on you, they drop you like a used McDonald's carton.
If you think the star makes money on this lullapalooza, think again. If you become famous through shows like "American Idol" you probably will see no money at all. Yes, the company will fly you everywhere, push you to the top, arrange press conferences at the Hilton Hotel, put you in the papers, introduce you to the president, pay for everything, but you will only get a salary if you yourself own the copyright to something that sells. The producer is the one getting rich, not you.
Back in my musical theater days, I had a backing singer in my theater show band that flew three times to Mallorca to audition for a casting band. She got the gig and the band turned into a German Hit Wonder, complete with heavily marketed Wet Dream Christmas Tunes, Teenie Pinup Posters, Yummy Coffee Cups and Sexy Breakfast Bowls. Toward the end of their band's career, after about five years of hard work, they earned their first real money on it because they wrote their own songs and got some sales.
Another band, former dancers from franchise musical theater show (I met them at receptions on numerous occasions), got into a popular disco band whose photos were blown up to super-size for the Virgin Megastore main window. But fame is fickle. Soon, sales dwindled, the band members were back on unemployment on the audition circuit and nobody knew who they were. Not even the fans.
A star earns twenty million dollars for a movie? Nope, that's the official version. There's a secret clause in the contract that says he has to pay back 75 % of that money.
Things are not what they seem.
Okay, the applause is overwhelming.
The success is amazing.
It actually makes you feel gigantic.
But there's a down side.
I remember working with rock roadies back in Hamburg. I was first cast Big Bopper in "Buddy - the Musical" back then. The stage hands were more or less all set builders, truck drivers and sound professionals that had built up and taken down the stages for huge rock acts on world tours. There were guys that told me they had worked for Genesis, Guns and Roses, AC/DC, Sting, Michael Jackson and so on and so forth. One of the guys had played soccer on the lawn with AC/DC before the stadium gig and chatted with Sting in German.
Michael Jackson was an approachable guy, respectful and friendly, but in order to get to him you had to work yourself through ten managers. But you know how hunted he was in the end, no one calling him on the phone, fake lawsuits piling up and so called friends appearing at his funeral who hadn't called him for years.
But to see how corruptly the system works, we go to the ticket sales.
Let's say the sales-start for a huge stadium gig is announced for a certain date at 10 a.m. At 10:03 a.m. 6000 seats are already sold, officially. 30 minutes later, you find 1000 of those seats up for sale in resale websites that look professional but are somewhat dubious with tickets that are up for grabs at the finishing line through fanclubs. Ticket holders announce only 3 % tickets left after forty-five minutes, then one hour later suddenly 12 % of tickets are left at the same website. Ebay ticket stallions buy up tickets for rock shows and sell them double price online.
The celebrity usually has nothing to do with this. If he arranges or organizes the show, he does exactly that. Some see through the creation of every costume, every beat played and every move that is made. They will even check certain arenas for requirements and spacing. But the agents and managers handle the booking, the interviews and hire the press spokesperson that contacts companies that handle sales. Did you get the last sentence? You remember what I said about Michael and the managers? Individual arenas handle tickets, working with corrupt semi-criminal resalers. After that, there's about 78 people to get through until you reach the star.
So here we are, the celebrity literally being treated like a golden calf. One rock performer came back into her hotel room from a gig at Wembley Stadium, hearing non-existant bongo drums being playing outside her door because of the loud volume of the concert. Who was there at her side to see how the private individual, not the public one, was doing? A TV-camera.
Madonna, of course, turned that into an artform. Warren Beatty ironically asked what the point to life was without filming it.
Elvis, divorced and lonely, often sat in Graceland crying after shows, his cousin his only companion.
That sounds like "poor little rich boy", but as the golden keg in a celebrity machine it all revolves around you - and yet if you do something wrong you're ripped to shreds. Like Madonna making a mistake at the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 or Janet Jackson accidentally displaying her left boob and having to pay 455,000 dollars for it. Or paparazzi photographers climbing your fence, peeking through your living room window and taking pictures of you and your family eating breakfast in your pyjamas. That puts you under immense pressure. Everything you do and say will be blown up into massive proportions.
On the other side of that, there are artists working their buns off to get at least a dozen likes on their latest YouTube video without even succeeding once. The secret is that even the president buys his Twitter followers. Or do you think Adele really got a billion viewers on her web hit? Stars nobody heard of today claim that they broke the Beatles record. Anyone can market themselves to look like the world's biggest star right from their own smartphone. The world is starting to lose its ability to differentiate between truths and lies. Hey, who knows if those YouTube views are fake? It says 2 million there black on white, right?
Famous pop artist Andy Warhol made history in 1968 by claiming that in the future everyone would be world famous for 15 minutes. Nine years later, Warhol admitted that his prediction had come true. Warhol died shortly before the renaissance revolution of the internet that literally made his prediction a reality. Nowadays, we can all become superstars, at least we can pretend to be so. The paraphrase I seem to be hearing everywhere is "Nobody knows this, but I'm really famous."
When the success of a pop star still depended on record sales at music stores, a pop star's success sort of depended on the original secret: he became number one because of how many singles and records the record company sold to the record shops, not necessarily because of how many of his hits were actually bought by the fans. Sting once claimed that producers nowadays take very little chances on bold new thinking artists. What sells gets coverage. What doesn't goes back in the box.
This all sounds grim and I probably sound like the original party pooper, but the fact is that television show and pop producers want to make money. Pushing a 19 year old guy to the top is easy. Does he look good? Can he hold a note? Okay, stick him in tight sexy outfits, shoot a few suggestive photos of him, make sure you write songs for him where he sings how much love he needs, light him up with three thousand watts of colored lights, launch a massive PR campaign for him and you have about three years worth of cash from the guy. When he reaches 24, it all depends on if you can interest a new generation of girls to woo him. Probably not. Then you have some ex-star that doesn't know what hit him, who wonders why all the producers tell him they have a board meeting next week to discuss the next move.
Okay, it doesn't always go that way. We all want fame. Our quantum soul needs to create the highest version of itself. We should strive for stardom. But we should also know that stardom has to last. If we strive to be Elvis at age 18, where do we go from there? We'll be overdosed, oversexed, overpromoted, overwhelmed, overweight and overdone by 25 and all we'll have left is a dozen tabloid covers that doesn't remember our creativity but only our drunken fight with our ex-wife at the disco club in Ibiza.
Supermodel Cara Delevigne described arriving at the top of her profession, going to parties with the rich and famous, but only seeing people that were miserable and unhappy. Comedian Russell Brand claimed that "it wasn't worth it." Successful Hollywood director Tom Shadyac speaks of the false image of international success that is conveyed in media". Even John Lennon said that during his most successful time with The Beatles, in quote, "there was nothing to do".
Bottom line, we all need heroes.
The problem begins when we believe that the heroes we admire are superhuman or exempt from human problems. Even Queen Elizabeth has to brush her teeth before she goes to bed. Harrison Ford was once an unknown carpenter, George Michael busked the London Underground, living over a Fish and Chips joint in Kingsbury, Billy Idol was a regular punk in Bromley whose father wanted him to take over the hardware store. Eventually, their careers blossomed. The Queen, of course, was born with one. But that does not make her less human. They are human beings with all that entails. Calling them less would diminish them.
It's not our aim to reach celebrity status that has to change. We should aim high. Our perception does have to change. Tony Hale (The Sopranos, Sex and the City) waited his entire life for that sitcom that would give him fame, wealth, cars, houses and the right chick. All of that arrived, but he did not change and his problems did not go away.
That was a shock.
Per Gessle from Roxette was shocked to see himself remaining the same and all his friends changing, as if the world suddenly revolved quicker around him.
David Bowie had a creative view on success: if the finished product resembled the original idea. Ask the ex-polio patient who learned to walk or the guy who overcame cancer what success is and they will tell you their stories. We are all unique, every one of us. If we put our minds and souls to it and go for our dreams, like Bowie, Ford or Gessle, life can change for us. Age is irrelevant. John Rowe was the world's oldest ballet dancer with 91. Ida Keeling still runs with 103. My mother Gun Kronzell still spoke of auditioning her Wagnerian Brünhilde with age 80. What's your definition of success? We shouldn't limit out views of what success is, why should we then limit ourselves?
If you reach fame, reach it on your own terms, not as a teenager but later in life and with solid experience as a backup. It will be a reward for hard work, not an addiction.
That way, the money makers will have no power over your soul. They will promote you on your own terms.
In the words of Cameron Diaz, you will never find happiness if you look for it in fame and wealth. Joy can only be found inside the soul.