2023: the year celebrity culture cracked – Dazed

Last year, Rihanna’s brand Savage x Fenty, known and praised as an inclusive and diverse lingerie company, was among the lowest-ranked companies on Remake’s Fashion Accountability Report. Scoring a mere 4 points out of 150, it ranked lower than Shein in ethical practices. Remake found that Savage x Fenty “blatantly disregards industry standards when it comes to social and environmental disclosures, only noting on its website that products are ‘imported’”. The company doesn’t disclose its carbon emissions and hasn’t indicated any goals for reducing its carbon footprint. The report also found that most of its products use oil-based synthetic fabrics, and the brand has set no clear targets to move away from these materials.
Remake released its report in 2022, but it didn’t make a splash in the news or on social media during that period. In February of this year, Remake re-shared its findings in an article on its website after Rihanna’s Superbowl performance, but it was, once again, ignored. However, the February article suddenly went viral on social media last month, after Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) revealed that Puma, the athletic and casual footwear company that regularly collaborates with Fenty, were the main international sponsor of the Israel Football Association (as of December 11, 2023, Puma ended their sponsorship of Israel’s national football team). All of a sudden, stans couldn’t ignore the news, and subsequently, neither could media publications, who only began reporting on the story in November and December of this year.
this was shocking to me pic.twitter.com/rSYglGjRC6
The sudden virality of the Fashion Accountability Report and the fact it is now consistently mentioned on social media whenever Rihanna is trending is indicative of how our relationship with celebrities is currently undergoing a cultural shift.
Within our culture, we typically revere celebrities like gods. Two 15th-century definitions of the word “celebrity” recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary, describe it with religious connotations: “observance of ritual or special formality on an important occasion; pomp, ceremony” and “an act of celebrating something; a rite, a ceremony; a celebration”. Our current usage of the word no longer adheres to these early definitions, but they still contribute to our understanding of these figures today. We throw phones at their heads, without regard for their safety, hoping they’ll pick them up and take a picture. We queue for days to be at the front of their concerts, just to be closer to them and to touch their hands when they reach out to the crowd. We also hound those who go against them, posting their home addresses, places of work and phone numbers for the whole world to know and misuse.
All of this is totally normal and rational behaviour because celebrities are special. They’re more superior than us ordinary folk, more talented, harder working, better looking and more charismatic. That’s what we’re made to believe, anyway. They have this mystical quality that means they were always destined to be stars, to rise above the rest of us. Sofia Coppola recently said something to this effect when discussing Jacob Elordi in an interview with GQ, remarking that she picked him to play Elvis in Priscilla because he “just has a charisma”. The quality these people possess is often indescribable, and it is always inaccessible. That’s what makes their allure even more palpable to fans.
Considering all this, it may seem like celebrity power will never disappear. They can occasionally be criticised, but celebrity culture will never be torn down or abolished. However, over the last few years, something has changed. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the 18th-century political slogan “Eat The Rich” made a surprise comeback. Commonly attributed to the political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the phrase came from a quote first popularised during the French Revolution: “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” By September 2020, the hashtag #eattherich had 185.3 million views on TikTok, and you could find videos of young people listing what celebrities they’d eat first while supermarket shelves lay bare due to panic buying.
The pandemic made inequality impossible to ignore. While more than 3.4 million people died of COVID-19 worldwide, celebrities ran off to their second homes (Victoria and David Beckham), travelled all around the world (Dua Lipa) and broke the rules of lockdown to throw parties (Rita Ora). When there was a shortage of COVID-19 tests in the United States for frontline workers and the sick, it didn’t exist for celebrities such as Idris Elba, who wasn’t even showing COVID-19 symptoms but had easy access to a test and results anyway. During all this, celebrities continued to assert, through their nauseating public service announcements, that “we’re all in this together”, that we struggle similarly, die at the same rate and feel the same pain.
Then, the “Imagine” video dropped. Only one week – I repeat, one week – into the pandemic, Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig rounded up a group of their celebrity friends to cover John Lennon’s 1971 song as a way to “raise public morale”. The video was immediately dragged for being “tone-deaf”, as celebrities sang about living in a world with “no possessions” while swanning around their multimillion-dollar homes. But as cringe-worthy as it was, the “Imagine” video is an invaluable artefact, highlighting exactly who celebrities think they are and how much they believe in their own self-importance. Gadot and co believed that their images would boost public morale because they saw their image as a balm. While we witnessed mass death due to systematic inequality, watching Natalie Portman, Will Ferrell, Zoë Kravitz, and Jamie Dornan sing out of tune was meant to alleviate our pain.
it’s crazy bc we had been in the house for like two days https://t.co/ig6MtZ0XTu
While social media is arguably the primary site of celebrity worship, it’s also an arena where the demystification of celebrity occurs. “The internet has become kind of like a fish bowl,” explains Madison Huizinga, New York-based writer and founder of the newsletter Cafe Hysteria. “[It brings] celebrities even closer into our view for us to observe and scrutinise.” Amanda Hess, in her article, “Celebrity Culture Is Burning”, for the New York Times, also noted that during the pandemic, celebrities had a “captive audience of traumatised people who are glued to the internet”. One minute, they’re “scrolling on their feed witnessing unimaginable horrors, and the next, they are met with a video of Madonna bathing in a rose petal-strewn bath or Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoying a cigar in his hot tub while telling people to stay home”. With the help of social media, we were continually faced with the economic disparities that separate us from them, forcing us to question why certain groups of people get to enjoy life more than others, and why those who have shorter, more difficult lives are so often Black and brown, queer, working-class or disabled.
Most recently, the “conflict” in Israel and Palestine has had a similar effect on the public perception of celebrities. While COVID-19 made the wealth disparity between celebrities and “ordinary people” even more apparent, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has highlighted how celebrity and capitalism are inextricably intertwined. Nothing has solidified this more within public imagination than both Beyoncé and Taylor Swift releasing their films in Israel while its military is carpet-bombing Gaza and engaging in what the Pope described this week as “terrorism”. While Beyoncé and Swift wax poetic about Black liberation and feminism, they both ignored calls from fans asking them not to screen their films in Israel. Beyoncé’s Renaissance (album, tour and film) has been branded “a celebration of liberation because of its dedication to Black and queer joy. Yet, those sentiments mean nothing when she allows Renaissance to play in Israel, while Palestinians are being denied their right to life, liberty and freedom.
In his 1998 book Stars, Richard Dyer argued that celebrities are products of capitalism and are embodiments of its ideology. They use performative language so their fans adore them, trust the products they sell and make money for corporations and themselves. However, to stand with Palestine openly and proudly is to lose money. We’ve seen this first hand with the firing of Melissa Barrera from Scream and the way Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency simply because they’ve shared support for Palestine publicly. The profits these celebrities lose are incomparable to what Palestinians have lost under 75 years of occupation, but it’s a loss nonetheless. One that many celebrities are not willing to sacrifice, as it goes against what has always been integral to their existence: profit. As more and more celebrities continue to ignore the inescapable calls to support Palestine, essayist and culture journalist Haaniyah Angus tells Dazed that stans are struggling to defend the morality of their favourite celebrities online. “Fans [are] scrambling to say that Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift are pro-Palestine and support a ceasefire because they went to Ramy Youssef’s show. [They realise] that their faves won’t do the work themselves so the fans are going to have to concoct this narrative. Gone are the days when they’d [celebrities] pretend to care. It’s all in the open now.”
Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and friends attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music where they attended the performance of comedian Ramy Youssef.

100% of the proceeds will go to Anera who provide humanitarian to the people of Gaza. pic.twitter.com/ecdKxjKkwo
We shouldn’t place this much attention on the politics of celebrities, and the fact we do – as the debates over Beyoncé, Rihanna and Taylor Swift over the last few weeks have shown – highlight that we’re not entirely free from their grip. However, earth-shattering events rightly put into question what their purpose is in our society and the role we play in their creation. Fabilha Yeaqub, in her groundbreaking essay “being ugly is liberating”, writes that “to be ugly is to be powerless from the systems placed against us, but to be beautiful is to be rooted in colourism, fatphobia, anti-blackness, and colonisation… But most of all, to be beautiful is to lack radical empathy. It means that they are stripped and deprived of understanding the world’s gospel.”
No matter how many times celebrities tell us that their families and fans keep them humble, our constant admiration of their beauty, success, music and films infringes on their ability to really empathise with people. It’s a toxic cycle, one that makes celebrities narcissistically hyper-focused on themselves to ensure that they acquire the same positive responses and financial support they’ve previously received from fans. But as we descend into more wars funded by Britain and the US, witness more pandemics and environmental crises due to the climate emergency, and watch income inequality continue to grow all around the world, the importance of celebrities and the culture around them will decline, as what is truly important to us becomes even more apparent. One Instagram post that has been circulating around my feed put it best: “We are not freeing Palestine, Palestine is freeing us. It’s freeing us from idolising celebrities, freeing us from western propaganda, and most of all [it has] reminded us that this duyna (world), this duyna is temporary.”

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