I don’t know how to start this conversation without seeming like a knockoff of Carrie Bradshaw’s love life column in Sex and the City.
I am 21 years old, about to graduate from college, and am feeling more pressure to have a boyfriend from the media and friends than I ever have felt in my life before. I’m sure I am not the only one. Over the past few weeks, my news feed has become inundated with “breaking stories” of various celebrities and the shameful state of their love life. While this is not a new trend in the material that feeds gossip columns, the focus on “boyfriend shaming” has reached a new high.
There’s a weird relationship that we, as the public, build with young female pop stars. They are simultaneously marketed as our best friends, our girlfriends, and an edgy new musician. The music bit normally takes a backseat during their first year or two of press. First we must idolize them, then we can listen to them. Does that actually work though? Do we ever actually just focus on their music?
Growing up, I remember my first Britney Spears disappointment. She and Justin Timberlake had promised to “save themselves” for marriage and there were ru- mors swirling around that they had slept together. My fourth grade mind could not accept that Britney would betray me in that way. She had promised me. Why wouldn’t she tell us that she had made such a major life decision? I thought we were friends, Britney.
Now, Britney experienced a uniquely public breakdown a few years later and showed the power that media and our own obsessions can have over a celebrity’s life.
Over a month ago, Minami Minegishi (member of the J-pop girl band AKB48) posted a video of her with a freshly shaved head and a tearful apology to her band and fans. The alleged sin she had committed was that she had a boyfriend. We don’t know if she slept with him, or even if they have gone on a date, but that he exists. There was an immensely mixed reaction by the fan base after her apology was issued with some forgiving her post-apology, some still saying she should be kicked out of the band, and some not caring about her per- sonal life from the beginning. It has been argued that she deserved to apologize since AKB48 members sign a contract upon joining the group promising not to date, drink or do anything else that could be construed as shameful. Many people outside of the fandom looked at this reaction as proof of misogyny still existing in the J-Pop scene along with the pop music industry as a whole.
It’s interesting because the US audience would see this video and say that they would never force their beloved artists through such a rigorous level of public conduct expectations. The thing is, we do. We don’t forgive them when they shave their head, instead we ask for them to go further into the public breakdown. We never really forgive because we look at their public life as a constantly growing entity for our own entertainment. We want to watch them “live” rather than stay as the same perfect image they had originally been sold to us as.
Taylor Swift has also been catching plenty of flack for having more than a few boyfriends over the past year. Her most recent relationship with One Direction band member Harry Stiles ended a few weeks before the Grammy’s. Rather than looking good and singing grandly in spite of a recent break-up, the 23-year-old took her Grammy’s opening number to the next level by looking good, singing mediocrely, and calling Stiles spe- cifically out as a bad boyfriend. We all loved it.
Swift has become notorious for making money off of her breakups through song inspiration and public cries like the Grammy’s stint. No matter how much she reminds us of what any angsty eighth grade girl with a microphone would act like, we are still pushing her to behave like this. We still begrudgingly sing along to her catchy music and share the video links when she does something scandalous on stage.
I’m not saying we need to stop paying attention to Taylor Swift or AKB48 or any other pop star. We will still always gravitate back to Beyonce whenever she and Jay-Z are adorable with the Obama family. We will still always gravitate back to Adele when she talks about that one guy who broke her heart. We will still always care about these stars’ personal lives because that’s why we started paying attention in the first place. I’m saying that we don’t call Drake out for singing about his breakups and hookups all the time. We are holding these young girls to impossible expectations and maybe we can close our Perez Hilton tab for a day and just listen to their album. Just for a day…