Katy Perry has disabled the Google alerts that formerly notified her when anything was written about her.
"I am the captain of my career. But ... my image is just something superficial. I also try not to pay attention to what other people think of me," the bright-lipsticked, torpedo-busted, sometimes-blue-haired, controversial 29-year-old kimono co-opter said in a recent interview. Those Google alerts used to keep Perry clicking and checking day in and day out, "but I've stopped all that now. After all, there are more important things in life."
Granted, she said she tries not to pay attention to what others think. She does not claim to have totally achieved this.
But this interview, while in many ways so typical and so say-nothing as to be the Mad Libs version of a celebrity chat—just fill in the name, age, and latest film/song/scandal/spouse—fascinates me for its very typicality. Hardly a day goes by without another article in which another superstar—I keep using this word, but cringe because it sounds like a compliment ("She's super!") when "super" in this case means merely, as it does in Latin, "larger than other, similar things," thus that these superstars' stardom is larger than that of other stars—announces that he or she simply wants to be him- or herself, keeping it real. I'd be as rich as they are if I had a dollar for every celebrity who over the last two years has tossed his or her head dismissively and announced: I don't care what critics say!
But is it true? Or is it just something famous people say so as to seem more human, more role-modelesque, more relatable? Is it meant as advice? "Hey, Little Miss and Mister Nobody in Langlois, Oregon. Take it from me, your idol. Sticks and stones..." Or is it instead a subliminal command, meaning not "I don't care" but "Little Miss and Mister Nobody in Hypoluxo, Florida: Don't care what critics say about me. That's an order! Buy, buy, buy!"
Or it absolutely on the up-and-up? Does reaching a certain stratum of superstardom quantifiably raise self-esteem to the point where, for those privileged few, such statements are actually true? Can becoming sufficiently famous free human beings from self-doubt?
That would be nice, if it were true. And many think it is. Clearly those millions of Miss and Mister Nobodies aspiring to superstardom—hey, another American Idol season starts on January 15!—seek from that lofty would-be pedestal not just material and sexual riches and not just adoration as such. What they want is that imagined confidence, the sudden shake-your-shoulders-like-a-dog-shaking-off-water liberation from self-loathing: Fame as veritable proof of worth, thus freedom from the constant flinching, faking, fear of failure and terror of punishment that is the daily low self-esteem grind, eroding heart and soul like sandpaper. All of us Miss and Mister Nobodies who struggle with low self-esteem have dreamed fairytale dreams in which we bow to auditoriums packed with adoring fans, or stride through crowds that part in fainting rapture as we pass. We dream this, shamefully of course, not because we believe that we deserve it per se but as childish, primal prayers.
But as Katy Perry reveals, criticism—bad reviews, mocking tweets, blog roasts—is the proof that proves that fame proves nothing. Its presence torments superstars; thus they constantly, publicly recalibrate their relationships with it. But what this tells us Miss and Mister Nobodies who struggle with low self-esteem is that fame and material success, if they ever come to us, will not be our automatic golden tickets to serenity and sanity. Our freedom—if we win it—will be won not with a coronation or a stadium aswirl in lights but chip by small chip, one day at a time.
Accompanying photograph by Kristan Lawson.