Several years ago, Beyoncé’s management team issued a ridiculous demand. In an attempt to control her already micro-managed image, her publicist demanded that all unflattering images of the singer be removed from the internet.
The backlash was immediate. The general public laughed, memes ensued, her publicist stomped feet and threatened lawsuits, and life went on with no real action taken by anyone. The images remain active to this day, and nobody sued anybody.
The request reminded me of my favorite long-form music video, The Police Around the World. It’s an amazing warts-and-all depiction of the band. They are shown both on and off stage, and while most of the video is great music and good times, contained within are moments of pure honesty.
In one scene, drummer Stewart Copeland is seen throwing a hissy fit backstage. Sting and Andy Summers say little nothings into the camera like, “Just ignore him…” and “He’ll calm down in a minute.” Andy rolls his eyes and whistles as if bored, because it’s such a regular occurrence.
In another moment, Stewart and Andy are arguing about how a song is to be played. Andy, clearly irritated, calls Stewart “fucking diabolical.”
During one performance, you can clearly see that Stewart has used electrical tape to write “Fuck off you cunt” across his drum heads. The “cunt” in question is Sting, and for Stewart, hitting the drums as he glowered at the bass playing singer was a form of therapy.
But the best moment takes place in France.
Sting introduces De Do Do Do De Da Da Da by announcing he’d like to rip a patron’s “fucking arms off,” and then, moments into the song, something happens. It’s not clear what, though the best guess is that Sting got spit on or had something thrown at him.
While singing, Sting bellows, “You fucking bastard! I’m gonna get you…”
He’s furious; Sting’s face is a portrait of anger; during the next verse he shouts, “I’m gonna fucking kill you…”
The song continues; Sting keeps singing. He punctuates each line with a shout of anger. Sting calls a roadie over, and by the end of the song the roadie has gone into the audience and held someone so that Sting can spit on him.
Here’s what’s insane: this was a video released by The Police. It wasn’t a gotcha, hidden-camera documentary, and it wasn’t cellphone footage of a celebrity losing his cool.
(Because cellphones weren’t around in 1980, duh.)
Sting, Stewart, and Andy had final clearance on video content, and were comfortable enough to allow themselves to be seen at their worst.
As said, 99% of the video is concert footage and good-natured offstage hijinks, but that’s what makes the sour moments all the more interesting. The band could have easily eliminated any and all instances showing them in a less-than-stellar light; they could have replaced those moments with more shining examples of their musical chops, adoring fans, or hit songs.
In the end, they said, “We’re human. Show everything.”
What a far cry from most celebrities, people who control their image with an iron fist, using publicists to regulate everything asked in an interview.
Look at Tom Cruise. For a moment in time, he was so popular he thought he could discuss Scientology and not be lambasted. Today, interviewers aren’t allowed to bring up his involvement with the cult. On talk shows, it’s strictly “stick to the script.” He’s there to promote a movie; his personal life isn’t up for discussion.
There are two schools of thought on presenting an artist: show how much they’ve overcome, and therefore how awesome they are, or show who they are. With the former, you highlight the best side of someone. With the latter, you see someone more raw, more real. The latter shows that you can be a “good person,” and still be a flawed human being.
I’m not sure today’s celebrities understand that. Hell, I’m not certain today’s audiences understand that. We place celebrities on a pedestal for a reason; we either want to emulate them, or in the least use them to escape the doldrums of our own lives.
There is a saying, “Don’t learn too much about your heroes, for they will forever fail you.”
(I’m pretty sure it’s from the movie Jaws IV, but I could be mistaken.)
The idea is that we create perfect images of celebrities in our minds, and when we meet them (or hear about a scandal) we discover, “Oh, crap. They’re just more successful versions of us.” They get sick, have violent diarrhea, get angry, are sad… Suddenly, we don’t like them as much. Being human should make a person more interesting, but it doesn’t always work that way.
To be fair, this only applies to certain celebrities. I don’t think anyone would hold Kim Kardashian to the same standard they hold, say, George Clooney. If George Clooney were caught with a sex tape, it would be embarrassing. Meanwhile, a sex tape is the only reason the name Kardashian is a brand.
I miss the days when you could learn what makes an artist who they are, not just see what they want you to see. Look, I know Tom Cruise is involved in Scientology, and I think Scientology is insane. The thing is, I still love Tom Cruise, and support his movies. Just like I still bought the next Police album after seeing Sting lose his shit.
Maybe I’m an idiot, but when it comes to my heroes, I enjoy honesty.