The days of laughing uncomfortably and evading questions is on the way out – don’t expect to get away with sexism now female stars have assumed the role of public relations officer
Sandi Thom’s new song was rejected by radio stations, leaving her in a dubious position years on from her hit “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker”. Radio 2 didn’t want “Earthquake” for their playlist and Bauer Media chose not to give it airtime on their channels. Instead of keeping silent and bowing out, she logged into Facebook and posted a video of herself crying. “I am done with this industry. I am fucking sick and tired of having to sit on the edge of my seat waiting for these people to come back and tell me their verdict of whether this song is going to be a success,” she sobs to camera. “Honest to God I’m fucking sick to death of the bullshit this industry pulls on people like me and I’ve had it. Enough I’m done. Fuck you Radio 2. Fuck you Bauer network and fuck the lot of you.”
To a traditional eye, this is a PR disaster. Should Thom have showed her raw human frustration when concerning a professional setback? Should she have told Radio 2 to fuck off? Why has she done something so public, un-editable and irretractable?
Increasingly, however, this hands-on approach to PR is becoming the norm when it comes to female celebrities. Once, someone like Grace Jones telling off a chat show host for turning his back on her was "a scene” and went down as legendary. Not so today. Whether it’s Nicki Minaj being asked whether she “thrives on drama”, Cara Delevingne being questioned about whether she’d read the book Paper Towns after starring in the movie adaptation, or FKA twigs having to constantly answer questions about her relationship rather than her art, the way women are treated in the media in comparison to their male counterparts is blatantly different – an idea that is brilliantly parodied by Kristen Stewart in this clip. But what draws all these examples together is a reaction to them which goes beyond simple resistance, not just smiling nervously and politely swerving, or churning out the stock response.
In a recent interview with radio station Power 106, musician Ariana Grande came up against questions that a male artist would never be asked. The two presenters, Justin Credible and Eric D-Lux, asked her, “If you could use makeup or your phone one last time, which one would you pick?" Grande immediately retorted: “Is this what you think girls have trouble choosing between? Is this men assuming that that’s what girls would have to choose between?"
The interview culminates with the hosts asking her what she would change about the world, to which she aptly replies, "I have a long list of things I’d like to change. I think just sort of judgment in general; intolerance, meanness, double standards, misogyny, racism, sexism, all that shit. There’s lots we need to get started on, we’ve got work to do!"
If there’s PR at work here, we don’t see it. In fact, she is stepping into the role, breaking down the third wall and taking the interviewer to task. By finding the positive way to defend herself, Grande not only preserved her own image but created one of the best pieces of publicity for herself she’s possibly ever had. The video of the exchange went viral and it’s like that video of the doughnut never happened.
Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence helped pave the way for the current way in which women negotiate power with the press. During the Avengers press circus, Johansson shut down reporters on numerous occasions for asking her about her catsuit and, unbelievably, her underwear (or lack of). At the same time, J-Law was becoming a female champion for her unapologetic clumsiness, spontaneous photobombing and self-depreciating realness. She was natural and imperfect and utterly un-PRed.
What was once unthinkable is now reality and social media has a considerable part to play. When an artist fucks up we don’t expect an interview set up by PR with a publication to address the quotes, we expect an Instagram post with personal essay, a series of grammatically incorrect tweets; we expect personal intervention. We are closer to the “real” artist than we’ve ever been and most social accounts, while filtered and curated, are manned by the person themselves. And it’s female artists who have embraced this more than anyone.
In a society saturated with basic feminism, years on from Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran, young people are supportive of this new approach, with female artists helped by the sympathy of middling to left leaning-press and women’s publications. The places that continue to provide artists to kick back against are the ones with the male-dominated or traditionalist ones. The Power 106 FM lads. Mainstream US talk shows. The ones less and less preferred by this generation.
To put this change of attitude and action into perspective, cast your mind back to the 2006 Golden Globes where Scarlett Johansson’s boobs were cupped by an E! reporter on the red carpet. We’ve come a long way from a young Johannson laughing nervously and letting the unwanted hand go back to its owner unslapped. With the pace of the reporting on these incidents – reporter insults female star, female star kicks back, news outlets report on rebuttal – it’s likely that soon women won’t have such a reason to step in and stop the power struggle.