Thanks to pure coincidence and many blessings, aside from getting to spend precious time with my father—which I am eternally grateful for, no doubt—I found myself indulging in a few days of luxury last week at a hotel I could probably never afford for at least the next half of a decade. To think I used to think little of the immense breakfast spreads at such hotels because I could never stomach so much food that early in the morning, and because I never paid attention to the importance of breakfast all those years back.
Talking about coincidence—to top off the Dad of yours truly being in town for a business conference—I found kpop groups Exo and Girls’ Generation breezing past in front of me as though it was the most normal thing ever. The night prior to our last day at the hotel, we found a significant number of people—mostly teenage girls—waiting outside. Curiosity led us to find out they were waiting for a kpop group. Soon after, with some help of beloved Google, I found out there was a kpop concert scheduled for the next day at Nangang Exhibition Centre.
Well apparently those girls started lining up way earlier than the groups’ scheduled arrival time because they were still there the next afternoon—albeit in a much more sizeable amount and with a significantly increased buzz of excitement. Right around the time I had to part ways with my beloved father as he had a plane to catch, the jittery (and over-excited) atmosphere right outside the hotel was up about ten notches—time for some serious screaming.
Although I’d like to draw an extremely distinct line between myself and such over-the-top fans who would readily fork out hundreds of dollars to be able to catch glimpses of their favourite idols from such a distance away that really, it’s the same as watching them on youtube—I’m not altogether apathetic towards kpop, so I couldn’t resist staying on to get a little taste of some serious kpop fandom.
The funny thing was, I found myself so wholly disappointed after seeing these kpop stars in the flesh.
Don’t get me wrong, I would happily pay good money to watch musicians whose music I really connect with. I’ve done so for several acts in the past and am currently getting pretty hyped up for This Will Destroy You this Wednesday. However I’ve never paid for concerts by idols or celebrities—I’ve never forked out money to see idols in real life.
Wikipedia defines a celebrity as “a person who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media.” Wikipedia adds that “the term is often synonymous with wealth.” While celebrities warrant such public fascination and often have amassed wealth that we “normal” citizens can only ever dream of, an artist’s world is often never so full of glitz and glamour.
Musicians may spend years roughing it out on the road, pouring sweat, blood and tears into their craft but never quite receiving the attention and recognition they ought to—which doesn’t mean that celebrities and idols don’t work hard for the attention and recognition they get, but from what I know, non-celebrity artists (assuming celebrities can be called artists, but I”ll leave that discussion for another time) often never garner the attention, recognition and various forms of support that celebrities have at their disposal. Although I am obviously unfamiliar with such a life, I know that an artist’s world is often worlds apart from that of celebrities and idols.
We are all merely playing out our social roles, and celebrities are no different. Celebrities are responsible for instilling a sense of awe in common folk. They must be seen by common folk as larger than life. They have to have a legion of hard-wired fans willing to “donate” their money to these celebrities’ already-bursting bank accounts (granted, there are those who haven’t made the best decisions money-wise). They must somehow find their way into the everyday conversations of common folk and remain the talk of the town, lest they want to shrink back into obscurity and have their celebrity status nullified. With their celebrity status, they are subject to public scrutiny 24/7. Being a normal human is a crime. They should never be able to do normal human things.
Celebrities have had an image created for them by their entourage of managers, producers and the media, amongst others. For me that image is extremely fragile and can be easily crushed when I see them in real life and when the fact that these celebrities are only human like you and me hits home. Although I know inherently all along that celebrities are only humans, too—behind the confines of a computer screen and various media outlets, that fact conveniently takes backstage in my brain when I’m eagerly devouring the material they put out.
When I see them in the flesh, that bubble of magic that surrounded them before breaks away and is replaced by realization and even pity—I realize that behind the glitz and glamour is a life that is torturous. I realize that their out-of-this world life should never be something that anyone wishes to have, but the fact remains that celebrities are necessary in our world. We have our social roles in place and their social roles can never be taken out in this social “ecosystem”.
When I see them in the flesh, I try my hardest to put myself in their shoes. And it is so hard to imagine myself in their shoes. To have your life dictated by schedules, companies, contracts and many more—in a way such a life is not quite unlike the life of most common folk, since the majority of us aren’t our own bosses. Still, I imagine the amount of control they have over their lives is close to zero. But then again, since entertainment industries work quite differently in different countries, it’s quite unfair to generalize them into one large “worldwide entertainment industry” umbrella.
When I see them in the flesh, I realize that celebrities are just like you and me. They are people whose bodies function primarily in the same way as your body and my body. They require the same basic necessities as you and me, but they often are deprived of many things that we take for granted. They have made sacrifices in order to be where they are, sacrifices we probably can never imagine making. As I see them walk hurriedly past and straight into the hotel elevators, I realize that the bodies I see in front of me are bodies that have been through so much. Bodies that have been conditioned and disciplined to look the way they do. Bodies that are so familiar with exhaustion that it fits like a second skin. It must be hard to not be able to step out of that celebrity role when your body is down, beat and tired and all you wish to do is to remove that mask and relax.
Since we are all merely playing out our assigned roles, I guess I should not pity them, nor should I try to imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes. We all have our places and can only act within those pre-set confines. Having said the above, I appreciate musicians and artists who fall into the category of “celebrities” for their artistry, although such a statement is open to heavy debate. I guess we all make choices that we can only live with, and live through.
I can’t help but be reminded of the line “when the light falls on your face, don’t let it change you” from Saving Grace’s track “Come Down To Me.