Her single took top billing around the world, she won two Grammy’s last month, and the media is fascinated by her. Lorde has climbed to the summit of fame and fortune in New Zealand, in as little at eight months. She is now one of our tallest poppies, and with all the pride we feel as a public looking up to her, our malevolent psychosis lurks close by – anxious for the fall.
|Photo By (Kirk Stauffer) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons|
We, the public are a compassionate, fickle, and easy to distract bunch. We love it when someone ordinary takes wing from our ranks and briefly shows us how extraordinary we can be. We focus on them, and for a moment in time (or 15 minutes according to Andy Warhol) we indulge in their success. They either fade from view, or they get brighter, but we do not view them the same way twice. If they get brighter and more successful and famous – we start to become enraged. We feel they have violated the bargain, they showed us how great we can be, now their greatness is competing with our collective egos.
Or, if they drift to the wings as something else appears centre stage, perhaps taking Rob Brydon’s advice from The Trip, ‘Never be hot, always be warm’. That is how one could summarize the careers of many well known New Zealanders, from Dave Dobbyn to Anika Moa. Public interest in them simmers quietly, bubbling prominently at various times, but never enough to permanently injure their ability to lead a private life.
Perhaps Lorde will simmer this year, but with her scheduled performances in the USA in the next few months, and her high rate of musical output – I suspect not.
Both Neil Finn*, and Charlotte Dawson have publicized their opinion that she should leave New Zealand; become a smaller fish in a larger pond. While I reject that there is a fundamental difference between media here and overseas, island social gigantism does affect the intensity of the public interest. I for one, hope that she doesn’t leave NZ. She clearly likes it here, this is her home, and it should remain so. But Ella Yelich-O’Connor is 17, and she has a right to her privacy. We have a duty therefore to ignore the tabloid snaps, dangled as they are like keys to distract an infant, and choke back the tide of our petty opinions – delivered from the refuge of anonymity. The nauseating chorus of social media cowardice that made the most revolting and racist comments about Ella’s boyfriend, are the result of a media and public in a conspiracy to prune the tall poppies.
This brings me to an article in the NZ Herald two weeks ago, in which Paul Dykzeul – head of Banner Media, the publisher of Woman’s Day – defended the magazine for publishing photos of Ella and her boyfriend at the beach. ‘We care about readers, and these photos would be and are of genuine interest to our readers’, he said. Dykzeul holds up the curiosity of his readers as a trump card; the same curiosity which is in part cultivated by the magazine itself. It is a feedback loop, and it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
There is another stupid argument that says famous people cannot complain about being burnt by the intensity of the spotlight, because after all, they chose to be famous. I submit that they chose their career path, Lorde chose to make brilliant music, but we are all to blame for the height of her pedestal. It is the miserly nature of the sadist that delights in a fall after a meteoric rise, demanding that the subject is complicit in the whole enterprise. How intolerable it is for the sanctimonious to convict anyone of hypocrisy.
The international debate on privacy, both with regards to state action and invasion by the media (take the scandal behind the fall of the News of the World) is happening because it is intolerable for the right to privacy to be violated on the whim of curiosity. By anyone.
We are curious about Lorde, but we should limit our curiosity to Lorde, leaving Ella Yelich-O’Connor to her privacy. We can attend her concerts, follow her on twitter, and enjoy her music. In short, when she is Lorde, she is a kind of public property – but as Ella, she is part of the crowd. Anonymous, and private. That is a more than reasonable compromise. May it be so.
*Subsequently, Neil Finn downplayed his comments on twitter. See here.