Whitney’s Untimely Death: The Dark Side of Fame
This week is one of the highest and lowest in the music business – all within 48 hours. Starting with the death of our beloved Whitney Houston and ending with our praise for one of our new “greatest voices ever” – the unlikely pop-star that swept the Grammy’s, ADELE (Yay Adele!!). Yet, the odds of that?
This article, about the difficulty of being the “world’s greatest singer of all time” and the irony of being a star on the decline – I hope it enlightens us all and reminds us of how fragile we are.
I wrote a blog post on Sunday, the day after her death, about the brutal expectation of stardom and to perhaps send a message to be more aware of the huge responsibility placed on their shoulders.
Many blame Whitney and I can see how easy that is to do. She’s a poster child for the irresponsible star indulging in drugs who loses sight of her gift and throws it away. But perhaps there is another side to the story, one that is hidden away, one that few would understand unless they had been in her shoes.
First and foremost, I am an artist. Second, I am a mentor to thousands of artists – it’s what I do in the world. I have been privy to behind the curtain, when times are good and bad. I am sympathetic to the enormous pressure that stardom demands and to the extremely difficult fall from fame (that no one is built to survive). I have sensitive sensors towards pain, and a laser that points me to that frequency in others, even when they can’t see it in themselves. That’s part of what makes me good at my job.
I would say that the world agrees that some of Whitney’s choices – i.e., tying the knot with Bobby Brown, was the beginning of her demise – and Whitney would agree. Just Google her interview with Oprah a few years back and you’ll hear her clear assessment of the danger she was in, how she rescued herself and her daughter from the situation (at her mother’s intervention) and began to build a life for herself. However, after the plateau of her 2009 come-back record, it was plain to all that she just wasn’t returning to the golden spotlight that once revealed perhaps the greatest voice of all time; she was failing once again. Maybe that was too painful to endure this time. You know, some people are weaker than others. Some people have thinner skin around their hearts.
Now you can say whatever you want about that. You can criticize her for her weakness for alcohol and drugs (she truly was an addict, like several other stars – it’s an emotional roller coaster ride), and recently for the prescription meds that most likely were the cause of her death. But if you look behind the curtain, and you imagine what went on with her, maybe you’d be surprised to find the devastating heartbreak she was struggling with. She couldn’t hit rewind, and she couldn’t get her voice back. For someone who was perhaps the greatest singer of all time, this must have been excruciating. Perhaps this year’s Grammy’s was the final straw (another singer stepping up to the world’s spotlight.) Apparently, her behavior in the days before the awards may have been a sign that she was freaking out on the inside, more than anyone around her, or even she, realized.
Here’s what I wrote on Sunday:
“I guess the biggest thing that I want to say out of this shocking news, is what Lionel Ritchie talked about yesterday. He was talking about the pressure that artists of this magnitude feel to uphold their “superstar” status and continue to top themselves. It’s a brutal expectation placed upon them and I often wonder if it isn’t this pressure that kills them. I wonder if we can send a message, especially on the night of the Grammy’s, and in the aftermath of legend Amy Winehouse’s tragic passing this year (and Michael in 2009), a plea that we “lighten up” on the huge expectations we have of our stars (the media mainly) and be more mindful of the huge responsibility placed on their shoulders.”
Amy Winehouse perhaps couldn’t bear whether her second record would not live up to her first, so much that she took her own life?
So yes, I think the tragedy that befell Whitney is absolutely from the pressure of once being the greatest singer of all time – one that was failing. She had crossed the line of no return. It was no longer under her control – for WHATEVER reason that was. Maybe she was just “not strong enough” to live life in the public eye, and that made her make some very bad choices. Or maybe, like a lot of people in the world, she just made bad choices out of insecurity – but under the brutal scrutiny of the public eye. Either way it was a perfect storm. Some people blame those around her, or the music industry – it’s all part of it, but the real point here is, there is no one person to blame. We are all part of it. That’s why we need to re-examine stardom and what fame is. We need to lighten up on our expectations and understand when someone is struggling and pour out our love instead of our criticism.
The truth is – something that I preach and teach – is that an artist should NEVER believe their own hype. Especially because it’s really all just smoke and mirrors (the marketing and media stuff.) Truth be told, I know a lot of stars. Most of them are not good in dealing with big fame and they struggle with it. It feeds the ego, the narcissism in everyone and that is tricky business. Most people in that position screw it up in more ways than one – there is a lot of self-sabotage that goes on – including drug use. I also coach artists on the benefits of “mini-fame” instead of mega. Thank goodness there are many ways to have a successful career without your name on the world’s stage.
Imagine if you were a famous singer – the best in the world and then failed – even if it was your fault (perhaps more of a reason), it would tear you up too. It would probably be more humiliating than you could bear too. More than money or fame would ever make up for.
And – how beautiful was Jennifer Hudson’s interpretation of I Will Always Love You Sunday on the Grammy’s? It eerily struck me – the way she sang it – was a cross between her looking up at Whitney and at the same time as if Whitney herself were singing those words to us. And now taking on a completely different meaning after her death “Bittersweet memories is all I am taking with me.. I will always love you”…
Thoughts about the Grammy’s this year? There should be a rule that if you are lip synching you can’t wear a mic, and if you beat someone up you don’t get to perform on music night (sorry Chris but really?. How happy are we for Adele? So beautiful to see how real she is (and hilarious!) Thoughts about her vocals coming up in the next blog. Bon Iver – so happy to see him win Best New Artist – how cool is that! Loved his thoughtful words to worthy artists who would never grace the Grammy stage; so big of him to send that message.
But before we all move on and Whitney’s death is in the distance – let’s share some of our beautiful memories of her here … post your love and respect for the brave one who sang the soundtrack of our lives for us…
PS Oh and for you artists: here’s an invitation to join me this Wednesday Feb 15th for a free call where I will preach and teach the 7 steps to stardom – including mindset, and the real behind the curtain stuff of being a star.
©2012 Cari Cole, Vocal Mag, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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