The Washington Post

Madonna vs. a mag­a­zine writer: Who shapes celebrity pro­files?

- BY SO­NIA RAO Celebrities · Journalism · Madonna · Instagram · New York · Miley Cyrus · Bradley Cooper · Selena Gomez · Selena · Luis Miguel · Hillsong Church · Jennifer Lawrence · Emma Stone · New York City · Madame X · A Star Is Born · Radhika Jones · Hollywood

With celebrity jour­nal­ism, ne­go­ti­at­ing ac­cess can be akin to play­ing tug of war. The pro­file might be pegged to a celebrity’s new pro­ject, whether a film, al­bum or some sort of char­i­ta­ble un­der­tak­ing. In such a case, his or her team might grant ac­cess on the ba­sis of that pro­ject be­ing the ar­ti­cle’s cen­tral fo­cus. The jour­nal­ist, how­ever, might pre­fer to use the pro­ject as a jump­ing-off point to ex­am­ine the celebrity’s con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety. As when writ­ing about any sub­ject wield­ing a great deal of power — so­cial in­flu­ence, in this case — the jour­nal­ist’s ul­ti­mate goal is to paint a fair and ac­cu­rate por­trait.

Some­times that means in­clud­ing de­tails the celebrity might con­sider un­flat­ter­ing or too per­sonal, but which the jour­nal­ist deems vi­tal to a truth­ful and mean­ing­ful story. That last bit is where there can be a dis­con­nect be­tween the two points of view, most re­cently high­lighted by one of the most in­flu­en­tial pop stars in Amer­i­can his­tory.

In a lengthy In­sta­gram post Thurs­day morn­ing, Madonna ex­pressed how up­set she was by a New York Times Mag­a­zine cover story ti­tled “Madonna at Sixty,” pub­lished days be­fore the re­lease of her up­com­ing al­bum, “Madame X.” She wrote that the piece, which cen­ters on how she has nav­i­gated the pop-mu­sic world she helped shape years ago, fix­ates on her age and “makes me feel raped.” (She also uses this anal­ogy in the story, af­ter which writer Vanessa Grigo­ri­adis won­ders whether to tell her that “women th­ese days were try­ing not to use that word metaphor­i­cally.” On In­sta­gram, Madonna stated that, as a rape sur­vivor, she is “al­lowed to use that anal­ogy.”)

“The jour­nal­ist who wrote this ar­ti­cle spent days and hours and months with me and was in­vited into a world which many peo­ple dont get to see, but chose to fo­cus on triv­ial and su­per­fi­cial mat­ters such as the eth­nic­ity of my stand in or the fab­ric of my cur­tains and never end­ing com­ments about my age which would never have been men­tioned had I been a MAN!” Madonna wrote. She then pro­claimed “DEATH TO THE PA­TRI­ARCHY” and vowed to “never stop fight­ing to erad­i­cate it.”

Grigo­ri­adis does re­mark quite a bit upon Madonna’s age, such as in a por­tion of the piece about how the singer has han­dled get­ting older: “I ad­mired her for shak­ing off prej­u­dice about what an older wo­man could be, for be­ing creative, provoca­tive and sex­ual over 60 — ‘It’s al­most like a crime,’ was the way she char­ac­ter­ized it,” Grigo­ri­adis wrote. “She might have been do­ing all this for

the younger gen­er­a­tion, so that when Mi­ley Cyrus was 60, no one would bat an eye­lash if she twerked on stage.”

Most read­ers would ex­pect such mus­ings af­ter com­ing across the head­line “Madonna at Sixty,” which, of course, Madonna had no way of an­tic­i­pat­ing. Even af­ter fac­ing that line of ques­tion­ing, it seems as though she had ex­pected the pro­file to fo­cus more on the mu­sic — which it still does — than on how ag­ing has shaped that mu­sic and her at­ti­tude to­ward it.

Madonna is far from the first celebrity to publicly ex­press dis­ap­proval of how an in­ter­view turned out. While some have done so dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion — the Times last year pub­lished “Bradley Cooper Is Not Re­ally Into This Pro­file,” in which he de­clines to dis­cuss his per­sonal life in fa­vor of fo­cus­ing on his seem­ingly per­sonal di­rec­to­rial de­but, “A Star Is Born” — oth­ers have in­creas­ingly taken the Madonna route of air­ing out their griev­ances on so­cial me­dia.

Last fall, Se­lena Gomez, then the most-fol­lowed per­son on In­sta­gram, posted sev­eral pho­tos of her­self in cloth­ing from her col­lab­o­ra­tion with Coach. In the cap­tion, she ac­knowl­edged that in­ter­views are “a part of my work within an in­dus­try that’s been around longer than all of us have been” but went on to say that she was “a bit bummed” by how she was por­trayed in a Elle mag­a­zine pro­file writ­ten by Mickey Rap­kin and ti­tled “Se­lena Breaks Her Si­lence.”

“Speak­ing from my heart for over an hour to some­one who puts those thoughts into paid words can be hard for me,” Gomez wrote. She had in­tended for the piece to fo­cus on her work with the non­profit A21, her Coach col­lec­tion and some new mu­sic, she con­tin­ued, im­ply­ing that she hadn’t an­tic­i­pated Rap­kin dis­cussing her ro­man­tic his­tory and re­la­tion­ship to the Hill­song Church.

Stars of this cal­iber might shy away from press in an ef­fort to con­trol their pub­lic nar­ra­tive. Some have even just started to in­ter­view each other (which close friends Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone did the pre­vi­ous month in a piece pub­lished, in­ter­est­ingly enough, by Elle mag­a­zine). Such in­stances have led many to reeval­u­ate the re­la­tion­ship be­tween jour­nal­ists and celebri­ties. In Septem­ber, New York Times mu­sic critic Jon Cara­man­ica de­clared the death of the celebrity pro­file.

Rad­hika Jones, edi­tor of Van­ity Fair, re­flected on this sub­ject in an Oc­to­ber episode of the pod­cast “Re­code Me­dia.” She ac­knowl­edged that the mag­a­zine, which is known for its glam­orous photo shoots and pro­files, helped cre­ate the celebrity-in­dus­trial com­plex. But, she said, jour­nal­ists also have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to “hold that world to ac­count. There are just all of th­ese tru­isms about Hol­ly­wood that I don’t think are ac­tu­ally true any­more, or at the very least, they bear in­ter­ro­ga­tion.”

“At a cer­tain point, when cer­tain kinds of sto­ries in our cur­rent mo­ment, one has to ask one­self whether the ac­cess is help­ful to the story or hurts the story,” Jones con­tin­ued, adding that “ac­cess isn’t the be-all and end-all of jour­nal­ism about Hol­ly­wood any­more.”

Go­ing along with a celebrity’s vi­sion might en­sure a look “into a world which many peo­ple dont get to see,” as Madonna put it. But there’s al­ways the ques­tion of how au­then­tic that world might be.

“Ac­cess isn’t the be-all and end-all of jour­nal­ism about Hol­ly­wood any­more.” Rad­hika Jones, edi­tor of Van­ity Fair

 ?? ORIT PNINI FOR KAN/REUTERS ?? Madonna said she was un­happy with a New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file that “chose to fo­cus on triv­ial and su­per­fi­cial mat­ters.”
ORIT PNINI FOR KAN/REUTERS Madonna said she was un­happy with a New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file that “chose to fo­cus on triv­ial and su­per­fi­cial mat­ters.”
 ?? NI­CHOLAS HUNT/GETTY IM­AGES ?? Madonna is far from the first celebrity to publicly ex­press dis­ap­proval of how an in­ter­view turned out. Bradley Cooper did so dur­ing an in­ter­view, while Se­lena Gomez also took the so­cial me­dia route.
NI­CHOLAS HUNT/GETTY IM­AGES Madonna is far from the first celebrity to publicly ex­press dis­ap­proval of how an in­ter­view turned out. Bradley Cooper did so dur­ing an in­ter­view, while Se­lena Gomez also took the so­cial me­dia route.

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