Monday, October 1, 2012

The Weird World of Not Quite Right Gaga and Christina Aguilera Weight Gain Reporting

If you were keeping an eye on any celebrity chit chat in the last few weeks then you probably spotted the ongoing saga of how Lady Gaga had apparently put on alot of weight, was talking about it publicly, came under fire for it and then rushed to defend her figure while referencing her own teenage struggle with an eating disorder.

It was a frustrating story on a number of levels. First of all the amount of weight Gaga actually did seem to gain wasn't even that large amount and even if she was the size of a house who cares? Gaga may frequently appear in scant clothing but it's not her main selling point. She uses her image in an ever-shifting way and so trying to boil down her presentation to "Is she hot? Is she skinny?" is missing the point by such a huge margin. Jezebel discussed this topic including a round up of the amount of news outlets that ran with the story about Gaga's weight.

The other reason it was vastly irritating was how it was a story composed across several sources that wasn't even particularly true and yet so many outlets ran with it. 

Huffington Post, amongst others, ran with this piece using a picture of Gaga on stage as proof that she'd piled on the pounds. The picture was from her Amsterdam stop on the Born This Way Ball tour and from the off seemed like a photo that had likely been tweaked or at the very least taken from a bad angle. I'd been at the show just days before this picture was taken and there was nowhere near that amount on Gaga's frame. I was standing near the catwalk and got plenty of close-up looks at Gaga in the flesh. She was in terrific shape, clearly someone keeping themselves fit and in show-ready shape but not afraid to look womanly. She bared a bit of ass cheek constantly, was happy to strip down when it suited her and just as importantly was squeezing into skin-tight leather ensembles at a dizzying speed. Basically she clearly was looking after herself and exceedingly comfortable in her skin. There was no way the Gaga in the Amsterdam picture was in fact a reality.

But that didn't stop the press from running with a non-story. Huffington Post, like other showbiz sites (there weren't the only ones who ran with this piece and are obviously not just a showbiz site, I'm just using them as an example in this case) began using lines from Gaga herself where they claimed she was addressing her weight gain after the pictures. They cited an interview she'd done with American radio where she referenced how much she'd put on, her Dad's new restaurant and how she was enjoying the food etc. Yes Gaga had said all this but in AUGUST. The interview is on her own Youtube channel and her discussion about her body are a small part of a seven minute piece where she sounds relaxed, keen to be in shape to do her shows in Europe. Suddenly the web was flooded with pieces about how much weight Gaga had put on, her response and painful hand-wringing from media outlets. Again Jezebel neatly summed up the stupidity of these comments but few seemed to question whether the sources of this story were legit (again that photo) or actually directly referencing the past week (An interview quotes were pulled from which literally anyone could google in about 2 seconds and spot was weeks old). Still it's easier for copy-and-paste showbiz sites and sound-bite celebu-tainment shows to run with an unflattering pic and some sort of line then it is to go "Oh, is this actually accurate?"

This week a similar has been brewing with Christina Aguilera. The popstar-turned-Talent show judge has had plenty of comments on her changing shape in the last couple of years but as she plugs new single Your Body and the accompanying album Lotus there's been plenty of commentary on Christina's shape. Billboard magazine placed Christina on the cover of their latest issue, posting a part of the story online two weeks ago. The slightly over the top comments on her previous album Bionic had already been picked up by pop fans but today another part of the interview where Christina made very explicit references to being a "fat girl now" and discussing specific situations where she claims music execs told her to slim down were being quoted online, causing quite a stir.

It did seem a tad fishy that people were running with quotes from Billboard that weren't on their website already but given that they promised the "full story" in their print edition maybe that's where they lay. The quotes were used by the website of Us weekly and soon appeared on plenty of sites until in the last couple of hours both Billboard and Christina's rep confirmed that the were in fact completely fabricated. Now many of the sites that shared the materialare rejigging and updating their previous posts (in a way they probably should have read in the first place before the desire to be first with a scoop took over). Unlike the Gaga story, which cleverly stitched together material in a typically tabloid way this story seemed to be completely false.

There are two things that are slightly worrying about how both of these stories unfold. One is that obsession with weight and how a comment on it will create a feeding frenzy. The other is that in the world of fast-paced gossip sharing, the accuracy of quotes is second to getting some hits. It's fascinating to watch how stories both false and accurate now feed into the images of stars. Even when stories are retracted or defused by those involved they'll stick in people's heads. It may only be famous people we're discussing, people with vast amounts of money and very different problems to the rest of us, but if we are supposed to be reading reports and fed information shouldn't it be accurate? The funny thing about how quickly stories like this move around is also how easy (almost too easy) it is to take apart the claims and see that most of them are bull.

It might only be celebrity journalism and it may not be highbrow but the ease with which narratives are knocked together by outlets quick to sell a story whether the star involved is playing along or not is worrying. Gaga and Aguilera's responses to these stories suggest that many stars are no longer going to play ball and when we can quickly figure out how fake such pieces are, why should we keep doing the same?

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