BY Kerstin Grether in Profiles | 04 APR 03
Featured in
Issue 74

Day in the Life

Pop Stars' Online Diaries

BY Kerstin Grether in Profiles | 04 APR 03

The publication in autumn 2002 of Kurt Cobain's journals sparked off a bizarre debate: should private jottings such as these be exposed to public scrutiny? In the looking-glass world of the Internet the diary is already a well-established vehicle for harnessing 'authenticity' to the service of commerce. But in comparison with the sort of self-promotion that most pop stars include on their websites under the heading of 'diary' or 'journal', the stream-of-consciousness writings that Cobain left - with their mixture of insecurity and daring - seem almost literary, in an old-fashioned sort of way. So for some, perhaps, the problem was that Cobain didn't have any particular readership in mind - not even himself, it seems. In this respect, the new brand of rock stars are certainly more savvy.

Limp Bizkit's singer Fred Durst, for example - one of the few stars of the Nu Metal scene who's still successful - has made sure his Internet diary contains only a thoroughly marketable version of himself. On he frequently mentions the excitement of recording songs for a new album - 'we feel like they came straight from our souls' - and shows how he's there for you by talking to fans every day in the chat room - sometimes just minutes before the start of a concert. And he makes it clear that he can easily surpass Bruce Springsteen's blue-collar credentials: 'I love you people for being people.'

Alicia Keys, always self-assured, always laughing, doesn't go quite that far, but, as befits a soul singer, when she does make us privy to her inner life, she does so with more style. Her stories are as gushing as her piano playing: like the one about when she got back to New York in such an elated mood that she couldn't help talking to complete strangers. But she, too, puts herself on a level with her fans: 'you wouldn't be real if you didn't lose your nerve sometimes.' Although the authors of these diaries are all still alive, unlike Cobain, they seem to be aiming nevertheless at some form of transmigration of the soul, to bring the essence of their being to their fans as quickly as possible, in the form of a product that they should buy - such as the three remixes of the same Alicia Keys album issued in one year.

Diaries no longer represent intimacy in the way that they used to, if only because in the past writers would betray a glimpse of their own souls every now and then. Internet journals, like chat rooms, are part of a whole new sphere, neither public nor private. Interactive forums work in much the same way - fans are encouraged to publish their 'thoughts, experiences, feelings' and thus beam themselves into the universe their heroes and heroines inhabit. But fans are more demanding than ever before. Until the late 1980s they made do with autographs and a 'we love you' bawled patronizingly down the microphone at the end of a concert. Stars also deigned to accept a few teddy bears - which they would then discreetly give to a children's home. But now, with the help of the advertising industry, we are all self-assured consumers, demanding our rights. Young girls can become downright violent towards their idols if they're too aloof.

As a result, pop stars' diaries often have a touch of 'Sylvia Plath writes to her mother' about them. Determined always to strike a positive note, they refuse to mention anything that could endanger the peaceful symbiosis of give and take, which is never questioned. 'Happy new year!!!!', Alicia Keys writes: 'I haven't spoken to you since, but u know you're always in my heart.' Isn't that just the perfect thing to say when you've forgotten to wish your mum a happy new year? Fans, in return, sometimes sound like wives or, well, mothers: 'Without us he/she would be nothing.' But pop stars, as narcissists, have probably been through the fan?star relationship with their real families anyway. That's what makes it so funny when their diaries get so hung up on the idea of belonging to the 'human race' when it's obvious that they'll stop at nothing to show how special they are. No-Doubt's Gwen Stefani, apologizes for a concert that was cancelled with the touching coquettishness of a girl bunking off school: 'I've been really sick for about two weeks and still playing the show, so I haven't been able to get better. I wish I was superhuman! I have been forced to take a few days off to recover.'

Web diaries only get really hot when they're written by stars who see themselves as superheroes on a mission to change the world. As we all know, superheroes aren't allowed to have a private life - look at Spiderman. Chuck D, front man of Hip-Hop legends Public Enemy, calls his diary 'Terrordome', which suggests he doesn't believe in keeping himself to himself: 'With Eminem's 8 Mile setting all types of attendance records for a Hip-Hop movie, around the same time as Jammaster Jay's murder, the culture of Hip-Hop has reached a crossroads that looks more like a skull and crossbones.'

Shock rocker Marilyn Manson also sees his website as having a valuable social role to play, as when he writes wittily and candidly about his love?hate relationship with MTV. But before you can access his journal you're presented with a warning, a kind of instruction manual on what it means to be an artist. The text was originally by Marlene Dietrich (though this isn't mentioned), but Manson couldn't have put it better himself. 'Artists: they are a race apart from all other human beings. Their emotions, their feelings, their reactions are the opposite of so-called "normal" people's sentiments.' Such highly sensitive people need to be handled with kid gloves. Did I hear someone call Manson a phoney?

Not even the wonderful Pink can compete with that. In her unfortunately not very up-to-date journal the most she can do is tell us that she once threw chicken legs at a couple of paparazzi: 'They were taking pictures of me eating, and I feel that was rude.' But this Madonna of R&B is one of the few who still pretend they believe in the genre as it used to be. In 'Dear Diary', a sentimental ballad from her best-selling album Missundaztood (2001), she cries over her notebook: 'Dear Dear Diary, I wanna tell my secrets, 'cos you're the only one that I know who'll keep them.' But a diary that keeps the truth to itself seems definitely a thing of the past - though that doesn't mean the world's suddenly become a more honest place.