For recording artists who have captured the public's interest not with their talent but mostly with their offstage personal affairs, today's culture of celebrity can be both a blessing and a curse.

For recording artists who have captured the public's interest not with their talent but mostly with their offstage personal affairs, today's culture of celebrity can be both a blessing and a curse.

A diverse panel of experts, moderated by Reuters global editor of general and political news Paul Holmes, discussed the relationship between celebrities and the media last night (Oct. 20) during "Cult of the Celebrity: Who's using whom?" The event was held at the Reuters building in New York, one of four annual Newsmaker panels.

"Celebrities are entertainers and their job is to keep the public engaged," said Us Weekly editor-in-chief Janice Min. "No one would ever say Britney Spears was a talented musician, but there was such a cult of personality around her that led millions and millions of young girls to worship her and buy her records."

"The air of mystery around a celebrity, particularly in the music world, is something that is precious, and the over-exposure helps destroy careers as much as bad records and bad production," said Ken Sunshine of the New York-based Ken Sunshine Consultants, whose clients include Barbra Streisand and Justin Timberlake. "Clearly there are very, very calculated marketing schemes to make somebody a bad boy or a bad girl, or least make them not a goodie-goodie. Anybody who looks at the hip-hop world or the rock'n'roll or metal world, it's obvious."

So would Britney Spears sell records if not for the steady media attention and criticism? Or, would Jessica Simpson's singing career be dead if not for her hit MTV series, "Newlyweds?"

Min argued, "This was a struggling C-list singer who at her wedding had pretty much run out of money, and through a stroke of genius, she and her father cook up the 'Newlyweds' idea. She's probably the first star to really rise to fame ... on a reality show where she had this level of intimacy with her audience that no other big star ever had. That really created a culture that raised the stakes for celebrities."

Another matter is whether celebrities, whom Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff described as "target-marketed commodities," are ripe for gossip because of their own excessive advertising and publicity platforms. Jessica Coen, co-editor of Gawker.com commented, "Because all we see are celebrities marketing absolutely everything at this point, we feel a degree of ownership over them."

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