It was in the fall of 2015 when Georgia stopped updating her Sarah Michelle Gellar fan site for the first time. “The things that made me fall in love with her in the first place, she didn’t do them anymore,” she recalls. Gellar, the star of Buffy the vampire slayer and movies such as Cruel intentions and Scooby doo, had moved far away from Hollywood and co-founded a company that sells homemade baking kits. It was far from the talking dogs and the picket monsters. “I was still a giant fan, but she didn’t act and she wasn’t photographed as much,” Georgia continues. “There was nothing to publish. I felt like I was nostalgic all the time.
Georgia’s dilemma, in which its favorite famous person pulls out of the limelight in pursuit of less convincing businesses, has become a celebrity highlight in recent times. Rihanna hasn’t made an album for five years but has become a beauty mogul. Cameron Diaz retired to make wines. Gwyneth Paltrow has swapped roles to make vaginal candles. Keeping up with all this dead air, it’s the fans, who are suddenly faced with fewer news updates to consider, closed-door council meetings instead of red carpets, and less to write about. the fan sites they run. And that was even before the start of the pandemic.
Rihanna’s exodus from music has basically become an internet meme at this point, with each of her Instagram posts inevitably serenaded by fans asking, “Where’s the album, sister?” “Years ago, music was just one of the goals of updating our site,” says Angey, who co-directs Ultimate Rihanna. “Not only is she not releasing music yet, but she’s really hiding, and not from the public eye like she was before.” Despite the pandemic, Angey points out that Rihanna had already stopped coming out the same way the global lockdown hit. “She doesn’t walk in the streets of New York, nor in clubs, because that was such a huge thing. People were like, “Ooh, new pictures, quick, upload this, spread it everywhere.” It is not seen in the same way. It’s a huge turning point from what it was before.
Some fandoms have been plunged into existential crises in the absence of their idol. Cult pop singer Sky Ferreira teased the sequel to her debut album At night my time for eight years, and there is still no release date in sight. She has performed and given interviews to top magazines in the meantime, but her actual music production has been minimal. “When I created this account at 17, I never thought at 21 that I still wouldn’t have a Sky Ferreira album to update,” the downcast Twitter account wrote last year. Sky Ferreira Updates.
Emma Watson Updates, meanwhile, oscillates between nostalgic imagery of Hermione Granger and conversations about her future. Their idol has been off-grid since last summer, when her Instagram account went inactive. She chose not to significantly promote the 2019s Little woman, and reports this week claimed that she had indeed retired from acting. In a December poll asking the site’s subscribers what they want from the star in 2021, 65% of Emma Watson Updates users voted “* crickets ring *”.
Perhaps the most extreme example of a poor fanbase is that of Britney Spears, who disappeared from the public eye and then appeared on Instagram with posts that occasionally caused concern. Her fans started the #FreeBritney movement, galvanized by the recent New York Times documentary on the star’s disturbing guardianship. They largely went into protective mode, eager to seek both karmic and legal justice for her, while others became more conspiratorial. Spears’ Instagram comments regularly welcome theories about the star’s secret releases, as well as allegations that old photographs and videos are being fraudulently presented as news.
For the most part, none of the stars who are MIA from their best-known pop culture day jobs are truly MIA. Instagrams are updated; product launches are launched. Anyone who is even vaguely famous today is much more available to be followed by fans, or just watched, than they were before the advent of social media. But that instant connection also makes it harder for fans to say goodbye to stars they once knew, especially if they stray from entertainment. And fans living in a cultural economy fueled by content quickly worry that something is wrong if they don’t get a steady supply of it.
“In the modern age, it’s almost impossible to retire from stardom,” says Hannah Ewens, author of Fangirls, an extended ode to the pop music fandom from The Beatles to One Direction. “People and often fans see their support as a non-negotiable access deal. Fame is not seen as something that can be given to a person and then thrown away. It is really a contract linked to freedom. This is why conspiracy theories of celebrities faking their deaths and living in solitude on a tropical island are so popular, with fans in particular… We just don’t like the idea that famous people arrogantly throw out their “gift” that we gave them. “
However, there is often empathy. Louisa ran a group of Taylor Lautner fans on Facebook at the height of the actor’s fame in the Twilight franchise, but stopped updating it once Lautner started working less afterwards. Her life embarrassed her as well. “I had just started college when the last Twilight came out,” she recalls, “that was also the last time he was in a big, big movie. For a while I was able to balance all of this like living my life and going to class while updating the site. But then I got too busy, and I think Taylor himself maybe wanted to stop being so “out” in public. I call it a mutual disruption.
Lautner is very active on Instagram, with 6.2 million followers, but has not acted since his run on the BBC Three sitcom Hello ended in 2018. Louisa always looks back fondly on her years in the Taylor Lautner fandom. “I made so many friendships there and I was able to be creative,” she says. “But looking back, it was also probably a lot to be the real person that everyone was there for. It was intense. I totally understand if he wanted to quit working so much, or just not be famous anymore. He must have made so much money from these films. If I could just relax on a beach somewhere with my Twilight cash, I would do it in the blink of an eye.
If there is something that unites the stories of these stars, it is that they became famous mostly as children or adolescents, and their growth happened in front of the cameras. Along with all this, there was, for many of them, a lack of personal autonomy. There were agents and publicists, producers and record labels, journalists and photographers, all hovering in the background and shaping the stars that millions of fans have fallen in love with. In return, they gave and they gave. So it’s no surprise that they are growing up and wanting to escape the failed Hollywood race or become CEOs of branded start-ups. There, at least, the arbitration between producer and consumer is more balanced in their favor. Megastars have better control over their visibility, the work itself is theirs, and their personal lives don’t automatically get lost – you don’t need a red carpet date when it’s not. there are no more red carpets to go to.
“It seems that artists only seek complete privacy when they have achieved mass visibility,” says Ewens, of how celebrities often treat celebrity. “It makes me wonder if it’s only good while it’s useful, so when you want to make money or receive some initial rewards. There is almost nothing redeeming about being highly visible – especially online – other than those two things… There is so much pressure that comes with visibility and there is almost no escape. At least in the beginning or in the middle of your career. “
But if these stars decide to return to what first made them so loved, they’ll be applauded. “As soon as Rihanna comes back with a single or any kind of music news, people will quickly reactivate their accounts, even if they are gone,” Angey insists. “I swear none of us will ever go away for good.”