Things were very different for pop stars during the cultural bubble of 2002 - 2009. What changed? And what happens for those who made their name then, but want to continue their fame now?
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
On September 22nd Fergie finally released Double Dutchess, the follow-up to her 2006 debut, and one of the greatest relics to be bred from the 2000s' pop scene. Both of which we choose not to talk about. Despite delivering jams like "Big Girls Don't Cry," "London Bridge," and "Glamorous" (never forget: the flossy, flossy) we file Fergie away as a blip on the cultural radar and categorize her as a guilty pleasure, as though the Black Eyed Peas didn't soundtrack a decade. Which is the way we've tended to think of most of the female artists who defined noughties-era top 40 pop: Pussycat Dolls, Paris Hilton, Christina Milian, and even Lindsay Lohan (whose solo career isn't nearly as bleak as we've written it off as). And while so much of 2000s pop was defined by excess, by exhibitionism, and by overtly competing with other women (see: "Girlfriend"), it also laid the groundwork for what the charts consist of today.
Pop music between 2002-2009 was a different game. It was largely intangible which made it seem disposable (thanks to streams and illegal downloads). It used sex as a bankable makeover tool (Christina Aguilera and Stripped). And it seemed like a reasonable avenue through which existing celebrities could stretch their creative wings and fly. I mean, it was only after Nicole Scherzinger joined forces with the burlesque group, The Pussycat Dolls, that she gave rise to a series of number ones, while the music of Freaky Friday and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen led to Lindsay Lohan's 2004 release of "Rumors". Meanwhile, Paris Hilton recorded "Stars Are Blind" because she could. And to be honest, it wasn't that bad.
The 2000s were an anomaly. After the internet birthed a new mode of cultural consumption in the 90s (you never forget the first song you downloaded), the 00s delivered the last dose of mystery. Tabloid blogs had begun covering stars who acted out, but there was still a lack of real-time coverage and critical analysis, particularly since there was no direct line between pop stars and their fan bases (nor mediums like Twitter or Facebook). Which meant that artists could still be packaged in specific, safe, and formulaic ways without us questioning them too much. (A valuable commodity since the 90s had been so rooted in experimentation, rebellion, and challenging the industry altogether. Lest we forget, "The world is bullshit.")
"Pop stars have been awarded more room to grow and more room to change, challenge, and open up about who they actually are. Pop stars of the 2000s weren't afforded that luxury."
Of course, by the time Britney Spears experienced her mental health crisis in 2007, our approach to pop stars changed again. Social media allowed for a stream of commentary and coverage, erasing the barrier between pop stars and the rest of us. By 2009, most public figures were becoming more and more accessible, and the mystery was gone: stars, indeed, were just like us — in that they were complex, flawed, and figuring it out as they went along.
Which is the ethos pop stars now are willingly embracing. On the group front, Fifth Harmony have begun using their music to celebrate their self-awareness and sexuality, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez parlayed their Disney backgrounds into pop careers, and Miley Cyrus's recent singles are explicitly about her makeup and breakup with Liam Hemsworth. Not to mention that this summer, Paris Hilton even teased a new single called "Summer Reign" (which was more of a buzzkill than a revelation when we remembered she was a Trump supporter). Ultimately, pop stars have been awarded more room to grow and more room to change, challenge, and open up about who they actually are. Pop stars of the 2000s weren't afforded that luxury.
Despite Fergie being open about her history of substance abuse, it still took years for Scherzinger to talk about the eating disorder she dealt with during her time in PD. And that brand of silence was typical in terms of what we expected from young pop stars ten years ago. Lohan's "Confessions of a Broken Heart" was explicitly about the rocky relationship she had with her father, but she only really opened up about him in an interview this year. Ashlee Simpson, the punky anti-pop star (who was still totally a pop star), only began speaking candidly about her personal life after she got married and had a baby — despite having spent most of the 2000s starring in a reality show that saw her struggle with her body, fame, and family. So for artists who'd come up before social media began encouraging — and rewarding — transparency and vulnerability has become a luxury. As opposed to a currency, which it is now.
While tabloids once pushed the ideal that stars were like us as a means of making the rich and famous seem relatable, the introduction of Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat began proving it. (And we loved it.) Sure, celebrities still existed in their own world, but by offering us a direct line to their thoughts, feelings, and internal battles, we began to feel connected to them in a deeper and more profound way. Add to this the cultural shift in terms of being open about one's sexuality, gender identity, and mental health struggles, and the mark of a relevant pop star has become one who's in control of their own narrative and one who lets us share in it.
"While tabloids once pushed the ideal that stars were like us as a means of making the rich and famous seem relatable, the introduction of Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat began proving it."
Which is leaps and bounds from where we were in the 2000s, when Us Weekly, InTouch, and TMZ bred an international obsession with the downfalls of celebrities. With increased coverage, we wanted them to be like us, but, without social media, to seem different enough for us to escape into their problems without drawing too many parallels to our own. Without the conversations about mental health and boundaries we've finally begun having recently, tabloids relished in dissecting artists like Fergie, Scherzinger, Lohan, and even Madonna (who's one of the only pop stars who've ever really been allowed to make music while still aging).
But Fergie's renaissance has given us a chance to learn from our mistakes — and a chance for Fergie to show us who she is outside mid-noughties industry norms. Artists dominating top 40 have claimed more room to grow, and over the last year, we've watched artists like Demi Lovato speak openly about addiction and mental health and Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga open up about chronic pain. And Fifth Harmony has taken stock in becoming politicized, using Twitter to call out Donald Trump. 00s-era pop may have still aligned itself with the ideal that accessibility equates to silence (or saying nothing of real value), but artists defining the 2010s have come to redefine the role of a pop star. It's not enough to release a catchy single, said single must also be woke.
Which is something we're seeing extended outside of music, too. Models like Kendall Jenner have come under scrutiny for their failed branding endeavors (shoutout to Pepsi) and been held accountable for their choices, while actors have begun using their platforms to speak on the social and political clusterfucks of 2017. So finally, we're beginning to see young talent as people with agency. They've claimed too much depth to fit back into a shallow and outdated industry mold.
So 11 years after The Dutchess, it'll be interesting to see where Fergie fits into our current pop climate, particularly as the biggest news to come out of her revival has been the dissolution of her marriage. As an artist who voiced a chunk of noughties anthems, she's more than earned her right to a comeback. But in addition to that comeback, it will be worth noting to see how she adapts to an era built on authenticity and transparency — and even more, whether we, as fans, will let her.