Earlier this week, footage of A$AP Rocky and his crew engaged in a physical altercation in Sweden appeared on Reddit. The video was published by TMZ and quickly spread online. But shortly afterward, the rapper took to Instagram and posted a video that depicted events leading up to the altercation, suggesting the person seen being attacked had been harassing Rocky’s group and others. The accompanying caption read, “HITS SECURITY IN FACE WITH HEADPHONES THEN FOLLOW US.”
Rocky has since been arrested and charged with assault. Whether punishment follows, Rocky has at least attempted to protect himself from demonization by tabloids. Getting ahead of the news cycle in sensitive situations like this is something most rappers usually don’t have the opportunity to do. Some might view posting the video as an effort to prove his innocence in a society where many would automatically assume his guilt, a life-saving tool in the wake of Black Lives Matter and ongoing police brutality against African Americans.
Even though celebrities have teams around them equipped to handle an incoming media crisis, the celebrities themselves are becoming more strategic about how they manage their PR. Publicists almost aren’t necessary when issuing a statement through a screenshot from the Notes app has become a formality. Reaching out to representatives for comment will always be standard protocol for reporters, but an approach in which a celebrity releases a statement through social media is far more direct.
Of course, there’s nothing new about artists bypassing traditional PR and using social media to amplify their message. But in this age of hyper-scrutiny, they have figured out how to manipulate a narrative to their advantage even before all of the facts are out or due process has run its course.
Taylor Swift is fluent in the art of narrative control, a mastermind of knowing exactly how she wants her side of the story to be told. While she is yet to post footage online to back up her claims a la Rocky, it was she who broke the news that Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings had acquired Big Machine Label Group, a move that gave him ownership of all of her old master recordings.
Outraged by what she perceived as betrayal, Swift wrote a scathing post on Tumblr to express her disappointment and anger, accusing Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta of stripping her of her life’s work and making one of her worst nightmares come true.
Swift’s grip on the narrative can sometimes slip out of her control, though. In certain moments she has been positioned as the victim, but there has also been a pattern of facts being conveniently hidden, with certain details that don’t align with her version of a story getting omitted. After demanded to be excluded from Kanye West‘s narrative regarding her portrayal in the song and video for “Famous,” Kim Kardashian set the record straight by sharing a recording of a phone conversation between them that Swift had neglected to mention.
In the aftermath of the Big Machine affair, Borchetta shared his own statement, writing, “Taylor had every chance in the world to own not just her master recordings, buy every video, photograph, everything associated to her career. She chose to leave.” Braun’s wife also came to his defense, accusing the singer of bullying him by making a public display so that her stans would assemble. Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato also spoke highly of Braun in statements, asserting their loyalty to him.
Of course, none of that really made a difference. By this point, celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Halsey, and Sky Ferriera had already vocalized their support for Swift and a wider conversation about music ownership and creative labor was taking place within the industry. Meanwhile, The Blast reported that Swift refused to take Braun’s phone call when the deal was being discussed and she still won’t cooperate with anyone affiliated with him.
If there’s anyone whose example celebrities should follow, it’s Lil Nas X. The Georgia rapper recently found himself in a homophobic crossfire after he closed out Pride Month by casually coming out as gay. Instead of staying silent, he’s been jokingly replying to anyone who questions his sexuality and churning out original memes.
Celebrities no longer need to sit down for interviews to get their message across. The days of famous people biting their tongues and waiting for the attention to pass are officially over. A global audience is at their fingertips, and with the touch of a button, the story practically writes itself if they frame it with the right filter.
Either way, fans will rally behind their idols no matter what evidence they are shown. When the whole story eventually gets out, if we’re even still talking about it by then, the facts won’t be substantial enough to convince stans brainwashed by confirmation bias. The court of public opinion utilizes an agenda entirely of its own free will.