As current events and political debate leak more and more into everyday discussion via social media and 24/7 news cycles, an intriguing occurrence has arisen. It seems that now, more than ever, the American public wants and demands that public figures declare their ethical, moral, and political beliefs. From pushing Taylor Swift to denounce the “alt-right” to praising or vilifying an ad for men’s grooming products, American consumers seem to be more adamant that brands and stars take stands, using their platforms to reinforce or propagate whatever causes the consumers themselves believe in.
The further this trend spreads, the more the question is raised: Why do we care what celebrities think? Why do we need people who get paid to look pretty and entertain us to push political rhetoric or join social justice movements? They’re not paid for their socioeconomic stances. They’re not even, in many cases, much more informed than the rest of us — some almost hopelessly less so. So, why is this, to put it bluntly, a thing? The answer, as with many things — some might even say most — lies with the modern avatar of the American Dream: Cardi B.
Last night, Cardi did what Cardi does best: She spoke directly to her fans and friends on social media via a typically blunt, funny, and eerily insightful Instagram video, addressing her concerns about the government shutdown currently plaguing the country, turning National Parks into dumping grounds and airports into impromptu turn-ups. “Trump is now ordering Federal workers to go back without getting paid,” she lamented. “Our country is in a hell hole over a f*cking wall. I feel like we need to take some action. I don’t know what type of action, b*tch because this is not what I do. But b*tch, I’m scared… I really feel bad for the people who gotta go to work to not get motherf*cking paid.”
The post was trademark Cardi, as well as an insight into just why so many of us demand political opinions from our favorite entertainers. While their platforms are in some ways more prestigious and profoundly larger than many of those who are experts, it’s not just about spreading a message. Social media has drawn us closer than ever to our favorite stars, making them feel less like larger-than-life myths and legends and more like close friends and confidants. We pour ourselves emotionally into their art, but also into the personas they project via Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter, forming a bond with them that make us feel like we know them — and that they know us, making it important for us to keep things in common.
That’s why so many Kanye superfans turned on him when he became a vociferous Trump supporter last year. Yes, by buttressing dangerous and sometimes bigoted conservative rhetoric from Trump and his right-wing compatriots, he helped reassure those folks that their views were legitimate and correct. But in doing so, he also alienated those fans who felt that they could no longer relate to his views — even those who were fooling themselves that he’d relate to them. A huge part of the appeal of Kanye was that he was a regular guy — he was the college dropout into kicks and fashion, not the stereotypical, ice-grilling thug endemic to hip-hop marketing during his rise to fame. Of course, by the time he became “MAGA-Ye,” he was long past that image, but still flashed enough of it to keep that thread of connection between himself and his day one fans alive and vibrant.
It’s the same way Cardi B became a household name. She billed herself as a “regular, degular, schmegular” girl from the Bronx who consistently peeled back the curtain on the celebrity come-up, live-streaming her real home life sans makeup, wigs, and designer clothes. She talked about bodily functions, her anxieties with work, her family and relationship drama. She felt like one of the girls. She still does. When she talks about her issues with the border wall and the government shutdown, it doesn’t matter that she’s not a pundit — it matters that she reflects our anxieties and views back to us, so we don’t feel quite as alone.
Cardi B really is America. She’s everybody who doesn’t really know how the system works, doesn’t know what to do, but sees the news and feels angry and helpless and anxious about what they see. Coming from a lower class upbringing, lacking a college education, Instagramming the story of her life in real time; she’s closer to the “real” America than most of CNN, Fox News, or Capitol Hill will ever be. When she talks about everything that’s going on, she speaks from the level of the people politics really affects rather than those who participate in it like it’s a game. And when she finds out how to help, you can bet she’ll share it with her fans, giving them the power to effect real change. She showed why fans need artists to speak up — and why they need to make sure they have something to say.