Celebrity culture is not built for strong fan connections


Celebrity culture is not built for strong fan connections

By Brooke Pawling Stennett

Emo rapper and fashion star Gustav Åhr—who went by Lil Peep professionally—released his debut album Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1 Aug. 15, and now, a few short months later, he is dead. 

According to a Nov. 16 Guardian article, Åhr died of a suspected overdose. Hours before his Tucson, Arizona, show in a now deleted Instagram video, Åhr reportedly told the camera he had taken six Xanax and was “not sick.” 

At only 21, Åhr had a bright future ahead of him and has been dubbed the hero of emo music. But there was also pain lingering underneath his tattoo-covered exterior. Åhr detailed his struggle with drug abuse and mental health in other Instagram posts that are painful to read. One post said, “When I die, you’ll love me.” His music contained themes of suicide as well; the song “omfg” has the lyrics: “Used to wanna kill myself/Came up, still wanna kill myself.” 

Although Åhr had more than 1.3 million followers on the platform, his fans are pointing out that it’s as if he was shouting into the void. Some are pinning blame on the people surrounding Åhr, asking inevitable questions about who was helping him in his darkest moments. Åhr’s death is an unfortunate loss to the world and music community, but it has also caused a necessary discussion of how much we really know about the celebrities we love. 

It’s easy in the accessible world that social media creates to assume that when you are a fan of a celebrity, you know them better than anyone else. There is now an entire industry dedicated to branding big companies, sports teams and actors on social media to make them more personable and relatable.

It makes it all the more confusing when basic instinct tells us to reach out and help the ones we love when they’re obviously hurting. But the truth is we know nothing about these people and their privacy or—most importantly—the state of their mental health. We can analyze their lyrics or their social media posts, but in reality, we only see the bare minimum of what they want us to see. Their lives are on the other side of a door we have no access to other than the occasional peek, and that will never change. Celebrity culture has no place for that kind of connection and every person deserves privacy.

In the case of Åhr, no one can know for sure whether his posts were a cry for help. Although this is devastating for his fans, it is beyond disrespectful for people to sit around and discuss his mental well-being without really knowing him. He is no different than anyone else you might have encountered on the internet, admired from afar, only to find out they have died. It stings, but we move on. His impact on the music world was important, but his impact on the people who really knew him inside and out is much greater. 

Being a fan does not give anyone a free pass to dissect a celebrity’s life, no matter how much they share with the world. We don’t know who was helping Åhr in his darkest moments. All we really know now is that his manager posted to his private Twitter saying he had been expecting this kind of call for a year, according to a Nov. 16 Billboard article. 

There is no one to blame at this point. We know little about Åhr and his tragic death. It should stay that way. We only know of his struggles, his passion for music and the short, impressionable social media footprint he has left. There is nothing more harrowing than for Åhr’s fans to have lost him after such a short time with his music. But his legacy should be just that—his music and its impact.