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Christina Aguilera, Jay-Z, And The Case Of Fake Celebrity Progressivism

As Maureen O’Connor explained at The Cut yesterday, something very strange is going on with a Billboard profile of Christina Aguilera. Us Weekly reported, and lots of outlets repeated, that the profile contained the following passage:

I got tired of being a skinny white girl. I am Ecuadorian but people felt so safe passing me off as a skinny, blue-eyed white girl … [In 2002,] I had gained about 15 pounds during promotion and during my Stripped tour. They called this serious emergency meeting about how there was a lot of backlash about my weight. Basically, they told me I would effect [sic] a lot of people if I gained weight — the production, musical directors. They claimed people I toured with would also miss out if I gained weight because I would sell no records or tickets for my shows. I was young, so I lost the weight quickly and was toothpick thin during [2006’s] Back to Basics promos and touring.

I told them during this Lotus recording, ‘You are working with a fat girl. Know it now and get over it.’ They need a reminder sometimes that I don’t belong to them. It’s my body. My body can’t put anyone in jeopardy of not making money anymore — my body is just not on the table that way anymore.

Except it doesn’t exist, and no one’s sure where they come from. And while the fakery is deeper, the whole incident reminds me a great deal of something that happened in January. After the birth of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s daughter, a blogger named Renee Gardener wrote a poem about the use of the word “bitch” in Jay-Z’s music that made it sound like he was swearing off that particular epithet in his music: “Before I got in the game, made a change, and got rich/ I didn’t think hard about using the word b*tch/ I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it/ Now with my daughter in this world I curse those that give it.” The poem was widely attributed to him and occasioned an out-pouring of praise. The idea of one of hip-hop’s biggest icons taking a conscious stand against misogyny and repudiating his past casual use of it was clearly powerful to a lot of people, except it wasn’t true.

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There’s a clear hunger for celebrities who speak the truth about their industries, who shake off trends like fat-shaming, or the denigration of women, a hunger so intense that people will fabricate things, or buy into relatively implausible misattributions in order to satisfy those cravings. You’d think that incidents like these would show the power of authenticity and honesty as a product, demonstrate the demand for artists who don’t look like they starve themselves and singers whose views on women evolve, for a celebrity culture that’s more human and less homogenized, less shackled to its past.