When Beyoncé released Lemonade in April 2016, she received flooding praise for opening up about her marital “problems” with Jay-Z. She was treated like a feminist saint for singing, “I don’t want to lose my pride but I’m going to fuck up a bitch,” in songs like “Hold Up,” and elegantly screaming, “Suck on my balls, I’ve had enough” in “Sorry.” Then, there’s the famous lyric about “Becky with the good hair.”
Although Lemonade is, in general, a superb album, it’s hard not to wonder how so many people were so easily fooled. Beyoncé is the most PR savvy artist today. After all, Jay-Z not only appeared on “Forgiveness,” one of Lemonade’s more emotional tracks, but the album was marketed through Jay-Z’s streaming app, TIDAL.
Well, it turns out that not everybody was fooled. Nicole Lyn Pesce of the New York Daily News said what other critics should have said if they weren’t so afraid of being harassed by Beyoncé’s rabid fans.
“But is the Beyhive being played here? Because now that we’ve had a few days to digest ‘Lemonade,’ the wronged woman premise is harder to swallow. Are we finally seeing the real Beyoncé, or is this just another meticulously choreographed performance?”
Well, if you fell for Beyoncé’s stunt, there is some good news. Jay-Z has apologized to Beyoncé on his new album 4:44. And once again, tears of the easily manipulated are flowing and holding Jay-Z up as an example of a good husband who made mistakes but learned from them. However, many on Twitter aren’t convinced.
None of this “publicity stunt” talk matters to Jay-Z or Beyoncé; they got people to talk and buy their records. Of course, some would question why the Carters would engage in this type of stunt since people would buy their records anyway. But publicity stunts have always been a part of the industry and have even been used by stars such as Michael Jackson and Madonna during their peaks.
Creating or exaggerating some type of feud to sell records isn’t new. In 2009, Mariah Carey was desperate for a hit. Her 2008 album E=MC2 was a huge bomb (when judged by expectations). So, Mariah made a song called “Obsessed,” which didn’t mention Eminem by name but gave all the hints one needed to know he was the object of her “scorn.” Then, there was that music video.
“You a mom and pop, I’m a corporation/I’m in the press conference, you’re a conversation,” Carey sang, only years away from non-existent record sales as well as becoming a television show host—something Eminem hasn’t resorted to yet. But that hardly mattered. There were several whisperings inside the music industry that pointed out Mariah Carey and Eminem’s feud was a complete setup planned by both management teams.
Soon after Mariah released her poorly-received dis track, Eminem came in swinging back at Carey with his new single “Bagpipes from Baghdad.” Fans began to take sides—without realizing they were being played.
In August 2009, even Mariah’s husband Nick Cannon hinted that the Carey/Eminem feud was all a publicity stunt. Perhaps Cannon revealing the publicity stunt was another publicity stunt itself. In any case, the feud didn’t help Carey in the long-run. Though “Obsessed” made it into the top 10 (Carey’s brand new single releases were expected to hit No. 1 at the time), the rest of the singles failed to make even a minimal impact. And Mariah’s 2009 album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel became one of the biggest superstar album flops of the 2000s.
The music industry isn’t the only one that uses feuds as marketing strategies. Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel’s feud, which started around the time Fast & Furious 8 started filming, was widely accused by many of being a major PR stunt. During the filming of the 8th installment, the stars were “reported” to be at each other’s throats—or at least their biceps. In August 2016, Dwayne Johnson called out one of his co-stars (soon revealed to be “enemy” Vin Diesel) on Instagram, alleging his lack of professionalism. However, once the film opened to great box office success, the feud abruptly ended.
It’s important to note that not all celebrity feuds have been fake. Decades ago, the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was real. However, the studios loved it and used their feud to sell tickets. To this day, the music industry feeds off woman-on-woman feuds like recent ones between Madonna and Lady Gaga along with a conflict between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. The recent feud between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry is, perhaps, the most vicious one. But one has to wonder why so many feuds and broken relationships, which add nothing but negative energy, are becoming increasingly mainstream. Perhaps fake love affairs and friendships just don’t sell like they used to. In the entertainment industry, hate is stronger than love.
Daryl Deino is a writer, actor and civil rights activist who has appeared on shows such as The Untouchables, Parks and Recreation and Two Broke Girls. Besides writing for Observer, he has also written extensively about technology, entertainment and social issues for sites such as the Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Inquisitr and IreTron. Follow him on Twitter: @ddeino.