“Celebrity feuds are good for business,” says Mario Lavandeira. “They get both parties press, and press often translates to money — record sales, TV ratings, box office or whatever it is that you might need press for.”
Lavandeira should know. As Perez Hilton, he regularly reports on the dust-ups of the stars on his blog. And since becoming a celebrity himself, he’s been involved with several high profile feuds that have only served to raise his profile. In fact, the San Francisco Chronicle reported recently that Ashlee Simpson-Wentz had “waged war” on Lavandeira after he published an unflattering tidbit about the singer and her husband, Pete Wentz.
Celebrity feuds seem to be all the rage these days, and almost weekly there are reports about someone famous engaged in a war of words with someone else. The gossip site TMZ, which was founded in late 2005, devotes a whole section to the subject, and just over two years ago a Web site dealing exclusively with battles of the stars went online.
Fights between the entertainment industry’s rich and powerful are nothing new, of course. When VH1 ran a program on the “40 Greatest Celebrity Feuds” in 2003, it included stars from long ago, such as Frank Sinatra and Andy Kaufman. What’s new is the frequency with which the disputes seem to flare. Which raises the question: How many of them are real?
Currently, gossip sites, newspapers and blogs are reporting on Eminem and Mariah Carey’s back-and-forth insults (with Carey’s hubby Nick Cannon chiming in on his blog every now and then). There was also news that Katy Perry said some rude and critical things about Lady Gaga, but then she denied that. Still, Perry's battles with U.K. pop star Lily Allen and Miley Cyrus are a fresh memory. There’s also Shaquille O’Neal, who called out David Beckham via Twitter, and Brooke Hogan, who released a song dissing Heidi Montag, whose husband Spencer Pratt then dissed Hogan.
With all these disputes being aired in public, it’s hard not to think at least some celebrities let inflammatory words fly to keep their names in the press as Lavandeira claims. “A good amount of the time when you’re reading about these celebrity feuds, it’s a strategic move on the celebrity’s part,” he said.
Longtime Village Voice celebrity/gossip writer Michael Musto agrees: “I think these Lady Gaga-type celebrities realize they get a bump PR-wise if they come forward with their rivalries.
“I don’t think they’re making it up per se,” Musto said. “But I think they play it up for media attention and we all devour it because we’re so tired of hearing the usual PR baloney about how celebrities are so happy and everything is a labor of love. It gives us a chance to dig below that surface and get some delicious hatred.”
Tantrums and technology
The “usual PR baloney” Musto speaks of refers to publicists who used to issue “statements” on behalf of celebrities before digital technology allowed stars to bypass the whole process. That, Lavandeira says, changed the game.
“I think it’s a lot easier these days to have feuds with somebody because publicists nowadays aren’t always involved,” Lavandeira said. “Celebrities can take to their Twitter or their blogs, or any other outlet that’s direct to their fans.”
Like Cannon and O’Neal, Lindsay Lohan has been known to sound off about her breakups on her MySpace blog. Also, a few weeks ago Lavandeira reported on how Courtney Love had a “hissy fit” over how she thought emerging female rockers were copying her vintage grunge style. Love wrote (replete with typos): “Yes but the chick from Goissip Girl and the verons girls arent actually playing ROCKMUSIC anyone takes seriousl.Itscrappy POP.” Love has since taken her Twitter account private.
Musto also notes that while public bickering might be an easy way for the famous to grab more headlines, some of the emotion behind the acting out may be real.
“It’s harder for celebrities to cover up their true feelings the way they did in the old days, thanks to Twittering, everyday sleuths with cell phones and video cameras capturing every aspect of celebrity life. A lot of these feuds now come to the forefront.”
Karina Kogan agrees with Musto. She is executive vice president of Buzz Media, which publishes the gossip Web site Celebuzz.com, as well as the blogs of Nicole Richie, Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears.
“I think these (feuds) start thanks to social networks, where for the first time individuals had very personal but also very public platforms on which to speak out,” Kogan said. “The younger generation is especially very comfortable with taking to a MySpace blog or Twitter to sort of talk about how they’re feeling. And sometimes how they’re feeling means ‘I’m mad at such and such a person.’
“Like any young person who has been drinking and is upset, they’re likely to say things that maybe they wish they hadn’t said the next morning,” Kogan said. “I look at the evolution of a digital space as being instrumental to feuds, because previously you’d have to go to your publicist to make a statement.”
Noelle Talmon, managing editor of the entertainment news Web site Starpulse.com also agrees Twitter and blogs have allowed stars to unleash more of their raw emotions, but like Lavandeira and Musto, she can’t help but think there’s more to it than just that.
“Not everybody’s gonna like each other,” she notes. “But would normal people want to air that out there?”
Talmon mentions that Eminem and Carey both happened to have new product either out or on the way when their war suddenly erupted. “They’ve conveniently been going back and forth in the press about what’s going on between them, so I think it’s put the publicity out there for them,” Talmon said.
The omnipresence of the Internet, Talmon notes, has also meant that not only are celebs able to air unfiltered gripes quicker, but the public is able to access that information almost instantly.
“Whereas before we might see a clip on TV about it or we might read about it in Us magazine, now you just go online and it’s in your face,” she said.
The result of all of these ill feelings being made public is that any short-term gains celebrities get might be undercut by long-term losses that might follow, according to Musto.
“I think if you have a history of constantly ragging on all your rivals, then the press and the industry start to think of you as a petty person who might not be worth working with,” he said. “Because you’re gonna be someone who is constantly blowing the whistle on them. So I think these celebrities should take note of that before they start fighting with everyone they’ve ever met.”
Spencer and Heidi, you’ve been warned.