In late March this year the New York Times ran with a headline: “Celebrity culture is burning.” Ominous – but perhaps not incorrect. As the pandemic began to take hold across Europe and the United States, celebrities seemed hell-bent on tearing up whatever cultural capital they had.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres likened quarantining in her multi-million dollar California home to “being in jail”; Madonna mused on how coronavirus was “the great equaliser”. And, a cohort of high-profile celebrities came together to produce a montage performance of Imagine by John Lennon. Wonder Woman actress and the apparent organiser of this tone-deaf stunt, Gal Gadot, wrote: “You know, this virus has affected the entire world. Everyone. Doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from – we’re all in this together.”
As any remnants of goodwill we harboured towards stars began to dissipate, Jedward stepped up to the plate as the standard bearers for the so-called 'Good Celebrity'
It took very little for the mask to slip. And these stars – perpetuating the shallow message that they “really are just like us” – fell victim at the altar of public opinion.
It is not hard to recognise the staggering cognitive dissonance of a celebrity advocating for solidarity, and peddling the message that “we’re all in this together” from the comfortable surround of the Hollywood Hills, as they blast their messages to those living in cramped house shares; juggling child care as they work from home; or in many cases finding themselves jobless.
Perhaps all it took was a pandemic to reveal what has always been the case. But emerging from the ashes of this crumbling charade were two unlikely champions. As any remnants of goodwill we harboured towards the stars began to dissipate, Jedward stepped up to the plate as the unexpected standard bearers for the so-called “Good Celebrity”.
The identical twins – yes, the very same who burst onto the scene via X-Factor in 2009 – reached stardom for their turbo-camp performance style and their much-to-be-desired musical prowess (making them a perfect fit to represent Ireland in Eurovision in 2011 and 2012). And despite a few medium-profile media appearances, in the decade since they faded into relative obscurity.
That is until they returned to the scene with a new modus operandi. Champions of the people, social justice warriors, there to speak truth to power over Twitter. Almost overnight the nation – and farther afield – were captured.
This new version of Jedward first steamrollered into the public psyche via a Black Lives Matter protest in Hollywood in early June – as a video of one of the pair perched precariously on the bonnet of a moving car brandishing a sign emblazoned “Black Lives Matter” circulated across social media. And since, they have leaned into this new persona with abandon.
Twitter is their medium. And the latest in vogue political cause their message. The pair have taken on anti-maskers, anti-lockdown protesters, and even Brexit – declaring it to be “so much drama” (too right, Jedward).
There is something Trumpian in their style. Chaotic, firing in all directions, latching onto issues that naturally generate buzz and attention. The difference, of course, is that Jedward seem nothing but well intentioned; and their light-hearted enthusiasm utterly contagious. When they nominated themselves to replace Phil Hogan at the European Commission they caught the attention of none other than commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Jedward domination is all but complete.
If political identity is a fashion statement, Jedward could make good claim to be on the cover of Vogue. They are on your side, so they say, not merely pretending to be
Where the A-listers make vacuous calls for solidarity, Jedward are out manning the social media barricades. And where Madonna claims coronavirus is the great equaliser, Jedward have cast themselves as on the little guys’ team – united behind a common enemy (whoever that might be on any given day).
Smart publicity, combined with sincere political activism (those things are not, in fact, mutually exclusive), has done the pair wonders so far. If we view coronavirus as a perfect case study in celebrities struggling to remain relevant, Jedward may as well have written the textbook. When there are no film premiers, red carpets, no events to stir up tabloid drama, celebrities are struggling to stay atop of our news feeds – instead replaced with worthy adulation for the everyday heroes, frontline workers, beleaguered chief medical officers.
Jedward, then, have capitalised on a zeitgeist masterfully. In an age of highly marketable politics, where you get more cultural caché for being on the right side of the debate than you do for wearing the most hot-button designer on the red carpet, it is little surprise the pair have come out on top. If political identity is a fashion statement, Jedward could make good claim to be on the cover of Vogue. They are on your side, so they say, not merely pretending to be.
Though their primacy may not endure. When your popularity is derived from capitalising on political trends – no matter how honestly and no matter how pure the intentions – you are liable to fall out of favour as fast as the trends change.
Their foundation may be a brittle one, and they too may soon find themselves at the mercy of public opinion – but for now Jedward are the unlikely heroes of the day.