Taylor Swift is no doubt an incredibly talented performer. She has won Grammys, sold millions of records and has become a beauty and fashion icon for the masses of female millennials. But, like a lot of celebrities, T-Swift has also faced accusations of being self-obsessed, exploitative of her ex-boyfriends by writing songs about them, conceited, cold, and the epitome of elitist with her “girl squad” of mostly gorgeous glamazons.
Being criticized and judged is part of the package for a celebrity. You get to have the spotlight, and all the fame and money and attention that come with it – good and bad. As a former E! host A. J. Benza used to declare at the end of each episode of “Hollywood Mysteries and Scandals:” “Fame, ain’t it a bitch.”
As accurate as many accusations of narcissism and self-serving behavior by celebrities can be, however, in my twenty-one years covering the world of celebrity I have learned that these icons of fame sometimes use their platform to promote causes bigger than themselves. And in these moments I realize that they deserve credit for this.
Taylor Swift refreshingly joined the ranks of meaningful celebrity lives in August when she engaged in a costly court battle and won – a symbolic one dollar – her lawsuit against a former Denver radio deejay who she accused of groping her at a meet and greet. I covered the six-day trial for E! News and E! Online and saw firsthand the incredible power that celebrities have to use their profile to raise attention to social issues.
Moments after a jury found that the deejay had assaulted and battered her, Swift released a statement: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society, and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.” Swift quickly was heralded as a role model and hero for many women. In that moment, Swift had plunged out of the kiddie pool and into the deep end of Celebrity.
I was heartened that Swift had found justice in a case that she easily could have just settled and made go away. But I also was reminded that Swift’s action represented the best of what celebrity has to offer – and it’s a side that recently came into focus for me while researching my new book, The Ken Commandments: My Search for God in Hollywood. In the book, I investigated whether all the tropes of celebrity superficiality were true, or if, in fact, these famous icons were able to help me dig into the deepest parts of my spiritual self and discover what I truly believe.
I learned how to meditate from Oprah’s good friend and guru Deepak Chopra. I investigated Scientology, aka “Tom Cruise-ology.” I attended regular Bible study with a pastor known for ministering to the souls of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Gwen Stefani. I went to church with the Kardashians. I broke down in tears during a psychic reading with clairvoyant-to-the-stars, Tyler Henry. I did yoga alongside the most famously toned bodies in town. I talked to dozens of celebrities about their spiritual faith.
What I found was that, whether or not I shared the same beliefs or values that they were promoting, these public people were spending their private time engaged in some very earnest pursuits. So, yes, I did find God in Hollywood, and it reminded me that we can receive messages that can be profound, important ones even when they are coming from rich, beautiful and wildly famous messengers.