“Work Bitch” is a call-to-arms against the bourgeoisie. “Gimme More” advocates for wealth redistribution. “If U Seek Amy” rebukes Amy Klobuchar’s moderate liberal supporters. “Oops! … I Did It Again” praises repeated grassroots activism. And “Toxic,” of course, is the seminal rebuke to American democracy’s capitalist roots.
All please rise for Comrade Britney.
The singer — who is reportedly worth $59 million — seemingly advocating for radical societal change came as a welcome surprise to leftists and socialists on Twitter.
Mimi Zhu, a 25-year-old writer living in Brooklyn who created the message and image Spears shared on Instagram, says she is elated to be cosigned by the pop star. “I needed to write something that felt like it connected all of us. Our love is powerful and there are many ways we can share it,” Zhu tells MEL. “I was shocked and honored to know that Britney Spears reasoned with it too.”
Pop-star activism is nothing new. When we think of progressive or socialist celebrities, actresses like Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon come to mind, often stumping for Bernie Sanders or protesting climate change, then sharing videos of both online. They’re joined by the bombastic documentarian Michael Moore and leftist bands Vampire Weekend and the National.
But in the coronavirus outbreak, celebrities are finally reckoning with forces out of their control. Most are subject to the same quarantine all Americans are asked to take. The rich have to wrestle with how much they actually care about the wellbeing of the thousands of unknown fans they claim to love.
And so we’re now seeing a new wave of celebrity progressives speak out. Besides Spears, Cardi B and Fran Drescher both had viral leftist posts this week.
On Tuesday, Cardi B posted her latest lengthy Instagram video, slamming celebrities with mild symptoms who were able to obtain rapid COVID-19 tests when hospitals globally are short on resources. “People that work regular jobs, people that get regular paychecks, the middle class, the poor, they’re not getting treated like celebrities,” Cardi said in her video. “They’re not getting their fucking coronvairus results the next day.”
Later, in response to a post with the protest hashtag #GENERALSTRIKE, leftist icon Fran Drescher tweeted, “I agree. Capitalism has become another word for Ruling Class Elite! When profit is at the expense of all things of true value, we gotta problem.” Whew! The Nanny herself proved she’s actually down with the working class.
In fairness, these are brief and broad statements coming from a uniquely privileged set. Why do they resonate so much with a young, cynical, irony-poisoned set of leftists? And why do we give some celebs a pass but slam others for being well-meaning but tone-deaf?
Maybe it’s because it feels like the legends we stan are truly listening to us. To me, posts like Spears’, Cardi’s and Drescher’s feel like a rebuke to the countless celebrities who are desperate for a spotlight but have nothing to say. Beyond that “Imagine” video, it seems pop stars especially can’t seem to make sense of this pandemic. Madonna called COVID-19 “the great equalizer.” Taylor Swift got entangled in a feud with Kim Kardashian. Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa are moving their album releases. Vanessa Hudgens apparently joined a death cult.
Spears and Miley Cyrus — perhaps the two pop singers most critiqued as “erratic” — are among a few voices trying to use their platform for actual good, and they’re doing it on Instagram. Last week, Spears encouraged her 23.7 million Instagram followers to DM her so she could “help them out” with any coronavirus-related costs. Class traitors are always welcome in the revolution.
To be sure, the bar is embarrassingly low for white celebrities, specifically pop stars.
Spears was raised in Louisiana, has lived under a conservatorship for over 12 years and largely keeps a tight lid on her private life, which was once tabloid fodder. There is a genuine surprise that someone with such a conservative background would lean far left and do it so openly. The same leftist message may get less public attention when it comes from marginalized voices — even prominent Sanders supporter Cardi B, who dropped out of college and worked as a stripper before making it big.
“All of these critiques are extremely valid,” Zhu points out. Since Spears posted her words, she’s been wrestling with her own instinct to, as they say, eat the rich. “At the end of the day, I feel really disconnected to the wealthy, and so this connection has been something to grapple with,” she says.
In the end, Zhu is happy someone so famous understood what she was saying and felt inspired to act. “I know that we have to work toward radical change,” Zhu says. “If Spears resonates with it, then in the big picture, we are one step closer to achieving it.”