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It's Tough to be a Diva, These Days

Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011

Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011 11:10

Taylor Swift

Bryan Mitchell, Detroit Free Press, MCT

Taylor Swift, pictured performing during her summer tour, is part of a new crop of divas living under an intense cultural microscope.

Cher never did it. Neither did Beyonce nor Britney.

Katy Perry changes outfits eight times during just one song on her current concert tour.

That may sound excessive, but what concertgoers see when Perry performs "Hot N Cold," illustrates how hard it is to be a music diva these days. You have to get the attention of the media as often as you can. New hairdo, new tweet, new drama.

Diana Ross, Madonna and Mariah Carey never had it like this.

"When Lady Gaga's record came out and she was doing TV all over the world, I would say it's five times more than Madonna did," said publicist-to-the-stars Liz Rosenberg, who has represented Madonna forever and Cher for the past 12 years. "If they're not saying 'You're overexposed,' then you're not doing your job."

The attention span of fans in this ADD-like pop world demands something new constantly. The attitude of music lovers can be summed up in a song by another vintage diva: Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately?"

Perry seems to release a new single every five weeks. Jennifer Lopez zoomed up the charts with "On the Floor" in May, then disappeared as soon as "American Idol" went off the air. After three No. 1 up-tempo hits, Rihanna released a so-so ballad, and suddenly Nicki Minaj has replaced her in the hearts of dance-pop fans.

"The appetite is insatiable," said Rosenberg, just back in New York after a trip to Sturgis, S.D., with client Stevie Nicks.

When Madonna was starting out in the early 1980s, Rosenberg had just a few targets: Rolling Stone, MTV, "Entertainment Tonight," major newspapers, key radio stations and maybe People magazine. Nowadays, PR involves maintaining a website and Facebook pages, posting regular tweets, singing on TV – morning shows sell albums, late-night shows add cachet – getting plugs on such sites as Perez Hilton and TMZ, scoring magazine features in the likes of Cosmopolitan and InStyle, and walking the red carpet at endless award shows and movie premieres.

These days, there are media opportunities around the clock, whether the stars want them or not.

Step out of the house, paparazzi will capture the moment. Go to the convenience store, a fan will snap your photo with a cellphone. Make a scene at a nightclub, someone will post it on YouTube.

Longtime country queen Reba McEntire, who has scored a No. 1 Nashville song in each of the past four decades, knows the landscape isn't the same anymore.

"It's unfortunate," she said. "You need to be on all the time. No matter where you go, you're (fair) game. If you're business-savvy, you'll look presentable. There's not a day I walk out of the house without my makeup on and looking decent. We all want press, but we want good press, too."

Enter what Rosenberg calls the Glam Squad: the team of hairstylist, makeup artist, wardrobe stylist and dresser that's now part of the retinue of an all-day diva. Madonna never needed this much attention except on days when she was shooting a video – and that was in the privacy of a soundstage.

"It's way more extreme than it used to be on the wardrobe part," Rosenberg said. Some divas work directly with couture designers; some have stylists who pick out their clothes.

Some, including Dolly Parton, even have assistants who send out tweets for them.

Any way you look at it, "fans expect much more," Rosenberg says. "They used to just expect a great record and maybe a little press."

Lady Gaga is the master of the media moment. For her, every appearance is a performance – whether it's arriving at the Grammys red carpet riding in an egg, wearing a dress made of raw meat on the MTV awards or being interviewed on "60 Minutes."

As gossip-loving radio host Cobbs puts it: "Lady Gaga dresses for Halloween every day – sometimes three Halloweens in one day."

Visuals aren't the only way to get attention. Drama has fueled fan interest going back to the advent of movie magazines in the silent-film era. Britney Spears' continuing episodes – her shaved head, weight issues and battle for the custody of her kids and her finances – have made her one of the most Googled stars. Taylor Swift's dustup with Kanye West on the MTV awards and her romances with a string of older men, including Jake Gyllenhaal, elevated her from a teen sensation to a household name. Katy Perry hooking up with wild-man comedian Russell Brand certainly generated more juice than, say, Cher cavorting with her "bagel boy."

"The revelation of a lot of their lives is amped up these days," Rosenberg observed.

Drama, though, doesn't always equate with commercial success, she says.

In 2011, success is defined differently from how it was in Madonna's heyday. Album sales aren't what they used to be, though being No. 1 on Billboard's charts is still prestigious. Selling out concert tours still matters. But winning in today's pop world also includes two new measures – Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

 

Taylor Swift w/NEEDTOBREATHE, Jobing.com Arena, Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, 7 p.m., $41-$88

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