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Turbofolk Divas and Feminine Celebrity
“Celebrity culture is...an essential tool of commodification since it embodies desire” (Rojeck 187). Feminine celebrity is unique in that it acts as female empowerment while often simultaneously catering to the male gaze. The creation of “divas” exemplifies this phenomenon. While the term celebrity itself is gender neutral, the balance that female figures strike within this category is one of a kind. Furthermore, turbofolk divas have carved out a place in the world of celebrity for themselves that is distinct from other regions and genres.
Feminine celebrity is the set of experiences common to female celebrities, the type of influence and impact they have, and the branding they employ. Feminine celebrity has been evolving since it was observed in the 16th century (Rosalind 403). Many aspects remain the same, such as the use of feminine expectations to communicate a message, following a certain trope to remain in the spotlight, and society setting different standards for male and female celebrities. One of the first “divas”, the Italian Isabella Andreini, projected an image that portrayed her as very much the “good girl”. She put forth significant effort to quash any rumors of infidelity or sexual expression. This is very different from what can be observed in modern times, where sexuality is on full display. Feminine celebrity has evolved along with what is considered interesting or appealing (Rosalind 403). Referring back to Rojeck’s quote at the beginning of this essay, modern day celebrity is advertisement. Advertisement of a celebrity as a product to be desired, something that can be obtained. That is, the desire is for the celebrity herself (Rojeck 188). This is in contrast to the case of Isabella Andreini. She was something to be desired, but she did not advertise herself as a sexual being. It was not desire of Isabella as a sexual commodity: Rather, it was desire of her as an ideal standard of what women should be. She did not brand herself as an object, but as an idol. (Rosalind) However, celebrities representing the ideal women is not a foreign concept in today’s world. Celebrities still represent an ideal, but now they ooze sexual energy and set a standard for not only what women should act like, but what women should look like and how they should advertise their own bodies.
Feminine celebrity, while it displays sexuality and caters to the desires and expectations of society, is not all bending to the will of the male gaze. Many entertainers can find power in these performances. In truth, their use of sexuality as a tool for capitalist gain gives them a power and influence unique to those with the ability to employ it. Feminine celebrity can be both a cage and freeing at the same time.
The influence of celebrity has also grown with the rise of modern media. Now, media allows any one individual to have global influence. A celebrity does not only gain the adoration of fans who have seen them in person, but hold power in the minds of people they don’t even know exist. Celebrities have evolved to not just be a local idol regional fans can look to for inspiration, but to be figures within the global imaginary, giving them power the first divas of the 16th century could not have imagined. Their impact is far reaching. The standards they set influence day to day life. As people interact with each other, they either subconsciously or consciously judge others based on the standards they hold their fellow humans to. More and more these standards are set by media and the celebrities who are an ever present topic of discussion. In this way, celebrities have an influence that is not just abstract, but very tangible and woven into the fabric of society. The influence of celebrity, particularly feminine celebrity, can be seen both at home in America and in the turbofolk divas of the Balkans.
One American example to introduce feminine celebrity is Britney Spears. Britney started young, she was introduced to the public at age 11. Like many child stars, this gave her an initial innocent image. She began her music career seven years later in 1999. Like feminine celebrity as a whole, she evolved from using an innocent image as her ideal to promoting sexuality and using herself as a commodity to promote her music. In particular, her song “If U Seek Amy” has overt sexual connotations and advertises her as something sexually desirable. This advertised sexual desirability is uniform across the board for most female celebrities. They sell it as their defining characteristic, what makes them most valuable. However, this is not always the case. Sexual desire is just one weapon in the arsenal available to female celebrities. They can also use their influence to break stereotypes and promote a meaningful message of struggles they face and the duality of the sexuality they flaunt. Another American female celebrity worth taking a look at is Lady Gaga. In many of her songs and music videos she uses sexuality not only as a feminine characteristic, but explores masculine presentation and communicates the frustration of being trapped in the cage of female celebrity. This type of expression can also be seen in the music and music videos of turbofolk divas. Sexuality is heavily employed in music videos, but so is the absurd and the exaggerated.Like Britney Spears, some of them started with a “good girl” image that later evolved into something overtly sexual. This is most obvious in music videos.
“Seik” and “Cik Pogodi” by Lipa Brena as well as “Volim Te” and “Nije Monotonija” by Ceca all illustrate this well. In “Seik”, sits in an extravagant gold room surrounded by men, one fanning her and most playing instruments. She appears to be presenting herself as something exotic, a rarity. The men almost seem to worship her, one bowing frequently. An exception is the man on the couch, smoking and watching. It would appear that she is entertainment for this man. Not only entertainment, but the main event. All the men playing instruments are accessories to her performance. Additionally, she is wearing a necklace resembling a collar and a sparkling red dress that reveals her cleavage. In this video, she is an object set there to entertain this man with her sensuality. This is perpetuating the idea of women as sexual influencers, playing a role in setting an ideal woman as one who can advertise her sexual value.
Another one of her videos, “Cik Pogodi”, was made five years after “Seik” and shows Lipa Brena less as an object to be had and more as something to be desired and idolised. During much of the video, she wears a revealing purple cloth and the camera shoots her at angles that showcase her beauty while she makes sensual faces. Here, she is definitely still presenting a sensual image, maybe even more so than in “Seik”, but it is clear that she does not belong to anyone. She is desirable but not attainable. In both of these videos, she advertises herself sexually, but in different ways.
video “Volim te” similarly displays her as very sexually desirable. She wears a tight pink dress and dances in front of still images of handsome men, romantic scenes, and her own lips blowing kisses. She looks at the camera sensually, and exudes a “come hither” energy. All in all, it can be interpreted as her advertising herself as a sexual commodity, a taste of what the audience can’t have.
Another video of Ceca’s, “Nije Monotonija”, also has heavy sexual themes. She wears a completely see through outfit and dances provocatively. This video feels similar to “Seik”. It feels as though Ceca is crafting an image of exoticism, she stands outdoors, bathing in a waterfall, poses with a tiger cub, and in many interesting outdoor settings. Like “Cik Pogodi”, Ceca is also a desirable but unattainable prize in this video. She is attended by a team of makeup artists that she shoos away, showing that she is expensive and important, perhaps too good for the viewer. That does not stop her from displaying how desirable she can be.
Despite their advertisement of their sexual value, in the videos where they are desirable but unattainable it is clear they are also empowered by this image. Their desirability gives them power, and they do not need anyone else in order to possess it. Indeed, they appear alone in these videos. They flaunt their prowess but are able to do so without interference from men, and it is not just for men that they flaunt it.
All of these videos show that turbofolk divas follow similar patterns of celebrity to their American counterparts. They are not immune to the capitalist phenomenon of selling desire as a concept. Turbofolk divas are the result of the rise of turbofolk during a time of emerging capitalism, great change, and war. Selling the audience their own desire as a commodity, packaging themselves up as an abstract to be bought and sold, was a capitalist concept and acted as a marker of the change from a socialist state to several capitalist ones. Additionally, turbofolk divas in particular had a diffrent, unique purpose. While all artists use their platform to further their beliefs and influence their audience, turbofolk divas used theirs to become nationalist icons. Promoting themselves as something Serbian, Croatian, or whatever nationality they identified with allowed them to better connect with their audience and further encouraged the separation of different cultures. After all, if a nation could have one of these icons be “theirs”, why should they share? As with everything, however, this was not always the case. Some divas defied nationalist expectations and created controversy by straying from their nation of origin and muddying their national alignment. Whatever the case may be, these divas had strong influence on the delicate balance of the war torn former Yugoslavia.
Turbofolk divas followed and continue to follow the rules and patterns of modern celebrity, but stand alone in their role in history and how they got to be where they are today. Feminine celebrity is a worldwide phenomenon, but it played a unique role in the former Yugoslavia. Generic celebrity is still the commodification of oneself, but no one is able to do it the way those who possess the power of feminine celebrity can do it.
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