Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Sure, there are great perks that come along with landing a role on a hit TV series or having the No. 1 movie in the world or watching your album climb up the charts. To start, there’s the money, not to mention the access to some of the finer things in life, the opening of doors that otherwise might’ve remained welded shut.
But as we see and hear time and time again, there are great pitfalls that come about when your personhood becomes a globally known entity, just another product to make money. They’re called the “trappings of fame” for a reason—oftentimes, if you’re not remarkably careful, you find yourself trapped.
Leighton Meester is the latest star to speak out about the dangers of becoming an overnight sensation in an interview with PorterEdit, opening up about landing the role of Blair Waldorf on wildly popular CW series Gossip Girl, which ran for six seasons from 2007 to 2012 and thrust her and her co-stars Blake Lively, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen and Ed Westwick into the pop culture zeitgeist.
“I was young when I started Gossip Girl. A lot more people were suddenly around and I was being looked at. If you don’t have the right perspective, you could definitely be confused by people being that nice to you or judging you for behavior that’s typical of a 20-, 21-year-old, making mistakes but having to make them very publicly,” she told the publication. “I’m not haunted by that time, but it’s been interesting and helpful for me to look at it and examine it as an adult and go, ‘I don’t know if it was the healthiest environment.'”
The actress, whose new ABC sitcom Single Parents debuts Wednesday, Sept. 26, added that coming out of the live-changing experience relatively unscathed was pure luck. “Everyone has their own journey, especially in their early twenties when they’re just figuring out who they are. Because of the success of [Gossip Girl], I was put in a place where that journey was sped up. I had to figure it out quickly and with not a completely developed mind to discern between what’s real and what’s not, who I can trust and who I can’t,” Meester said. “I got really lucky and was able to very early on find and stay friends with people who are true.”
Of course, Meester is far from the first celebrity to risk the internet lighting them up with accusations that they’re ungrateful for all they’ve been given by daring to speak out about what it’s like when the world thinks they both own you and are owed by you. As social media allows more and more unprecedented access to our favorite stars and fandoms only grow more and more rabid, Hollywood’s biggest and brightest are pushing back, letting us know that the cost of being an artist is sometimes steeper than anyone bargained for.
In recent years, despite a decade of unparalleled success as one of pop music’s most creatively talented minds, Lady Gaga has gotten painfully real about what sort of toll superstardom has taken on her life. “I’m very acutely aware that once I cross that property line, I’m not free anymore. As soon as I go out into the world, I belong, in a way, to everyone else. It’s legal to follow me. It’s legal to stalk me at the beach,” she admitted in an emotional 2016 interview on CBS Sunday Morning. “And I can’t call the police or ask them to leave. And I took a long, hard look at that property line, and I said, ‘Well, if I can’t be free out there, I can be free in here.'”
That same year, during a chat with Jamie Lee Curtis for Variety Studio’s Actors on Actors series, the A Star Is Born actress spoke about the public’s inability—or, more likely, unwillingness—to see things are they truly are. “I don’t think I could think of a single thing that’s more isolating than being famous … It’s almost impossible for people even to probably look at my career and the things I’ve done and think, ‘Oh, she didn’t want [that] — of course she wanted to be famous, of course she wanted all that attention.’ It’s just, creative expression is what I am and I would’ve been doing this whether I became famous or not. I wouldn’t have given up to try to get famous in another way. I wanted to get a job being creative and I did,'” Gaga explained. “It is very hard to not be able to engage with people in a real and honest way because they either want something from me or they see me as something that I simply am not. I am not some goddess that dropped down from the sky to sing pop music, I am not some extra-incredible human person that needs to be told how wonderful they are all day and kissed.”
Another pop star unafraid to speak forthrightly about their uneasy relationship with their own fame is Justin Bieber. In a 2015 interview with NME, the singer opened up about the negative ways in which his life changed after becoming one of the most famous teenagers in the world. “When I started out I just wanted to sing and make music. I was young, didn’t read celebrity blogs or see what the fuck was going on, but then I got famous and people started recognizing me. I was like, ‘Dude, I didn’t sign up for this,'” the maybe-recently wed Bieber told the publication. “[I get depressed] all the time. And I feel isolated. You’re in your hotel room and there are fans all around, paparazzi following you everywhere, and it gets intense. When you can’t go anywhere or do anything alone you get depressed … I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone.”
A year later, as he imposed a new “no pictures” policy with fans, he explained to them that he didn’t owe them as much as they think he does. “It has gotten to the point that people won’t even say hi to me or recognize me as a human. I feel like a zoo animal, and I wanna be able to to keep my sanity,” he wrote on Instagram. “I realize people will be disappointed, but I don’t owe anybody a picture. And people who say, ‘But I bought ur album,’ know that you got my album and you got what you paid for… AN ALBUM! It doesn’t say in fine print whenever you see me you also get a photo.”
There’s something about a sudden rise to fame, especially at a certain age, that really had a way of throwing even the most level-headed of artists for a loop. Take Jennifer Lawrence, for instance. More often than not, she projects a down-to-earth persona both on the red carpet and in her charming, self-effacing talk show appearances. But the Oscar-winning actress has not been shy about the ways in which her sudden fame, a byproduct of her starring role in the smash hit Hunger Games franchise, have altered how she interacts with the world and led to invasions of privacy no one should ever be forced to endure.
“I teeter on seeming ungrateful when I talk about this, but I’m kind of going through a meltdown about it lately. All of a sudden the entire world feels entitled to know everything about me, including what I’m doing on my weekends when I’m spending time with my nephew. And I don’t have the right to say, ‘I’m with my family.’ … If I were just your average 23-year-old girl, and I called the police to say that there were strange men sleeping on my lawn and following me to Starbucks, they would leap into action. But because I am a famous person, well, sorry, ma’am, there’s nothing we can do. It makes no sense,” she told Vogue in 2013. “I am just not OK with it. It’s as simple as that. I am just a normal girl and a human being, and I haven’t been in this long enough to feel like this is my new normal. I’m not going to find peace with it.”
And that was before the criminal hacking of her phone, which led to the distribution of intimate photos on the internet for the entire world to see.
“I wasn’t interested in suing everybody,” Lawrence said of the trying time during an appearance on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast. “I was just interested in healing…I think like a year and a half ago, somebody said something to me about how I was a good role model for girls, and I had to go into the bathroom and sob because I felt like an impostor, or I felt like I can’t believe somebody still feels that way…It’s so many different feelings to process when you’ve been violated like that.”
Of course, it’s not just newcomers who are forced to reckon with the lasting traumas that fame can foist upon a person. Take Madonna, a no-f–ks-given beacon of confidence if there ever was one, who once told Rolling Stone, “There are times when I’ve thought if I’d known [fame] was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have tried so hard. If it ever gets to be too much, or I feel like I’m being overscrutinized, then I won’t do it.”
The moral, the thing these artists seem to be so desperate to get us to understand? That they’re just people, of course. Yes, people with bigger bank accounts, but still people like you and I. And while, sure, they need us to keep their careers afloat and their lifestyles in the black, they can’t exist just for us. So when we watch Cardi B work out her feelings about overzealous fans and the pressures they put on her on Twitter or when another one of our faves inevitably reveals their struggle with depression, isolation, addiction—or, God forbid, succumbs to them—may we resist the urge to sneer, the instinct to shout that it’s what they signed up for, the need to, somehow, still ask for more.
Instead, remember what Idris Elba had to say about fame during a 2014 interview with Loaded magazine—”Sometimes you’re not sure what’s real or not, especially when it comes to relationships. If you’re adored by millions, sometimes even on your own front doorstep you can become paranoid and constantly question, ‘Who is he? Who is she?’ I know I’ve been guilty of it in the past.”—and count your lucky stars you’ll probably never have to know what that’s like.