When Gal Gadot gathered her cohort of famous-friends-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands to sing along to Imagine at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, her intentions were, no doubt, well placed. But the instant backlash the Wonder Woman star received over the viral video showed just how much our relationship with celebrity culture had already shifted in a world with lots on its mind.
The far-from-inspiring clip highlighted just how out of touch a privileged few were in the middle of a pandemic, with many criticising their insensitivity to the perils of the virus on those hit hardest.
Other tone deaf moves from some of the biggest names in showbiz followed.
And the preachy video Madonna posted from her rose petal-filled bathtub telling us how much of a “great equaliser” the virus is was another classic misfire.
Our patience is running thin it seems, and with the pressures of Covid-19 a constant strain on our lives, could celebrity culture, as we know it, finally be redundant?
For every self-righteous offer of support, there’s been a thousand angry responses on social media.
“Can’t they feel the winds of change a-blowin’?” asked one Twitter user. “Nobody cares about pampered celebrities anymore.”
They’re not alone.
“Furlough should be only used if a business is unlikely to survive lockdown in my eyes, and too many celebs are taking the piss,” says Susannah, 30, a fundraising professional from Wales.
Susannah typically relies on celebrity endorsements to guide her online purchases, but thinks their messages largely feel out of touch in the current circumstances.
“The public want to see celebs putting their hands in their pockets and supporting charities and small businesses, not taking advantage,” she reasons. “It’s been interesting seeing another side of some celebs and influencers, and the virus has exposed those who are pretty dull.”
Misjudged posts may feel irritating, but at least in financial terms, there’s good reason for their continued existence.
“The public want to see celebs putting their hands in their pockets and supporting charities and small businesses, not taking advantage,””
Consumers are now over 30% more likely to make purchases online than they were in 2019, according to a survey by PYMNTS, meaning the digital world has never been more lucrative for celebrities who have something to sell.
And now that we’re all at home with more time on our hands, it makes sense for celebrities to be promoting themselves on social media regardless of financial gain.
“At this current time, the two most important personality traits are compassion and understanding."”
But relevance is more key now than ever. Put simply, in a Covid-19 world, the rules have changed - and it could be a different kind of celebrity that we see emerging.
“At this current time, the two most important personality traits that influencers must have is compassion and understanding,” says Mary-Keane Dawson, CEO of the Takumi influencer network.
“We are in scary, unprecedented times and any content that is deemed overly promotional won’t succeed and could end up damaging the creator’s relationship with their followers.”
Celebs take note.
Assuming the correct empathic tone is struck, influencers in particular are arguably more essential now than ever.
A recent whitepaper by TAKUMI found that over a quarter of consumers in the UK and US trust social media influencers more than high profile public figures, and that includes celebrities.
“Influencer content can serve a much nobler purpose during this difficult period. Consumers find creators to be incredibly persuasive and trustworthy,””
It’s this insight which saw the brand launch a pro-bono campaign driving awareness of the World Health Organisation’s protection measures against Covid-19, alongside a campaign to promote positive mental health.
“Influencer content can serve a much nobler purpose during this difficult period. Consumers find creators to be incredibly persuasive and trustworthy,” says Mary-Keane.
So if the population is entrusting influencers with the delivery of WHO updates, what about the role of more traditional celebrities?
“Often we are the first port of call for our listeners to check in to express their emotions and tell their stories,” says Daisy Maskell, KISS Breakfast Show host.
She has seen an influx of call-ins to her show now people are no longer on their morning commutes.
“We laughed together, cried together, wallowed and motivated each other,” she says. ”I’ve loved bearing witness to the open and honest conversations that those in the public eye are willing to have and this relatability has shown that we all really just want the same out of life.”
PR expert Andrea Sexton believes it is “human nature for people to always be interested in the lives of celebrities”.
“I think there will definitely be a growth of interest to celebrities with strong family ties and also to those who do selfless work in the community,” she says. “Those who genuinely support causes with passion. As I always say, everything you say and do is PR.”
“The celebrities that will fare best out of this are the ones with heart and soul."”
“What is hugely important right now – for me as a parent especially – is that the perceptions of heroes are changing and children are seeing the value of a career as a carer, rather than idolising someone from Love Island,” adds Firgas Esack, a freelance publicist.
“The celebs that will fare best out of this are celebrities with heart and soul, those whom possibly Covid-19 has exposed a level of kindness and compassion.”
But what about good old fashioned fun? After all, the primary purpose of celebrities is, of course, to entertain.
The stars who have embraced digital methods of communication to keep serving their fans enjoyable – and supportive content – will fare particularly well, and there has been an explosion of creative output from celebrities under lockdown.
Firgas has been enjoying Andi and Miquita Oliver’s new series What’s For Dinner Mummy on Instagram TV, as well as Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Kitchen Discos every Friday night.
They are two of the more high-tech examples of celebrity output that ranges from Amanda Holden dressed up to the nines to take the bins out to Louis Theroux live tweeting along to his documentary America’s Most Dangerous Pets, which featured Tiger King’s Joe Exotic years before Netflix found him.
“I guess this is celebs producing and airing their own versions of reality TV – which raises the game a bit, doesn’t it?” suggests Firgas.
“If I had to make a sweeping statement I would say celebs will become more tech-savvy, technology will improve exponentially and in the short term, we will feel more connected, because the level of honesty makes this ‘home-made’ viewing seem to be a more valuable engagement with a celebrity.
“Sustaining it will be more of a challenge, but new formats will evolve.”
Mary-Keane Dawson agrees there’s a broader sense of embracing tech, and reckons that means we’ll see more celebs and influencers on adverts after lockdown as businesses explore cheaper ways of producing TV.
“With expensive, high-end campaigns impossible to shoot and budgets running low, brands that wish to produce TV ads during the coronavirus crisis could turn to influencers for content,” she says.
Lockdown has been a tumultuous period for celebrity culture, and while some celebs have tested the general public’s last nerve with ill-conceived messages of goodwill, others have formed closer bonds with their fans than ever before.
And those are the ones that will endure beyond lockdown, which has thrown into question the validity of those Instagram influencers who will promote anything for cash.
“Reality stars who haven’t got a USP or anything to offer other than protein powder and teeth whitener are going to have their 15 minutes of fame down to 0,” Susannah concludes.
Whether through kindness or humour, the celebrities that will come through lockdown in the best shape are those that have been perceived to be authentic.
“One of the first celeb gestures that made me go ‘wow’ was James McEvoy donating £267,000 to the NHS crowdfunding campaign,” says Firgas. “Mainly because he clearly didn’t think twice about it.”
Joking about with the bins, filming cookery shows from lockdown or donating huge sums of money for the national effort: it’s clear that celebrities offering entertainment or support (but ideally, both) to their fans have the highest chance of surviving lockdown with their reputation intact.
A word of advice: if you’re a celeb or influencer flogging an unnecessary product, or just posting selfies right now like nothing’s changed, it might be the right time to have a little rethink.