Christina Grimmie: Fame too fleeting meets a tragic end in Florida
It’s among the great ironies of 21st century fame: Celebrity has never been easier to attain, nor has it ever been as fleeting.
So it was, sadly, for Christina Grimmie, murdered Friday night after a concert in Orlando by a St. Petersburg gunman police suggest may have been a deranged fan.
Grimmie was 22 – an unfathomably short life for a talent such as hers, one that propelled her to the top ranks of the most popular singing competition on television, The Voice. Even in a culture that churns out new singing stars daily, if not hourly, Grimmie was one of ones who stood out.
Part of it might’ve been her cute and quirky name, which sticks to the tongue like cotton candy. Part of it, certainly, was her voice, aching and delicate, enabling her to strip popular songs down to their emotional cores. She could cover a powerhouse like Adele or Celine Dion, a pop peer like Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez, or a rock band like Arctic Monkeys or Imagine Dragons, and make a song melancholy and relatable.
A major part of her appeal, of course, was her rise on The Voice – a show that, while never the same star-making machine as American Idol, still fostered major feelings of inclusion and investment among its fans. You love a singer on The Voice, you’ve found your team, and it feels good. You feel vested. By the end of a season, you’re fully primed to keep following Cassadee Pope, or Tony Lucca, or Craig Wayne Boyd, or Juliet Simms. Or Christina Grimmie.
But even before The Voice, Grimmie had built a devoted fan base on YouTube, a medium even more intimate and personal than television. Here, she sang not just in our living rooms, but in our earbuds, on the phones in our pockets and purses and palms. Her YouTube channel has nearly 3.3 million subscribers and 380 million views, a number that will only rise from here.
Alessia Cara, a young pop star who first found fame singing covers on YouTube, once told me about the power of becoming a streaming sensation. “I guess the people who have followed me really feel like they were able to grow with me and follow my career,” she said. “Social media in general can just be a way for people to feel close to you.”
Maybe too close? That will be the question as police dig into the life and motives of gunman Kevin James Loibl, 27, who then turned the gun on himself. Orlando Police said he traveled to Orlando specifically to target Grimmie. That he caught her so easily, at a post-show merch-table hangout with fans, lobs yet another sickening wrench into everything.
In today’s ailing music industry, getting famous overnight on TV or YouTube simply isn’t enough. You must continuously stoke and interact with your fan base, both online and in the real world. That’s why so many artists – from nobodies to up-and-comers to the occasional A-lister – do exactly what Grimmie was doing Friday night in Orlando. They want to connect with their fans as humans, signing autographs or snapping selfies or simply bumping fists. I've seen it at tiny clubs, stately theaters, giant festivals, even once or twice at arenas. Unless you’re Beyonce, you have to make yourself available. It’s just how modern fame works.
“I’m not charging anyone for that, because I just want to meet everyone that comes out to the show,” Grimmie said in a YouTube video posted Feb. 4. “You all say hey to me, I’ll say hey to you, we’ll have a little tea party, it’ll be a grand old time.”
It’s crushing, this fame that comes so easily, and flits away unless you feed it everything. Grimmie lived for it, and would’ve, should’ve, done it much longer. She made the life look easy, even if, in the end, hers was much too fleeting.
-- Jay Cridlin