Celebrity Authenticity on Twitter: A Look at Katy Perry’s Tweets

Katy Perry, one of the most well known American pop stars, has an extremely prominent presence on social media, which has helped her perform aspects of personality and has also allowed her to directly interact with her fans.  In particular, Perry’s twitter presence has enabled her to gain a reputation as authentic, entertaining, and unique, and her tweets have resulted in her becoming the most followed person on twitter, with roughly 46.5 million followers.

Katy Perry’s twitter presence is characterized by Nancy Baym’s concept of unidirectional ties, meaning millions of people follow her, but she does not follow them back.  Because Perry does not have bidirectional ties with them, she must interact with her followers in another way to make them feel connected to her.  To do this, Perry often goes on “tweeting sprees,” where she replies to fans in humorous ways, often utilizing hashtags or emojis, which show that she understands the type of audience she has and the sort of language and symbols that her followers use.  

Perry’s use of hashtags and emojis directly reflect Zizi Papacharissi’s concept of performativity.  Papacharissi explains that when twitter users perform customs (such as hashtags and emojis), they help to reestablish and reaffirm the meanings associated with these actions and symbols.  

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Screenshots of some of Perry’s tweets with Emojis — taken by Aimee Stern on 10/31/2013

By interacting with her fans using these emojis, Perry reaffirms what these emojis symbolize and also shows her audience that she is relatable and “just like them.”  This point can be further enhanced by Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd’s idea of an imagined audience, where people tend to tweet based on their perceived audience, which is idealized as themselves.  In other words, Perry tweets what she would want to read about and her opinions about various topics, rather than censoring herself or tweeting for a nightmare reader.  Whereas some twitter users worry that parents or teachers will see their tweets and could punish them for expressing controversial viewpoints, Perry very obviously tweets in an authentic way, though her tweets have gotten less over-the-top in her later years on twitter.

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Some of Perry’s humorous tweets from 2013 — screenshots taken by Aimee Stern on 10/31/2013

In her tweets, Perry attempts to maintain a consistent narrative of her self in order to appeal to others who also try to do this.  As Anthony Giddens explains, people try to cope with chaos by creating a stable narrative of their selves and their lives.  In Perry’s case, she tries to cope with the chaos of fame by showing her followers that she has remained unchanged throughout her music career, and has formed a coherent narrative of her self and personality.  In many ways, this is done through Erving Goffman’s concept of impression management.  In order to appeal to her followers, Perry must consider each and every tweet that she posts, all while maintaining the illusion that she does not put an excessive amount of thought into each tweet and that she is an authentic person.

Goffman explains that there are both signs given, meaning what users intentionally put forth, as well as signs given off, which are shown to the audience unintentionally.  On twitter, it is difficult to decipher what Perry intentionally shows her audience and what is unintentional.  Perhaps deleted tweets could be interpreted as signs given off because though they are no longer on Perry’s page, fans often take screenshots before they are deleted, and thus, Perry can still be held accountable for those thoughts.  

Lastly, Perry’s performance on twitter can be understood through Marwick and Boyd’s explanation of celebrities’ practices on twitter in their article “To Be and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter.”  The authors explain that twitter complicates the relationship that celebrities have with fans, as “the ability of famous people to… reply to fans…has…[given] the ability to maintain ongoing affiliations and connections with fans, rather than seem uncaring or unavailable.”  This is particularly true in Perry’s case as she interacts with fans not only to promote her music, but in other regards, which makes her seem both interested in their thoughts and excited by their commentary (though this may not be the case).   Furthermore, Marwick and Boyd explain that twitter (and social media in general) create a “new expectation of intimacy” since celebrities must “expend emotional labor” to maintain ties with their followers.  Though many celebrities achieve this intimacy by following fans, Perry is able to obtain this intimacy through tweeting her followers, while simultaneously putting forth an image of authenticity and relatability.  These traits make her an appealing celebrity to follow and they help to justify and explain why she is the most followed person on twitter.   

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