Interestingly, what’s happening in movies right now reflects this. There have been not one, not two, but four films to come out in recent months that explore the psyche of female music stars. First there was A Star Is Born, in which Lady Gaga plays Ally, an aspiring singer who achieves supersonic fame at a devastating cost. Two months later there was Vox Lux, a gripping drama about a pop star, Celeste (Natalie Portman), staging a comeback after years of well-documented struggles.
Today, April 19, two more were released. Teen Spirit stars Elle Fanning as Violet, a young girl plucked from obscurity for a singing competition. Her Smell is an indie film about the self-destruction of a female rock star named Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss).
They’re not easy movies to watch. Three of these four characters have narratives eerily similar to Spears’, though it’s unfair to assume she was a direct inspiration. Becky Something and Celeste have full-blown emotional breakdowns in public. Violet goes clubbing one night to alleviate stress and winds up partying too hard. The only one who doesn’t quite fit is Ally, but the vulnerability she exudes in A Star Is Born‘s final scene has shades of 2007 Britney. The difference: Britney was crucified for showing weakness back then while Ally is applauded. Literally.
Elle Fanning and Max Minghella, the director of Teen Spirit, point to a few reasons why we’re getting several pop-star films in a row. Minghella thinks they might be a response to another popular music movie. “The success of La La Land has given people the confidence to green-light projects I think they’d been hesitant to for a long time,” he explains. “There was never an appetite for [Teen Spirit] to be made until La La Land did OK.”
Fanning, however, sees a more historical explanation for the trend. “Watching someone’s rise to stardom is very cinematic,” she says. “It’s a story that’s always going to be told in one way or another.” Even so, “There’s something really magical about it. It’s weird three or four filmmakers all came up with the idea to do [music movies]. Obviously there’s something in the atmosphere.”
For my part, I don’t think it’s a coincidence these movies are coming out now, a time when our culture is kinder to not just flawed pop stars but flawed women in general. We still have a long way to go, of course. As Sady Doyle, the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, tells Glamour, “All of us are raised to believe that we have the right to judge and control women’s lives and decisions. That is a perfect recipe for mob hatred and punitive vigilante cruelty.”
But the tides are turning. There isn’t as harsh of a response to women making mistakes in public as there was 10 years ago. In fact, it’s the imperfections that people are often drawn to. Take Ariana Grande, arguably the biggest pop star in the business right now, whose M.O. is complete transparency with her fans. She talks to them, tweets at them—she even shares photos of her brain scans with them. Nothing feels polished or premeditated.