Editor’s Note: Glenn Gamboa is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @glenngamboa. The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own. Read more opinion on CNN.
“Cancel culture” has jumped the shark.
Deeming that people, usually celebrities, are canceled – in other words, no longer worthy of society’s investment in them – has been a growing practice by online mobs as a means to attack someone for something they said or did.
But on Monday, when angry fans of Ariana Grande united to try to “cancel” 2019’s breakout star Lizzo, the shortcomings of this kind of internet protest clearly came into view.
Grande fans, who call themselves Arianators, threw a #LizzoIsOverParty after Lizzo retweeted a picture of the latest Billboard charts to celebrate having two Top 10 singles at the same time.
The problem, as the Arianators see it, is that Billboard does not list their hero on “Good As Hell,” which climbed into the Top 10 with help from a remix version featuring Grande.
“Maybe if lizzo was actually talented she could’ve gotten #1 without using aris name,” tweeted one Grande fan, as #LizzoIsOverParty began trending globally on Twitter.
Even after Grande tweeted her congratulations to Lizzo, some continued to rail against the “Truth Hurts” singer. Unfortunately, the Arianators perceived a slight where one did not exist.
According to Billboard rules, when there are multiple versions of a song available, the one that sells, gets streamed and played on the radio the most is the version that is credited on the chart. It is a determination made by the trade magazine, not by the artist.
Of course, chart rules and, well, facts are not always effective weapons in the face of an angry mob.
Former President Obama talked about why in a speech at an Obama Foundation appearance last week.
“If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself,” he said. “‘Cause man, did you see how woke I was? I called you out.”
He added that being judgmental and calling people out is not enough to elicit progress. “That’s not activism,” he said. “That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
Gentle nudging from ex-presidents can help rein in “cancel culture,” but what happened Monday with #LizzoIsOverParty may be even more effective at ending it.
After all, Lizzo has done nothing to warrant even a false sense of activism.
“If she was a skinny white pop girl y’all wouldn’t say [expletive],” tweeted one defender on Monday. “You just hate to see black women succeeding.”
As this tweet suggests, some are undoubtedly against Lizzo because of her race or the way she looks; she breaks the mold of what a pop star should look like. Others are likely envious and trying to downplay her budding success; her single “Truth Hurts” has topped the Billboard charts for seven weeks while her album “Cuz I Love You” is poised to make many year-end best-of lists and land her some upcoming Grammy nominations. Anyone who has had the kind of year she has is bound to have haters.
But while this hashtag is likely to be fleeting (as they tend to be in the Twittersphere), the support that it has drummed up for the artist may be here to stay.
For proof, we need just look at how internet hate has affected Lizzo in the past.
In recent months, fans of Iggy Azalea have tried and failed to keep Lizzo from achieving success in the charts. After “Truth Hurts” spent five weeks at the top of the charts, Azalea jokingly asked her fans to stream another hit song in an attempt to keep Lizzo from breaking her record of longest-reigning No. 1 song for a female rap artist. Though she claims she made this plea in jest, her fans got busy trying to stop Lizzo from remaining at the top of the charts. However, Lizzo came out on top and tied Azalea’s Billboard record.
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There are so many legitimate reasons for outrage in the world these days that seeking to destroy a person’s career for petty, misguided reasons seems like wasted effort with diminishing returns. Perhaps, though, we have reached a breaking point in cancel culture.
By proving that the trolls can’t keep her from achieving the success she has worked hard for, Lizzo has become uncancelable and has taken back the power the cancel culture attempts to steal from its victim. And this power shift may be what cancels cancel culture altogether.