It is #breaking #news when a pop star turns to acting. We pore over the latest reports on Harry Styles’s performance in Dunkirk. We recap and recognize Lady Gaga’s creations for American Horror Story. We sing the praises of Nick Jonas in Scream Queens. And we exclaim “good for you, dear!” upon the release of an Aubrey Graham short.
But to be honest, none of this is really game-changing or brand-new information. Our chart-dwelling superstars are merely celebrating a golden age of triple threats that’s been going on for a long time.
While it may be shocking (“shocking”) when Ryan Murphy takes the likes of Ariana Grande or Nick Jonas under his wing, we forget that Disney and Nickelodeon have a legacy of creating super-artists, churning out talent that’s gone on to define a huge portion of the Top 40 roster. Case in point: The Mickey Mouse Club spawned Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera; Disney Channel gave us Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff; and Nickelodeon gave us Miranda Cosgrove. Of course they can read lines in front of a camera! But once they grow up, ink a deal, and begin earning nods for their singing and songwriting, it’s almost like we forget that they have roots in any other world.
So what’s our glitch? Considering most regular (“regular”) people don’t stick to just one career path, why do we expect music’s best and brightest to do the same (eternal dad Justin Timberlake excluded) when, based on their starts, we know they can sing, dance, and maintain a public persona so successful they become famous?
It’s easy to forget that it takes a lot of skill and effort to pretend you’re happy to be touring and singing and meeting and greeting fans every day. It also takes a lot to embrace and perpetuate a characterized version of yourself for the sake of furthering a brand and appeasing a fanbase. I mean, it’d be naïve for us to think that The Jonas Brothers were exactly the way we saw them in Camp Rock or onstage in the 2000s. (Especially since both Nick and Joe have been very open about how difficult growing up under such a hot spotlight was.) And it’d be foolish to believe that the Ariana Grande we met in iCarly and Victorious was even remotely similar to the woman who recently shut down Ryan Seacrest on-air. To anchor a franchise takes an extraordinary amount of talent in addition to singing and dancing — frankly, it takes some straight-up acting skills.
Which, Taylor Swift in Valentine’s Day aside, is evident in the acting we’ve seen so far. Ariana Grande’s comedic talent was prevalent in Scream Queens, yes, but she was also hilarious when hosting SNL (so many killer impersonations!). Nick Jonas was just as camp in Scream Queens as the “real actors” he was surrounded by. Miley Cyrus in Woody Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes (#ugh) was definitely not the worst thing about the series, while Drake’s recent cinematic venture showed he could get just as dramatic as he once did on Degrassi. And truly, few men can play as convincing a douchebag as High School Musical’s Zac Efron, who can sing, dance, and throw one-liners like a triple-threat poster child.
And of course, fans of the aforementioned know all of this. (And they’re also probably shouting me a list of other brilliant singers turned actors — like Nicki Minaj, Janelle Monáe, and Beyoncé — but I only have room to talk about a few current representatives of young Hollywood, so dial it down, friends.) In any case, it’s less actual fans than the media (“the media”) who get hung up on notions of artistic worlds colliding — or worse, get cynical.
Which is a freakish waste of energy. Only four years ago, Rihanna costarred in Battleship and, aside from the film’s bad reviews, she didn’t get the kind of goggle-eyed coverage we tend to reserve for young pop stars on-screen today. Meanwhile, the majority of Crossroads coverage trickled out after Britney Spears’s turn as the lead. Jennifer Hudson stepped out of her American Idol past and into an Oscar-winning role in Dreamgirls, and it was totally cool! And one day, Mandy Moore went from singing the Center Stage theme song to starring in the kick-ass Saved! (She’s even acting right now in This Is Us — my Twitter feed’s favorite show.) In short: acting happened. And sometimes it was great and other times it wasn’t, but there seemed to be a little more wiggle room for how it was received, at least in the beginning stages.
Granted, social media certainly wasn’t as prevalent in 2012 as it is today (and in 2002 we were all still playing Snake on our Nokia phones), and that helped to create an air of mystery surrounding acting endeavors. Now, on-set moments are captured on Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram, so the accessibility of pop stars through those mediums creates more hype and room for discussion, which can breed cynicism or anxiety or a whole bevy of feelings (plus analysis into how we think they’d do, and what their costumes mean, and, and, and, etc.)
But we still shouldn’t be surprised when an artist we love embraces the third component to triple-threat artistry. It shouldn’t be shocking when musicians want to challenge themselves creatively, nor should it be when they do it well. Now more than ever, pop stars have to shape and maintain a public persona, which means they’ve been practicing living in character for at least part of their life. And if they can do that to the point of selling millions of records, then to pick up a new character — one that has nothing to do with them — should be easy as pie. Plus, it’s incredibly fun to watch.