What Makes a Diva? – The New York Times

opera singer. style icon. She is an outspoken woman. she is sacred. A maintenance nightmare.

A “diva” could be one of these depending on who you’re talking about. It’s a word that’s known around the world without needing to be translated, said Kate Bailey, curator of an ongoing exhibition exploring the term. Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “But everyone thinks differently,” she added.

“Diva” is the Latin word for “goddess,” and Bailey said she worked on a show about opera at the museum in 2017 and was intrigued by its archetype and wanted to recapture it. “I wanted to unravel the term, trace its origins, and find out why it became a negative term,” she said.

The exhibition asserts that the diva is a glamorous contemporary star. Across two floors, items such as Franz Winterhalter’s portrait of opera singer Adelina Patti and Tina’s Turner, Cher, and Diana’s Bob’s McKee flame dress worn by Ross are the inspirations. It represents the rise of the diva as a source.

But outside museums, the term is even more complicated. For better or worse, what makes you a diva?

The 19th-century French critic Théophile Gauthier first adopted the term to describe a talented operatic soloist. “Singing, passion, beauty, she has it all,” he says. I wrote about the Italian singer Giulia Grisi. These women were respected, albeit from afar.

Over the years, opera divas have been replaced by Hollywood talkie divas (Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis). Soul music divas (Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone). Megastar diva of the pop world (Rihanna, Lady Gaga). more repetitions.

In the 1930s, gossip columnists began publishing articles about Hollywood divas who were very strict about their work. In the 1936 London Daily Herald, a columnist described a performer who “must play mood music on violin and guitar before going to the set and acting out a scene”.

Since then, the word has not completely lost its meaning of bad deeds, disorder and arrogance. Kirsty Fairclough, editor of the forthcoming Diva: Feminism and Intense From Pop to Hip-Hop, said she was scolding the coverage of pop star Mariah Carey. Her passengers reportedly included a special assistant who handled her used chewing gum. .

“It’s about ‘women who are overconfident and too big to wear boots’ in popular culture,” Fairclough said.

On her 2008 album I Am Sasha Fears, Beyoncé sang that “a diva is the female version of a hustler,” but there is no true male version of a diva. The man so branded is glitzy, like Louis Elton John, whose XIV-inspired 50th birthday outfit hangs on his second floor at the exhibition. It is often a gay man who expresses himself in casual clothes.

But according to Bailey, being a diva isn’t just about dressing glamorously. It means she “does something useful with her voice,” she says. Her work as a diva and her career have long gone hand in hand. In the early 20th century, British music hall diva Marie Lloyd took part in a strike by theater workers protesting unfair working conditions. Aretha Franklin offered to release Angela Davis on bail in 1970 when she was arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy and other charges.often with lady gaga Criticized the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy Before it was deprecated in 2011.

This can sometimes feel at odds with the hyper-consumerist charm of the diva lifestyle. But divas are often people who have struggled to succeed. British media personality Gemma Collins, known for her reality show The Only Way is Essex, is a self-proclaimed diva, and she’s proud of it.

He used to work hard for less than $3 an hour, and said in an interview, “I once made tea for someone who bought a BMW.” She now said, “If I were to perform, I would wear nothing but ostrich feathers.” She said, “She’s a diva after all, she’s just a woman who knows what she wants.”

According to Fairclough, this attitude is part of the diva’s appeal. “They stand as admirable figures because of the way they enhance their self-acceptance, empower them, and celebrate their individuality,” she said.

Despite attempts to rehabilitate the diva, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the diva is likely to remain a conundrum. “It’s an expression of ambivalence and misogyny that’s at the core of a lot of stage culture,” says Michael Reinhardt, a media studies lecturer at Rutgers University. Using the term diva with negative associations. ”

Privileged yet social, famous but fighting for privacy, controlling but subject to the whims of the industry, the diva remains a beloved figure despite all the contradictions. ing.

“They may say no, but people love divas,” Collins said, “because we’re a rare breed, honey.”


At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 7 April 2024. vam.ac.uk.

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