[This series is a play on ‘writer’s block’.]
I was inspired to post this after reading an article on The Guardian about a journalist who grew up idolizing Spice Girls and years later, getting to meet each member as part of his job.
I didn’t become a journalist so I could interview my faves, and if you’re going to ask me now who I’d like to interview, I would be stumped for an answer. There’s no one. Nope, not even Arashi.
I’ve been through that phase I took every chance I got to interview celebrities, whether I liked them or not. But I’m past that fascination and even if someone offered me an interview with a celebrity I like, I’d most likely say yes but half-heartedly.
I’m not being coy or anything. Interviews are exhausting and I do it on an almost daily basis, whether I like it or not, that I would like to avoid it unless necessary. And certainly, interviewing a celebrity is not absolutely necessary in my life right now, not in my work, and not for bragging rights.
Besides, when it comes to my faves now, I’d rather just watch them from afar and enjoy them without having to get uncomfortably close. I have a friend who refuses to interview her faves for fear of being disappointed and I get her now. In the same way that The Guardian writer soon realized why meeting your heroes can never always be a good thing.
Of course there are encounters that would leave you with lasting good impression and even inspire you in life, but you also take the risk of being disappointed in the end.
Back in 2003, a Taiwanese drama aired for the first time in my home country and turned a lot of people, including myself, into a fangirl. I didn’t dream of interviewing F4. But I did dream of going to Taiwan.
Five years later, in 2008, I realised that dream when I landed in Taipei for the first time. But it was not until two years after on another visit to Taiwan that I would finally get to interview an F4, and my fave at that or “F1” if you will. It was an interview inserted in my non-entertainment itinerary and squeezed into his super tight schedule. The interview was going to be at the backstage of Taipei Arena where he was appearing as a “surprise” guest in a singer-actress’s first major concert.
All through that week of travel and work, I was naturally anticipating the interview. It was the highlight of my trip, and the fact that some questions I submitted were rejected was not enough to dampen my excitement.
Never mind all the other celebrities I have interviewed until then. This guy was the reason why I got into Asian pop culture and has never looked back since then. This. Was. Major.
As we waited in the hallway trying not to get in the way of production staff and harried assistants going to and fro, F1’s assistant went over the questions with me. She also made sure to tell me that he did not put on make-up yet, was still dressed casually and so, sorry, no photos.
I wasn’t disappointed. I was interviewing him, coming face to face with him, not just seeing him on a screen, that was what mattered. So I promised her, okay, no worries, I won’t ask for a photo (selfies were not that de rigueur yet in 2010).
As we waited, we could hear laughter from inside the room and I was relieved. I have read that of the four, F1 was the most moody that’s why he always got into misunderstandings with some of the members. Him being in a good mood was a plus of course because I wouldn’t want to walk away from this interview feeling like I’ve seen the holy grail and discovered it was nothing but a plastic plate.
The assistant told me F1 was talking to a music producer from one of the top labels they worked with before as F4 and it was like a reunion for the two. A few minutes later, the door opened and a grinning man stepped out. I caught a glimpse of F1, he had a wide smile on his face and was indeed wearing jersey pants and a hooded shirt.
Then it was time for us to go inside the dressing room. I immediately heard F1’s solo song being played from a laptop in the room. He came forward, still with that huge grin on his face, as I introduced myself.
Screw all those media reports that said he was a moody one. The person in front of me was like a gentle kid who had a smile all throughout the interview. When I was having difficulty trying to find a place for my small recorder, he even offered to hold it for me. When the interview was over and I asked him if I could take a photo (I could see his assistant’s face turn grey from the side but hey, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance), he readily agreed. His make-up artist and manager both grabbed tissues from a box and started dabbing his face frantically, while telling me he doesn’t have any make-up yet. But he kept telling them it was okay as he stood there looking like a little boy while his “nannies” fussed over him.
Long before Kpop made “manner legs” happen, F1 extended his legs so he won’t look as tall in the photo with me. He was giggling as his manager took the photo for us. And when I left, he was profuse in his thanks for not forgetting Dao Ming Si.
I should have stopped there.
After all, he was my favourite of the four and interviewing him was more than enough.
But the following year, I was back in Taipei for another work trip and this time, on my schedule were interviews with two other members: F2 and F3.
I was going to interview F2 first. Prior to this interview, I asked if it was possible to take photos of him for publication use and his manager said we have to pay for make-up and hairstyle. How was I going to convince my editor that we needed to spend money for make-up and hair just to get an interview. I am aware that they get paid for magazine pictorials but this wasn’t the case so I told the manager
he was dreaming to just send me file photos later.
The interview was going to take place in someone’s salon and I blanched when I realized this upon arriving at the place. Is he having his make-up done and are they going to make me pay for it?
It was apparently a beauty stylist F2 has worked with since their drama days and he would later tell me it was like home, he’d hang out there often. Like F1, I’ve read stories about F2. That he was as moody and snooty. The only difference between him and F1 was that, what I read came true right in front of my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, he was not rude or anything. But there was a scary vibe, like when you know a volcanic eruption is imminent, and you sit there anticipating it. What are you gonna do? I scrammed.
Without even finishing the rest of my questions, I cut the interview short (by then, I already had enough soundbytes anyway including him saying he treats interviews like this as a visit to the shrink). Despite my nerves, I still asked for a photo. If I was going to die of panic attack, at least I have a photo with him to prove I did the interview. It is a long stretch but it did feel like interviewing Hannibal Lecter.
I don’t remember how long I walked down the street and the neighbourhood to calm my nerves until I came to a park. I am not exaggerating but for some reason, the interview was quite unnerving. Perhaps it was his aloof attitude, no matter how I tried to warm him up, or the things he said which on hindsight I found not only depressing but disturbing as well. For there was this man who had accomplished everything in life at such a young age and yet felt his life was empty. I wanted to be a psychologist when I was in grade school but boy, am I glad I did not pursue that profession. It’s exhausting being someone else’s sounding board.
I hope he’s happier now.
Coming out from this encounter, I had doubts doing the interview with F3 the following day. But at least I won’t be alone, I had two interns with me. Besides, F3 had a sunny image. He won’t do anything unbecoming especially when he’s religious. Or so I thought.
The interview was in a studio where he was practising with some of his co-stars in the movie that they were promoting that time. We were led down to the basement where F3 joined us with one of his co-stars who turned out to be nicer than he was.
I get it that celebrities like them have to sit through countless of media interviews and answer similar questions, especially that time when they were promoting the movie (which was a super flop). Just imagine those Hollywood stars doing media tours around the world to promote their films and having to go through the same questions (no wonder Anne Hathaway crumbled). It’s groundhog day every day.
But there’s no excuse whatsoever to be rude especially when a great deal of your career hinges on public image. An image that was instantly shattered right then and there when he would rather study his nails while slouched on the chair or chat with his co-star instead of listening to the questions. And when he did listen, he would answer with another question. Give me a depressive subject any time who thinks he’s lying on a couch in some shrink’s office rather than a cocky one who thinks he’s at the beach getting a suntan.
Suffice to say, F2 and F3 were suddenly fighting for the bottom spot in my personal hierarchy.
F4, who I haven’t even encountered except from a distance a week before my interviews with two of his former bandmates, was catapulted to F2. I saw him at that year’s Golden Horse where he was a presenter. He had just emerged from a slump and was looking good and very happy.
I sometimes wonder how he would be like in an interview. He’s supposed to be the most reclusive among them and went through depression himself, and yet seems to have emerged from it a happier, more secure person.
But some things are meant to be a mystery, which I much prefer than uncovering that mystery and ending up disappointed.
Being in the news business and being a fangirl at the same time can be a struggle. It’s an occupational hazard to always be cynical about celebrities and their carefully crafted image. But remember: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
On the other hand, as a fangirl, there is the tendency to put them on a pedestal. Finding the middle ground between these two points of view can be a challenge but can still be fun, or can be a burden and a sobering experience.
These days, as I watch public images get shattered, I find it more and more pointless to keep doing interviews and forcing these people to spew answers that perhaps were fed to them by their agencies to adhere to an image, or tell you lies for self-protection.
Been there, done that including an interview where I flew all the way to a celebrity’s hometown only to be lied to my face about him not being married and expecting a child. Months or a year later, the truth was revealed.
That’s partly the reason why I find interviews a useless exercise. I don’t want to be lied to and worse, be a platform to spread those lies. Call me super cycnical but let’s face it, do we expect celebrities to tell the truth, even the most inconvenient and ugly ones? What we hear, what we read are just part of the narrative — propaganda if you may — that they want their public to know. Sooner or later, the truth is revealed and hopefully, they don’t cause disappointment…much.
But whether as a journalist or a fangirl, disappointments are bound to happen.
So I’d rather be a fangirl and enjoy my faves from a distance while I can.
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