AFROBEATS: Burnaboy and how to survive fame – Niran Adedokun

When I saw the video of Grammy Award winner Burna Boy’s last performance in Lagos and the vitriol he passed on to his fans, my mind went back to an article I read a couple of years back.

 This article, entitled Trust me, I’m a psychologist – fame is bad for your health, was written by someone who had every qualification to tell.

Pamela Stephenson first gained stardom as a comedian on Not the Nice O’clock News, a British television show that ran in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Over the decades, she featured in loads of other television programmes and gained attention as an actress with a long list of performances between the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. She is therefore competent to speak on the concept of fame and what it does to people.

Rock star.

But Stephenson became a psychologist with an interest in the lives of celebrities, amongst other things. So, when someone like that tells you that fame is bad for your health, pay attention.

In this article, the psychologist speaks about her conversation with many celebrities. At the end of it all, she reaches the conclusion that fame alienates the famous. It often creates a new personality, which the original person would find difficult to understand or even cope with. It could be a journey to everything or nothing, depending on how you handle it.

Regardless of the intricacies, literarily, every human being seeks a measure of fame. And most often than not, we crave recognition without preparing for the probable cannibalising effect of the same.

So, over the past decade, the artiste, Damini Ogulu, also known as Burna Boy, has caught the flame of fame. He has moved from one record-breaking accomplishment to the other, crowing his successes with a landmark winning of the Grammy Awards for his Twice as Tall Album in 2021. Before and even after then, there has been no stopping the Nigerian-born star. He is even a national award holder!

It is doubtful that these attainments and those that lie ahead of the 31-year-old artiste surprise him or anyone. Burna Boy dreamt of stardom as a child, and he has put in the hard work, which is now yielding fruit. Countless news reports quote him as saying: “I used to draw superheroes as a kid. I loved superheroes, so I drew a lot. Then I started to like the idea of being a superhero myself.” And the hero he fancied has arrived and landed on his very lap. What we however cannot be sure of is for how long the self-confessed African Giant plans to remain a superhero, and what he desires history to record about him at the end of his tenure.

And about the end of tenure, that is a sure juncture. Every celebrity gets stuck in the euphoria of wealth, access, adoration and membership of the exclusive club of the privileged, but as Dr Donna Rockwell posits in her article, fame is a dangerous drug: a phenomenological glimpse of celebrity, “the fame machine can only churn for so long.” Hence, what happens when the blinding lights of fame go dim, as they would at some point, depends on the conduct of today’s stars.

One of the best show men on duty

Now, this is the ironic thing about fame. It comes like a whirlwind and envelopes its victims in a bubble, where everything except themselves feels like a fantasy. In there, they live in their own world. They rule as they like without time to think about anything or anyone but their status. That stage, where nothing else other than notice and the adulation of people matter, is the place of danger for any celebrity.

Dr Michael Platt, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania and Dr Robert Deaner of the University of Duke, both in the United States, capture this in their experiment: Monkeys pay-per-view.

 They suggest that gaining social status makes people less interested in others. “You can think of attention as a knob that you can turn up and turn down. And when you are low in status, you turn that knob all the way up. You’re paying attention to everybody and trying to learn about them. If you are high status, then your knob is turned down low because it doesn’t really matter- you do whatever you want. It just makes you more aloof.”

At this stage, celebrities forget about everyone who may have contributed to the attainment of their current status. They only concern themselves with their own eminence, and they would spit down on anyone who, in their estimation, does not measure up to them. This is the image that our beloved Burna Boy cut at that performance.

Here is an artiste whose performance thousands of Nigerians paid to come and watch. These people defied considerable odds. Money is not only scarce, but getting fuel into your car is a herculean venture. That is not to speak about the risk of insecurity in the country. People disregarded these to be at your show, but you cannot even be grateful.