This short story came as an inspiration to me in both a personal and public way. I was at dinner with friends discussing how amazing Rookie Magazine was and the influence it had on young womxn like ourselves. When I got home that night, I decided to look at some old posts on the site that I may have missed before.
It was there that I read a piece by creator, Tavi Gevinson, post about her toxic relationship with a famous artist who was thirty years old while she was just eighteen. While she kept his name anonymous, some light searching on other blogs allowed me to figure out who this person was: the singer from one of my favorite bands.
I believe in every word of Gevinson’s story and have seen firsthand the effects of toxic relationships. While I was unaware of what this singer was truly like, I felt upset at myself for enjoying their music so much. I have vivid memories of seeing his band in concert on a cool summer evening and remember singing some of their songs with my sister on road trips.
I realized that while his band’s music was a part of my adolescence, those should remain memories. After knowing what he did, I don’t have any desire to listen to their music as I know how dangerous it is to separate the art from the artist.
This short fictional story centers around seventeen-year old Jo, an aspiring journalist and devoted fan to the fictional artist, Derek White. Throughout, she sadly learns that there is a separation from an image of a person and their true selves.
Trigger Warnings: Some talk of sexual harassment.
A Message from the Former Fan
*NEW* Derek White will be releasing two new singles from his highly anticipated upcoming album. Along with the debut of these singles, select venues across North America will be chosen next week where Derek will perform.
I put my phone down to play some of Derek White’s first album on my record player. Instantly, I could hear the stream of notifications dinging on my phone. Running a fan blog for Derek took more effort than most people would think. I was constantly checking sources to give my thousands of followers the latest updates and make connections with other fans across the globe.
While Derek White had some radio-friendly hits under his belt, he was more of an alternative singer with a tight-knit community of fans behind him who understood the power of his music. His first album came out about five years ago, when I was just entering seventh grade as a shy young woman who didn’t have any close friends. After hearing his voice for the first time on my way to school one morning, I immediately felt a strong connection to his music. He touched on themes of being an outsider and feeling lost in this hectic world. Not only did I find my new favorite artist, I soon started my blog devoted to him and made friends with other fans, both online and in my school. I found my passion for media through his music and my blog, as I wrote stories about the messages behind his albums or speculated on what his next move might be. Now as a senior in high school, I was the editor of our high school newspaper and planned on majoring in Journalism next year at college. Most of all, his music gave me a safe space. If I ever had a bad day, I could go home, play his songs, and find happiness in his lyrics and silky voice.
“Jo, we’re leaving for dinner in five minutes,” I heard my mom call from downstairs.
I turned the record off and heard the ding of a new message. It was from an app I subscribed to that gave deals on concert tickets. Excitedly, I looked at the message that read,
VENUES FOR DEREK WHITE NOW ON SALE:
New York 9/27
I stopped there. I was only half an hour from Buffalo. This was LITERAL destiny. I immediately clicked the ticket option and typed in the numbers of my debit card. Working all those hours over the summer was worth this moment. And send.
This was my first time actually getting to see Derek. I always imagined what seeing him perform live would be like every time I put his records on and closed my eyes to his music. But now this will be real. He will be real.
“Jo come on!”
Before I ran downstairs, I took one quick glance at the poster hanging on my wall of him, ready to see my idol after all these years.
About one week later, the day I waited so long for had arrived. I was going with my friend, Katy, who I met through Derek’s music. Well sort of. We were both in freshman year English together and discovered through one of those awkward icebreaker games that we both were huge fans.
As Katy and I drove to the venue playing the new singles he had just released, we didn’t even worry about trying to hide our excitement or how much we were fangirling.
I looked at a notification I got on my phone, assuming it was a like from a blog post, but it was a message from an unknown number. It read,
Hi Jo, this is Derek White’s assistant Andrew. We have chosen fans from across the country to meet with before the show begins to express our gratitude for all the support you have given Derek. Luckily you and one guest of your choice are two of them! Show this ticket attached below to security to be assisted backstage. Can’t wait to meet you!
My heart stopped and I remained frozen in the moment, not moving even an inch.
“Hey what is it? What’s wrong?” Katy said as she looked over concerned.
My eyes began to water with tears of joy and I let out a small scream. Katy looked actually worried now.
“Seriously, tell me right now what’s wrong.”
“You won’t believe this,” I replied. I could barely even believe this. I told her the news and we both began freaking out. We were now only a few minutes away from what I thought would only be the best concert of my life. Now I knew that this would be the best moment of my life.
As we got to the venue and showed the security guard our passes, we followed them through a series of doors that led into a giant dressing room. Nothing felt real; the shy twelve-year old girl who discovered the young musician and fantasized about one day meeting him and telling him how much he meant to her was moments away from being face to face with him.
Only one person, who I’m guessing was Andrew, was in this spacious room on the phone in what appeared to be an important call. He looked up, smiled, and ended the conversation he was currently in.
“Are one of you Jo?” he asked.
I raised my hand to wave.
“Great to meet you. Derek should be here soon,” he then mumbled something under his breath. “But please, take some snacks and drinks at the table.”
We both giddily went over and grabbed some food from a veggie and cheese platter. As I was turning back around, I heard the voice of the man I would know from anywhere. And there he was. Derek White himself. I nearly dropped my plate and all I could do was whisper to Katy to turn around and look.
Andrew was talking to Derek in a stern manner, then ushered Derek to us.
“Derek this is Jo and-”
“Katy” she exclaimed in.
“And Katy. They’re big fans of yours and Jo even has a huge blog dedicated to your work”.
With nerves all up and down my body, I shook Derek’s hands and engaged in some small talk. I was asking questions I obviously knew. Where he was from, what age he started getting into music, his favorite snack. Ok maybe it was weird that I knew all of this, but I managed to play it off like he was someone I just met.
Andrew looked down at his watch. “Hey, we’re going to set up the stage soon, is there anything else you girls want to see backstage first?”
Katy eagerly replied, “If it’s not a bother, I’ve always wondered what the stage looked like from the artist’s view. Could I go take a look?”
“Sure, I’ll be the personal tour guide,” Andrew laughed back.
Katy looked at me seeing if I wanted to come. There was no way that I would leave this once in a lifetime chance to talk to Derek more. The journalist, and more importantly fan, in me had so many questions for him.
“I’m actually going to stay back here, if that’s cool.”
As Katy and Andrew left, Derek went over to one of the couches and made a gesture at me to come sit next to him.
Trying to be as cool as I could, I started by saying, “Can I just say that your music has really changed my life. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
He chuckled, “I never knew how deep I was, I guess.” He got up and went over to another table in the room where there was some whiskey, or maybe rum. I couldn’t really tell, all I knew was that it was some kind of alcohol he poured into two glasses.
He walked back over and handed me one. I took a sip and must have made the most sour face since he laughed and asked, “How old are you?”
“Seventeen” I said, as I took another sip, pretending like this wasn’t the only other time I had alcohol before (I don’t really count the sips of champagne I had at my cousin’s wedding.)
“So I had a question about one of the latest singles and the inspiration behind the first verse where you-”
He interrupted, “You’re chatty, huh?”
I looked down and nervously laughed. “Um yeah, sorry. Your music just means so much to me and you’re so talented. I mean I’m almost as old as you were when you became famous. Was it ever scary?”
He inched closer, but almost seemed agitated. “Is this going to be an interview or some shit? Let’s just relax and drink.”
“I’m sorry, again. I’m just nervous right now.” I tried to take another sip but as I looked down, I saw his hand on my knee. I froze right there, but this time the butterflies in my stomach weren’t good ones. My leg went numb and I felt his breath so close to me. As he began to try to kiss me, I physically jumped out of the seat and took steps away.
Now he was really mad. He snapped, “You don’t even know how dumb you are. Do you even know how many people would kill to get with me?”
I could feel my face getting hot and my throat closing up. “I’m…I’m only seventeen, I don’t feel comfortable with any of this.”
He got up, looked at me and shook his head in what felt like disappointment, and stormed out.
I began having a panic attack on the couch right then and there. What seemed like hours later, Katy came back running in. “What happened?”
I couldn’t even stop to take a long enough breath to tell her everything. All I could say was, “I need to go home.”
As we drove back, I managed to tell her everything that happened. Katy expressed that she was the one to blame for leaving me alone in the room. But we both knew that wasn’t true. The truth was that the person I spent years dedicated to, wasn’t at all who I thought he was.
A couple weeks went by since the incident that I was still having a hard time getting over. Katy came over to help me reach out to my followers, who like me, were obsessed with Derek, and tell my story.
“I know it’s hard, but know that I’m here for you and I believe you.” Katy said as she held my arm helping me find the strength to press the send button. I hit send, put down my phone, and hugged Katy right away. Even if the world didn’t believe me, knowing my best friend had my back no matter what was the comfort I needed.
Now as I tell this today, I am one month away from graduating high school and soon off to college where I will still be pursuing Journalism. While there were some who thought I was lying and said I just wanted fame, there were plenty more who came to support me and took my story seriously. In fact, two other girls came out with their own incidents with Derek after mine.
What I have learned through this experience is that anyone can be toxic, even if we seem blind to it right away. What upset me at first was knowing I spent years finding joy by someone who wasn’t at all a good person. It took me months, and something I am still working on today, to realize that even though I can’t listen to any music of his ever again, it still is the reason I found my passion in reporting and became friends with amazing people like Katy. While I thought Derek was the reason for all of these gifts in my life, I never realized was that my talent and passion was in me all along. I was the one who founded a blog showing how devoted I am to what I love, I was the one who got into college with the major I wanted to start a career with, and my friendships were more than just about Derek. What I have that matters most to me in life all comes from within myself. And that is something that will never be taken away from me by anyone.