When does criticism turn cruel?
And to what extent can we hide behind the excuse of “fair comment” when it comes to talking about public personalities?
Two weeks ago, on April 18, the Star Awards 2021 was held at Jewel and Terminal 4 at Changi Airport, and while the night was filled with winners and losers in a star-studded glitzy affair, one performance in particular had the audience split.
Singaporean singer Joanna Dong’s performance of “Moonlight in the City” (城里的月光) in front of a cascading waterfall was a visual spectacle, yet some netizens saw nothing but red at her rendition of Mavis Hee’s homegrown favourite.
The feedback ranged from catty comments like the “unnecessarily high notes that destroy the song” to the downright arrogant personal attack “super boring and talentless singer… yawns”
Some seemed to be fans who preferred songs sung only by the original singers (“Mavis Hee we want you only”); while others stuck to being armchair musical critics (“The background instrumental also nicer than her song”).
I watched the show live, and I watched the performance again after I saw the comments. And while I believe that everyone is entitled to their personal opinion and that musical taste is subjective, I don’t think Joanna deserved to be attacked so badly.
After all, Joanna Dong has been singing since she was six years old, and came in third at regional competition Sing! China in 2017, mentored no less than by Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou. I doubt many of us can say we’ve done the same. Perhaps we should cut her some slack then?
Frankly, even if she sang totally out of tune or otherwise flubbed her item, does it justify the level of viciousness that came from netizens?
Unsurprisingly, these cruel words left a mark. Joanna later admitted on her Instagram Stories that she cried after reading the mean comments.
She said that she understood that being a public figure meant facing criticism, but also called out the trolls for the manner in which they flamed her.
Yet, even to that, the trolls were not done. One sarcastic response read: “Her rendition is really awful and expect people to be kind? Cannot take the heat. How to survive in showbiz. Lol.”
Flippant remarks can cut deep
It was the casual, cruel “Lol” added at the end of that sentence that really got to me.
Fair enough, everyone is free to voice their views. We live in a democratic society and opinions are subjective when it comes to arts and music.
While we can’t please everyone, can we at least not aim to hurt someone?
We are entitled to our opinions, but that doesn’t mean we should let that entitlement show.
Yes, celebrities and public figures do sacrifice a certain degree of freedom. It is the nature of the job and most of them accept it as par for the course of life in the public eye.
Yet I still get upset at the thought of keyboard warriors hiding behind their social media, thoughtlessly flinging out barbs, thinking themselves so cleverly snarky, not realising that this too, is a form of bullying.
People in the public eye have feelings too.
So criticise a performance that you dislike, sure. But try not to get so much glee out of it, please. Heckling – online or offline – is ugly. There’s a big difference between “I didn’t enjoy the performance the way it was presented” and “Boooooo, you suck!”
Do not dismiss your feelings
There is however, one positive that I got out of this ugly incident. It is how Joanna didn’t take the heckling lying down. She acknowledged her feelings, didn’t sweep away the hurt and then called out what she thought was unnecessary behaviour.
That takes courage too. To stand up against nameless bullies, knowing that speaking up may draw even more flames.
Sometimes, when we get hurt – whether from criticism or overly harsh comments or a reprimand – we ignore our feelings and sweep our emotions under a rug. We assume that brooding over what happened is unhealthy and so we brush away the incident with the excuse that we don’t want to “not overthink things”.
Such acts of dismissing or invalidating our thoughts and feelings is known as psychological invalidation and it may be more harmful than you’d think.
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Emotions serve an important purpose and shouldn’t be ignored. For example, feeling angry, afraid, or sad tells you that something’s wrong. You don’t want to miss these crucial pieces of information because they help you learn more about yourself.
Remember that it is okay not to feel okay, then learn recognise why you’re feeling what you’re feeling and take steps to deal with your emotions.
It can be as easy as writing down what triggers that you might have, then working it out and rationalising them by yourself, a trusted friend or even a counselor or therapist.
Be positive, not negative when talking to others
In her Instagram story, Joanna focused on the positive, thanking the community who have reached out to her.
She said: “I was in fact, seeking comfort too, which many of you sent, and I really appreciate it. I think that’s how community is supposed to work, no? If someone is down, we reach out, and people reach back. Thank you so much.”
I’m glad that Joanna didn’t let this negativity get her down. In fact, if you look at her Instagram page now, her posts (not her stories) reflect a more positive memory of her performance under the thunder of the Jewel waterfall.
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It’s with this positivity that I want to leave you with.
It is easy to leave a nasty comment in a moment of disdain but we often forget how it lingers on. We may fire and forget, but often the target of our attack ends up repairing the damage for a much longer time.
With more and more young Singaporeans seeking affirmation online, it takes just one thoughtless remark to cut someone down. Similarly, it just needs one thoughtful word of encouragement to lift someone up.
What Joanna went through isn’t unique. It happens to all of us at some point in our lives – personal attacks, regardless of who you are, hurt.
It’s kudos to her that she took it all in her stride. And it’s a timely reminder too that we should surround ourselves with positivity; and look for a chance to be a support for someone else in our lives who may be going through a tough time.