The Trials and Tribulations of Tulisa, a Woman With Ideas Above Her Station

Tulisa became successful without completely shaking off her personality and roots, so the entertainment industry tore her apart.
March 30, 2016, 1:50pm
Tulisa in a music video. That hasn't happened in a while.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Tulisa Contostavlos has been arrested again, this time charged with drink-driving, after she allegedly crashed her Ferrari into another car in September last year. She will appear in court next week.

It seems that these days, Tulisa can only get in the news when she's in trouble with the law. The troubled singer, who is now always referred to as "the troubled singer", has experienced one of the most spectacular falls from grace in recent celebrity history. In 2011 she had a number one single with "Young" and was the star of The X Factor, back when it was still the most popular show in the UK. She won the show with Little Mix, the last time an act from the show has gone on to genuine success.

But it felt as if there was a deep-seated resentment, particularly from some parts of the tabloid press, that this girl they saw in tracksuit bottoms, hanging with roadmen, a person they repeatedly referred to as a chav, had taken the opportunities afforded to her and made the most of them, and had done so without completely shaking off her personality and connection to the working class. What followed felt like a concerted and spiteful attempt to knock her off her perch.

It came from every corner, starting with the normally harmless low-culture press, which eviscerated her debut album The Female Boss despite it being actually a lot better than records out at the same time by Ellie Goulding and Jessie J. Places like the Metro, which barely ever give a bad review, slated the record - calling her "a pound shop Rihanna" and claiming that "Freddy Krueger scratching an infinite blackboard would sound preferable". Digital Spy said she was a "a singer way out of her depth", a stinging barb that seemed to suggest she had ideas above her station. After being critically panned, the album had abominably bad sales, debuting at number 35 before dropping out the charts.

With any artistic potential expunged, Tulisa was ripe for picking off, bit by bit. A few months after the album came out, a sex tape was leaked by a former partner. There was none of the outpouring of horror and sisterhood that happened when naked photos were leaked of Jennifer Lawrence and other Hollywood stars just a short while later. Instead, Amanda Holden cackled like a hawk about watching the video with Alesha Dixon, while she sipped on a Lambrini, ironically of course, on Alan Carr's Chatty Man. The implication was very clear: she's not going to be part of our gang any more, she's been shown up for what she really is.

In 2013, Tulisa was the victim of a Sun on Sunday sting, in which a journalist, Mazher Mahmood, promised her a Hollywood acting job alongside Leonard DiCaprio and other career opportunities, over months and months of discussions. Tulisa began to trust him and a one point, after he had got her drunk, he asked her for drugs. She said she didn't do them but confirmed that she had an ex-boyfriend who dealt cocaine. The deal never took place, but The Sun on Sunday ran it as a front page story: Tulisa's Cocaine Deal Shame. After it ran, her home was searched and she was arrested.

The case reached court but was quickly thrown out, with the judge stating he had strong reason to believe Mahmood had lied to the court. But the damage had been done. By the time she was fined for assault a showbiz journalist in the backstage area of V Festival, it felt like bad old Tulisa was up to her no-good ways, even though this was the first time since she had become famous that she had actually been found guilty. While other former X Factor judges hosted shows on ITV, Tulisa was never allowed back on the channel. She said she was recording another album but it never materialised. The only time she appeared on mainstream telly again was on The Price of Fame, a BBC Three documentary about her various ordeals. Ultimately, it feels as if her detractors have got what they wanted. She is now only famous for her struggles; only able to get in the news by crashing a car.

You could argue that none of this was a stitch-up. You could argue that Tulisa made bad musical and personal decisions and was fairly punished for them. But there's something vicious and unique about the way Tulisa was singled out.

It's at its most clear when you look at the treatment of her N-Dubz bandmate, Dappy. Dappy is largely seen as a cuddly wacko, most famous for his choice of beanie. It is rarely mentioned that he was found guilty in 2008 of spitting at two women in a hotel, and was found guilty in 2013 of spitting at a man who allegedly tried to step in after Dappy harassed two different women on a garage forecourt. You don't hear much of the time he sent a Radio 1 listener death threats. Dappy still regularly appears on BBC Radio and has continued to release music.

Tulisa is a young woman with a troubled past and a public history of mental illness who tried to battle various demons while in the public eye. The tabloids smelled blood and destroyed her. In that way she is not so different to Amy Winehouse: a woman who has made some poor decisions, but has had any opportunity for recovery obliterated by a culture obsessed with her failure. Whether they picked on her because of sexism, classism, or just an unease with the way she held herself can never be known for certain, but what seems obvious is that Tulisa has been stitched up the British entertainment industry.

So did she get smashed and crash a sports car? It seems entirely possible. But perhaps she wouldn't have been drunk-driving at all if she had not been reduced to a husk by people who didn't like her fame.


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