Roslyn Talusan had just gotten off a red-eye flight from Toronto to Calgary when she logged onto Twitter and saw Ariana Grande’s now-deleted tweets about bloggers. The tweets pissed her off. So she responded with her own incendiary thread.
“I was tired of her bullshit and needed to call her out,” Talusan told VICE. “It’s really upsetting when millionaire celebrities punch down on an industry that’s scrambling to survive.”
She didn’t expect Grande to DM her—a civil exchange she later screenshotted and posted. While she could’ve anticipated some heat from Grande’s fans in return for her comments, which included describing Grande as a “bitchass,” she was ultimately floored by the level of vitriol she’s now been on the receiving end of for the better part of a week. Racist and misogynist comments, death wishes, threats, and doxxing have all been levied at Talusan by Grande’s fans.
“I hope someone murders you! I also hope your kids get murdered too bitch! You deserve it you fucking whorebag slut,” said one of the many DMs she’s received on Instagram.
The incident sheds light on the ecosystem in which celebrity culture now exists and its consequences. Social media has made it easier than ever for stars to interact with both their fans and critics—there’s no need for a middle man publicist when you’ve got a Twitter and Instagram account. Although there are positives to that, including celebrities fostering a more “authentic” connection with their fan bases and openly discussing issues like mental health or substance abuse, there is also an undeniably ugly side to stan culture that emerges when a fav is being challenged.
VICE reached out to Ariana Grande via Universal Music for comment on this story but has not yet received a response.
Grande’s tweets about bloggers started in response to E! Host Morgan Stewart’s critique that Justin Bieber had lip-synced during his Coachella cameo with Grande.
“People are so lost. One day everybody that works at all them blogs will realize how unfulfilled they are and purposeless what they’re doing is and hopefully shift their focus elsewhere. That’s gonna be a beautiful ass day for them! I can’t wait for them to feel lit inside,” Grande tweeted. She also tweeted that bloggers all want attention and “look silly” trying to get it. “Create something instead. Lift people up instead.”
Talusan replied on her Twitter feed, saying “you fucking realize bloggers/writers are creators, right? Just because we don’t sing or dance shitty choreo or culturally appropriate for profit doesn’t make our craft any less valid. Suck on my balls.”
She referred to Grande as a “spoiled white girl from Boca [Raton] who pays people to write her music and design her costumes.”
Grande then DM’d Talusan to clarify that she respects journalists who have compassion for artists. Talusan apologized for hurting Grande and posted part of the exchange saying, “Anyway, Ariana Grande clarified her tweet and that’s something not a lot of celebrities do. I appreciate it. Can the stans back off tho.”
But they didn’t back off. If anything, Talusan said the harassment got worse, with blatantly racist and violent comments on Twitter and Instagram. One person publicized her old address, thinking it was current.
In their DM exchange, Grande said her fans were “reacting with similar energy” as Talusan’s tweets. “I apologize on their behalf because I don’t love that type of behaviour from anyone.” Not exactly a damning condemnation.
That response resulted in Talusan unfollowing Grande.
“I apologized to her for hurting her, but she’s done absolutely nothing to directly address how her fanbase has been violently harassing me across Twitter and Instagram for almost 24 hours,” she told VICE. She noted she isn’t sorry about her tweets themselves, and she hasn’t deleted them.
“I’m sorry I hurt her, and I outright apologized for that. Her feelings are valid. But I feel justified in my rage at a white celebrity coming for a dying industry,” she said. She has previously criticized Grande for cultural appropriation.
Grande isn’t the only celebrity whose fan base has harassed a critic. Last summer, Nicki Minaj stans—and Minaj herself—went after Toronto writer Wanna Thompson, who critiqued Minaj’s music. In a DM, Minaj told her to "eat a dick u hating ass hoe." Thompson said she made her Twitter account private to mitigate the harassment. And in the last week both Lizzo and Olivia Munn have taken stabs at critics.
But considering the power differential between a superstar and say, a freelance culture critic, the former calling out the latter can be tantamount to “siccing” one’s massive fan base on that critic, often to a relentless degree.
Daniel Faltesek, associate professor of social media at Oregon State University, told VICE stans are essentially playing a role, which allows them to take their behaviour to more of an extreme. They act as pseudo publicists and protectors of their fav, even when it comes to beefing with other celebrities on their behalf.
“What stan can do for you as a celebrity is to engage other celebrities engage in battle ...and they can do this without the celebrity themself being exposed.” It stands to reason that a similar dynamic would work with a critic in place of another celebrity.
He said Grande’s response to Talusan about her fans feeding off Talusan’s energy amounts to victim blaming.
“She’s trying in the DMs but the DMs aren’t going to be good enough,” he said. “When stans get out of control and they’re this negative it’s not enough for her to just do this in the DMs.
Grande’s DM to Talusan noted that she has already told her fans “a million times” that she doesn’t condone harassment—the implication seemed to be that publicly denouncing their campaign against Talusan would be futile (she previously told them to stop harassing her ex-fiance Pete Davidson). But Talusan disagrees.
“What in sweet fuck does it hurt to try, Ariana?” she said.
New York-based clinical psychologist Donna Rockwell, who has researched celebrity worship, told VICE she believes Talusan threw “fire into a gas pit” by tweeting the exchange she had with Grande. She also said the prevalence of “snarkiness” towards artists versus “scholarly critique” is part of the problem.
Rockwell was complimentary of Grande during the interview. She thinks Grande’s fans are showing empathy for her in light of a tough couple of years that included the terrorism attack at her Manchester concert and the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller.
“I think that everyone has sort of witnessed that has gone along with that ride for her, with all the grief and suffering, pain and loss. I think she’s exhibited this sort of resilience that has people and her fan base responding.”
But there’s a sense of irony in fans feeling protective of Grande because of her mental health struggles while calling Talusan, a sex assault survivor who has post traumatic stress disorder, a “rat” and telling her to kill herself.
“When one person you know says something shitty to you, it can colour your day,” Talusan said. “When an exponential number of total strangers are firing insults and threats of all kinds at you and you don’t have the insulation of giant piles of money and a ‘team’ and being one of the most famous people on the planet, this one bad day can and will bleed into days and weeks of awful triggers. I’m still stressed out from it.”
While Faltesek said stans serve several purposes for their fav, including promoting an endless cycle of their content and defending their honour, at a certain point having people act out in your name does become a liability.
“It will eventually damage her brand image,” he said.
Beyond that, research shows that online trolling isn’t actually good for the people engaging in it, who tend to exhibit higher levels of negative personality traits including sadism.
“They’re pumping cortisol, they’re pumping adrenalin, they’re in a fight or flight tendency,” Rockwell said. “That is unhealthy.”