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From the '70s to the mid '00s, the surest way to deliver a message to a star was via a post box. Printed in the letters pages of pop culture bibles like Smash Hits and Top Of The Pops were the postal addresses of musicians and bands – or at least of their fan clubs. If budding groupies were prepared to put in the effort and camp for hours on end outside music venues and hotels, they could be rewarded with a brief glimpse of their favourite celebrity. For a guaranteed encounter, the chance to witness a star in the flesh came in the form of an official meet and greet, where fans could queue with hundreds of others in exchange for a thirty-second photo opportunity with the same grimacing celebrities who plastered their bedroom walls.
Fast forward to 2016 and meet and greets are laughably passé, interesting only for the eye-wateringly awkward celebrity-held-hostage situations they create. Now all you need to get in contact with your celebrity idol is a smartphone. So what changed? Well, thirteen years ago, on 1st August 2003, Myspace was launched by a bunch of eUniverse employees in Beverley Hills, California. For three years from 2005 to 2008, Myspace became the largest social networking site in the world, boasting more US visitors than Google. Lily Allen, Arctic Monkeys, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and a whole generation of wannabe musicians used the site to broadcast their music. Not only could fans hear breaking music from their favourite musicians and discover new talent, but through the site's messaging feature, they could contact them too.
In the decade that followed, social media exploded, as first Facebook then Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat changed the cultural landscape forever. Anyone, anywhere could become a fly on the wall of the life of, well, anyone, anywhere. The private lives of celebrities became closer than ever before, leaping off the static pages of weekly and monthly gossip rags and into the palms of celebrities. Grainy pap shots were replaced with behind-the-scenes videos, showcasing the inner lives of celebrities in high definition.
Through the direct messaging functions of Twitter and Instagram in particular, fans can bypass tricky agents and PRs. As Lucy*, 25, who works in media, tells me, "I've befriended loads of celebrities through Twitter. Because I work in media, people are pretty likely to reply to my messages. I've met up with people like Charlotte Church and Angel Haze, and made friends with a lot of celebrities from it." Ahmed, a 24- year old music journalist, has a backlog of similar stories although as he explains, the reality doesn't always live up to the fantasy. "When I was at university I used to do some BBM sexting with a US popstar. I found it funny that I was up at like 3am reading about Kant and she was sending me dirty BBMs. We met in real life. It was quite awkward. We went to some ridiculous diner in LA but she only had a diet coke. Now we hang out when she's in the UK though, and get on quite well, as friends."
The internet breaks down social boundaries in a way which would have seemed impossible fifteen years ago. Now, "normal" people are in with a chance of not only meeting, but actually dating their celebrity crushes. Jessica, a 24-year old production director, met a member of a world-famous indie rock band on Tinder. "I was living in Switzerland," she explains. "We matched on Tinder and started chatting and he was all 'I'm in town because my band is playing'. I was like 'right...' – a lot of bands came through Zurich. We chatted for a bit and decided to meet up a drink. He mentioned a huge venue where he was playing the following night and I realised which band he was in. We stayed in contact while he toured for months on end, and I met him occasionally when he had days off. I moved to London and when he would have a week off at a time we would spend the whole time together. We were together in this way for about a year."
Tinder matches with stadium-filling musicians may be one-in-a-thousand right swipes, but if there's anywhere in the digital ether you're destined to bump into celebs on the lookout for love its dating app Raya, the internet equivalent of the Chiltern Firehouse or Glastonbury backstage. Now that anyone can download a mobile dating app within seconds, celebrities need their own virtual VIP area. Billing itself as "an exclusive platform for people in creative industries", Raya is restricted to those who pass its cryptic selection process, an undisclosed algorithm built upon an applicant's physical appearance, job and Instagram influence. Basically, Raya is the tech version of the most elitist door staff imaginable. Pass the test though, and Raya gives users a chance to date A-list celebrities. According to a March 16th article on nylon.com, celebrities on Raya include Avicii, Cara Delevingne, Ruby Rose, Sharon Stone, Diplo, Joe Jonas, Alexander Wang, Elijah Wood and Bonnie Wright amongst others. One Raya member I interviewed reported that it was common to spot A-list actors, musicians and internet stars amongst the users.
Outside the walls of Raya's protective bubble, where members who screenshot other users' profiles are penalised with the removal of their account altogether, the virtual world can become site of fear for celebrities. Love may work in mysterious ways, but the invisibility cloak of the internet seems to bring out the stalker side in some people. "I got someone emailing me saying they wanted to make a bag out of my hair," London it-girl and Instagram celebrity Bip Ling tells me. "They attached a dead person's head and a bag made out of hair that was the same colour as my hair, and asked me for my address. That was so freaking weird." Most of the internet-famous social media users I speak to have their own bank of stalker stories. One female friend even has her own self-proclaimed financial slave.
Still, for the most part, social media represents a harmless, fun part of modern life. Sliding up in the DMs of a famous stranger may get you a date, an invite to the hotel room of a celebrity, or perhaps even a relationship. Most likely, it'll lead to nothing but wounded pride, but then again, what is love if not a never-ending Ferris wheel of pain and rejection?
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