What KeKe Palmer's Star Character Says About Black Pop Divas

Photo: Jace Downs/FOX.
I’ve decided that one of my goals in life is to make it onto a Lee Daniels set. From movies like Precious and The Butler, to his hit series Empire and Star on FOX, Daniels has a knack for bringing out the biggest names in Black Hollywood. His projects have seen the likes of Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell, and Missy Elliott, just to name a few. A day on set with Daniels is likely going to double as the most exclusive party I’ll ever be invited to. Keke Palmer is his newest collaborator, playing a recurring character on Star by the name of Gigi. She is a recording artist who was described as “ratchet and rich” and in the few episodes that we’ve seen her in, her personality is larger than life. Palmer is playing the kind of pop star that I would be excited to meet on one of Daniels’ sets, anxious to see if her personality is consistent when cameras aren’t rolling.
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If I met Gigi I'd be pleased to find out that she is over-the-top all the time. She is a perfect caricature of the pop diva, a trope that has evolved and has its own racial undertones. On last night’s episode, Gigi showed up to a record label party and showcase with a long, flowing blonde wig, a glittering outfit, a gaudy fur, and a huge canine with flowing hair just as blonde as her own. It was a lot. She is not easily wooed by Ayanna’s (Michael Michele) smooth talking and is clearly aware of the courting ritual she’s part of with the label. Gigi doesn’t bother with niceties and doesn’t hold her tongue for anyone. She is a diva in every sense of the word.
However, it’s no mistake that Gigi has been described as not only rich — an understandable requiem for divadom — but “ratchet” as well. Ratchet is a loaded term that is essentially the antithesis to respectability and decorum. It’s also reserved for actions, people, and things associated with Blackness. Gigi’s success stands out against a backdrop of misogynoir that insists that she doesn’t belong, even though her cultural expressions are what make her so marketable. It’s a trend that seems to be played out in the real world as well.
We’ve heard stories of white pop divas with high demands and even higher budgets. They may make life difficult for people who have to work for and with them, but they deserve to be that way because of their accomplishments. The narrative for many Black pop stars is that their expressions cross a line. Mariah Carey’s antics are the stuff of legend, while the Lady Gagas of the world are admired for their lavish lifestyle. Nicki Minaj — whom many would agree is the real-life embodiment of a tough diva — called out designer Giuseppe Zanotti for refusing to let her be one of the celebrities to create a capsule, despite making a shoe inspired by the rapper. These kinds of responses to Black women in music's upper echelons speak volumes.
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Star’s Gigi is extra — a trait that Palmer effortlessly brings to life — but she’s still a talented artist just like Mariah and Nicki. Yet, even on a show focused on the Black music business, Gigi is meant to inspire a side-eye that I’m not sure she deserves.
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