April 27, 2024

Don’t stop dancing until the curtain falls.

Curtains open on a little girl, eyes glistening with ambition. She’s bold and vivacious. She’s a star in her suburbia — glued to tap shoes, church choir, school plays. If there’s a stage, she’s on it. The boys want her, and the girls want to be her.

But she wants more.

She yearns for a grander stage, brighter lights, louder applause. Mom shuttles her to audition after audition. More, more, more! Even merely auditioning was exhilarating; she never viewed it as a chore. She loved being the switch that turned directors human, watching their tight-lipped, generic smiles keel over in laughter, curl down at drama. She’d later realize that’s why she wanted to act: to bring humaness to humanity. But it never seemed like enough. Dance well, sing louder, act better. She begged to meet the one pair of eyes that saw the fire in her belly, saw that she already knew she wanted to give her life to the stage. All she needs is one chance to do it on the big screen, to hear the cheers of millions.

And then she gets it.

“There's only two types of people in the world: the ones that entertain, and the ones that observe.”

You’re never prepared for your big break. She didn’t think people could scream so loud — but then again — maybe a million at once can. She is God’s gift to Earth, unattainable even to other stars. She’s in the Big Apple! LA! Her childhood home could fit in her kitchen. She’s drowning in designer. She doesn’t remember when she wanted these things, but it’s part of the role, she figures. She got off on people’s admiration, partly to distract herself from the distance she started to feel from them. At times, she felt like a circus animal, obedient to the beck and call of her ringmaster. Stripping her humanness to feed humanity, she started to feel less real.

Months go by in studios, on tour buses. The skyscrapers that once dotted her dreams were right in front of her, but they all started to look the same. This is the first time she didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s for the best — they’re starting to ask for more. They’re not the only ones. Crabby directors and stingy record labels wring her out to line their pockets. They call it mentoring; she tells the press she’s sculpted with a heavy hand. She tried to be tough, keep her authenticity at first, but they were nicer when she gave in. It’s all worth it when the crowd roars.

And oh, the afterparties — how intoxicated they make her feel, chasing adrenaline high after adrenaline high. But soon it’s inadequate. Can a girl get some real shit? Let’s take it to the next level. These people don’t know her. Their opinion doesn’t matter. No one knows her. Did she even know herself? A void grows in her heart. Drink it. Smoke it. Pop it. Anything to fill the void. So many bodies in a room, and yet she couldn’t be lonelier. She misses her mom’s hugs. More. More. More.

Loneliness fractures her sanity, and liquor glues it together. She couldn’t break; if she broke, she wouldn’t be a star, and who was she if not a star? The parties get wilder, nights get longer. It was the same thing every night, but if she didn’t go, she’d break. Funny how she felt like a prisoner to everything she dreamed of.  But her dream was a farce from the start; she was the circus freak. The spotlight’s glare is unforgiving, and she became blind to who she was. There used to be a bolder line between character and reality, but she can’t find it anymore. All she knew were the characters she played on TV, her Facetuned selfies. Sobbing behind the caked layers of her clown makeup, she dances to the sinister tune of her own demise — an innovative choreography of taking shots, smoking cigs, and popping pills. But this was the only refuge she knew, a brief respite from her neverending performance.

The Big Apple turns rotten. She shows up to set in sunglasses, makeup smudged from the night before. Tours get sloppy; she’s mixing up her choreos. She doesn’t remember how it got this bad, but she doesn’t care. She figures it’s punishment for selling herself. Tableau upon tableau dissects every fold, every mistake. She’s started to do the same. She pops one. That makes it feel okay.

Her manager tells her to take the day off. She’s too hungover to protest. Fuck him. What does he know? She stumbles to her bathroom and grabs a bottle on the way. She pinches her sallow skin and hollow cheeks. Broken acrylics brush over chapped lips. Her eyes are dull, glazed over, and her nose turns at the stench of the rotten decay leaking from her heart.

She can’t recognize herself.

“Spotlight on me and I'm ready to break.”

Enough hiding — let’s give them a show! She lights her bed on fire, and walks out with nothing but sunglasses and a pack of Reds. There’s a cacophony of sirens and alarms behind her, but all she hears is quiet peace. Officers and bodyguards crowd her, concerned, but their faces stiffen when she emerges with a smirk on her Botoxed face. She did this to herself.

It’s showtime.

In a whirlwind, contracts and front lawns alike are set ablaze. I would tell you more about the chaos that ensued, but frankly, she doesn’t remember. The only record she has of her mania is mugshots upon mugshots. Of course, she serves cunt in all of them. She never took them seriously. Quickly, she realized can never be punished, not really. Right? She was America’s sweetheart.

Even when her novelty wore off, she didn’t care. Her future was fucked from the start — at least she’s free now. She missed having control. She could do whatever she wanted, and it was exhilarating. She’s saving herself from fading into obscurity, and she’d rather be dead than irrelevant.

There were also the hospital bills. She didn’t like thinking about those so much. Those felt more like punishment than the police reports. Paper gowns and sedatives stripped her high, and she was forced to realize how deeply sad she was. She had no regard for her life because she never felt like she was living one. None of this shit was real — not the parties, the drugs, or the fame. None of this happened to real girls. Real girls had normal jobs that ended at 5 PM and families that went out for ice cream every Friday. That’s how her life used to be. She had it so good before and didn’t even know it.

And even better? Everyone else knows. All eyes are on her. It’s what she always wanted, right? Even when she wasn’t acting, she was ensnared in a perpetual spectacle, the whole world eagerly awaiting her next act.

“All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus.”

Did we do this to her? We loved her but never liked her and made that clear. How could we? Even in her presence, she felt so far up, far gone. Sure, we cheered at her success, but it was her failures we craved. Even in our very human worlds, we were comforted at the sight of humanity. We rubbernecked at her every suffering for our amusement, became the market for nitpicky paparazzi. Maybe we were the ringmasters in the end.

The brightest stars cast the darkest shadows. We trail behind her, shaded, in constant pursuit of breaking our routine. Were we jealous of her perfection? She lives lifetimes worth of experiences in a night. She represents our darkest desires, and we live vicariously through her. We fantasize about dropping everything and buzzing our head, setting a driveway on fire. We yearn for her rush, and she begs for our stability. Her escape became ours. But we can bounce in out of these worlds — she’s stuck.

Deafening applause reverberates from the theater. The curtains close on a woman-shaped shell. 

Layout: Jaycee Jamison & Grace Joh
Photographer: Dylan Haefner
Stylists: Bella Munoz & Jordyn Jackson
HMUA: Reyana Tran & Shilpika Pandey
Nail Artist: Grace Joh
Models: Tyler Tran, Aidan Crowl & Jordyn Jackson

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