The Allure of "Being Relevant": What we can learn from Whitney Houston and Nicki Minaj

The Allure of "Being Relevant":  What we can learn from Whitney Houston and Nicki Minaj

Confession:  I used to pray for riches every morning on my way to work.

In fact, my prayers for riches were so specific that I can tell you EXACTLY how much I, and my family, would need to be perfectly secure for the rest of our lives and two generations after us (before and after taxes).

I can tell you what I would do with my money, who I would donate to, what I would invest in, and where I would purchase vacation homes if I ever won the Mega Millions jackpot or found out that I had a long lost rich uncle who listed me as his only heir in his last will and testament.

Yet now, despite ALL that planning and effort, I can say that I will no longer pray for anything other than health and happiness for myself and my family.

A few days ago, one of the most talented singers of our lifetime, Whitney Houston, died.  Many initially found out through Facebook or Twitter, and the news of her untimely death quickly began to reverberate in households across the world.  Over the years, we saw her unfortunate, and very public, struggle with drugs.  In the end, whether purposely or accidently, it seemed that the need to escape the very thing that many of us hope for, fame, proved more powerful than anything else.

Only days preceded the death of Whitney Houston and the suicide of soul icon, Don Cornelius.

Only hours stood between the death of the songstress and the public display of lunacy that is known as Nicki Minaj at this year’s Grammy Awards.

For me, it was very appropriate in the aftermath of Whitney’s death for Nicki Minaj to stand before the world’s stage and perform in a way that brought no pride to herself or her fans.  This poor, yet successful attempt for recognition and attention is exactly what scares the bejesus out of me about how we measure success in our society.

For most, it would appear that success is no longer measured by the quality of one’s work but by the bigger question of “Did anyone see it?” This ever-present need to be “seen”, and thus recognized, has come to define whether what we have done has really mattered.

Those of us who are old enough to be content, and dare I say, happy with our status as common folk, may quickly dismiss this concept of “being relevant” as obtuse or as an idea only for the rich and famous to contemplate.

But I would argue that we have all bought in to this mind frame.

Does a status update that isn’t “liked” by others even exist?

If a tweet isn’t retweeted, was it even tweeted?  (Say that fast seven times.)

There may be no stopping the train of chasing the allure of getting one’s “15 seconds of fame” but I sure as heck wish we would try to find the brakes.

It’s okay if we don’t allow our little girls to dye their hair pink and tattoo the side of their face with a lion.

It’s okay if our little boys don’t have the newest pair of Michael Jordan’s and if we don’t allow them to shave their hair into a Mohawk.

This is not meant to offend parents who have allowed their children to express their individuality.  My point is simply to say that it is okay if our children’s existence isn’t driven by the need to be unique.

We turned out okay and most of us didn’t go to school with feathers on our clothes or with spikes around our necks.

Instead of encouraging our kids to search for some outward recognition of being unique, let’s get back to basics and remind them that they are loved.

No, it won’t cure every problem but it’s a start.

Because at the end of the day, what we can learn from the deaths and near fatal incidences of people who seem to have it all is that it is the assuredness of love, and not attention, that they were looking for all along.


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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at

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