Why youths are so affected by the deaths of celebrities

Following celebrities on social media makes us feel a lot closer to them, even if we have never met them before in real life.

Anis Nabilah

Published: 17 July 2020, 4:28 PM

I remember sitting in bed, scrolling through my Twitter feed when I first heard of Naya Rivera’s disappearance. I’d just finished rewatching her as Santana Lopez in Glee for the fourth time on Netflix, and my heart sank at the news.

I liked and retweeted countless tweets begging for the authorities to locate her phone, search nearby cabins in Lake Piru and not to stop the search, hoping it would help find her.

Days passed and her case seemed more and more bleak. And then I heard her body had been found and her death was ruled an accidental drowning.

It was hard to believe that someone who played a character I enjoyed watching was simply gone.

Although I was never that huge a fan, I cried a little when I found out she died. I still feel sad thinking about her now.

It seems her death has hit some harder than others as young people on social media shared how they sobbed for days on end for Naya Rivera.

Some Twitter users shared that they had to stay offline as the news of Naya Rivera’s death was too much to take.

Seeing the huge outpouring of grief, I spoke to some youths to find out why we seem to mourn deeply for celebrities despite never knowing them personally.

Feeling close to celebrities through social media

While we may never know celebrities first-hand, Stacey Tay, 18, believes social media has played a huge role in bridging the gap between hard-to-reach personalities and the common folk.

The student, who was deeply affected when rapper Mac Miller passed, said: “Unlike our parents’ time, celebrities nowadays can do live videos and post about their personal lives to share with their fans.

“When the celebrity passes away, it affects us deeply because the celebrity has ‘built a relationship’ with us.”

Besides his music, Stacey enjoyed seeing Mac Miller’s relationship with Ariana Grande online.

Besides live videos, the direct messaging functions on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter have also made celebrities way more accessible, since anyone can leave a message, even if they don’t reply.

Yusra Haidah, 19, feels that social media has allowed us to feel like celebrities are our acquaintances.

“I think with social media, we’re able to get to know these celebrities on a personal basis and see them as ‘normal people’. When something happens to them, it feels less distant because we’ve blurred that line between celebrity and person,” said the undergraduate, who cried when she heard the news of Naya Rivera’s death.

“It’s like losing a distant relative or friend.”

Not able to see them grow or create new memories

Many of my peers are also more deeply affected by a celebrity’s death when it is sudden.

While the deaths of celebrities always make headlines, the celebrities youths follow tend to be much younger and thus those deaths feel more tragic.

When it was confirmed that Kim Jong-hyun from SHINee had committed suicide, Rabiatul Saadiah, 19, felt distraught.

Rabiatul had watched Kim Jong-hyun’s Instagram Live where he answered questions from fans a few weeks before his death.

“He was always the positive guy in the group. Despite not being happy himself, he still provided happiness for us fans, but we couldn’t do the same for him,” said the student, who thought that the person she looked up to deserved a happier and longer life.

Yusra added that since we keep up with celebrities through their work and social media, we expect to see how the rest of their lives would pan out.

“I wasn’t even a fan of Naya Rivera but I grew up watching Glee and saw her live life for years. For it to just end, it appears so sudden,” she said.

Yusra’s thoughts are supported by grief counselor, Jill Gross, who says that since we’ve grown to see celebrities as immortals, we feel celebrities are never supposed to die.

Youths also tend to follow celebrities’ careers closely, which makes them actively root for the celebrities and excited for what comes next in their lives. A sudden celebrity death can thus be difficult to deal with.

Their legacy lives on

Despite them being gone, many celebrities still live on in their work and craft.

Stacey said that she still listens to Mac Miller’s music as a way to remember him.

“I stopped listening to his music for about a week when he passed because I felt sad every time I thought of him, but I still listen to his latest and last album called Circles as well as his older songs now.

“His song ‘Self-care’ is a really nice track because it’s about taking care of your mental health and overcoming hardships which is something I struggle with sometimes. I relate a lot to his lyrics.”

Similarly, netizens on Twitter took to sharing Naya Rivera’s performances from Glee as a way of honouring her memory and remembering how dedicated to her craft she was.

One user talked about how Naya Rivera’s character went from being a calefare to a main character through her hard work.

Besides remembering celebrities through their work, youths also continue to mourn them by leaving comments on their social media accounts.

Many netizens still comment on the social media accounts of celebrities who have passed years ago.

There are tribute accounts on social media like Jonghyun On This Day and The Mac Miller Memoir that still post actively about these artists respectively up till today.

It seems that although these celebrities passed away a few years ago, young people never seem to stop remembering or mourning them, even creating accounts dedicated to these celebrities as a way to keep their memory alive.

Yusra thinks that just because the celebrities pass, it doesn’t mean our love for them has to fade.

She said: “I think that for anyone, celebrities’ impact on others and their memory is the only thing left once they’ve passed on. So, reminiscing and talking about those who’ve passed on is keeping them alive in a way.

“We loved the celebrities, and they’re gone now but our love for them doesn’t have to be.”

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