Like it or not, in 2019 we are living in a distinctly 'woke' society, where not even your past self is safe from the prying eyes of social media.
Decisions we made before we knew any better can (and often do) come back to haunt us, and this is something celebrities, unfortunately, have to adhere to. Two celebrities know that better than anyone; namely pop icon Lady Gaga and comedian Kevin Hart.
With the Golden Globes taking place on Sunday evening, awards season is beginning to heat up, putting pressure on the two stars to address some issues from their past.
Kevin Hart was announced as the host of the 2019 Oscars in December, but just days later, he stepped down from the position after homophobic tweets he'd posted between 2009 and 2011 resurfaced – much to the outrage of fans.
Related: Comedian Kevin Hart steps down
as host of the 2019 Oscars
Since the controversy, Hart has turned the story into something of a pantomime — he refused to apologise, then he apologised; he said he wouldn't host the show, then said he was "re-evaluating"; he was sorry, then he was "over it".
The latest development occurred yesterday, when Hart put the issue to rest in an interview with ABC News. He confirmed he would not be hosting the awards and said the issue "gets no more energy from me... there's no more conversation about it." It is now being reported the Oscars will go ahead without a host for the first time since 1989.
Kevin Hart via Instagram
Meanwhile this week, another Hollywood controversy was brewing. Media darling Lady Gaga was still glowing from her win for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes on Sunday (and her Instagram win for the best dressed, bar none). But online, many commentators were criticising Gaga for her silence on one of the biggest headlines of the week.
Following the release of the documentary Surviving R Kelly, new investigations were opened into the decades-old accusations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse of women against the hip-hop star, which include that he allegedly held women in a sex "cult", had sexual contact with girls as young as 14, and domestic violence. Lady Gaga released a song in 2013 with R Kelly, entitled Do What U Want, and many people criticised her silence on the allegations against him, especially as Gaga is such a vocal supporter of #MeToo and is an abuse survivor herself.
Lady Gaga via Instagram
But last night, in a single tweet, Lady Gaga showed everyone, including Kevin Hart, how to respond maturely, measuredly and responsibly to a controversy such as this.
In a statement, she announced she would be removing the song from iTunes and other streaming services, adding she would not be working with R Kelly again. She apologised, and reiterated her position as a strong supporter of victims of abuse, saying, "I have demonstrated my stance on this issue and others many times throughout my career." You can read the statement in full here:
I stand by anyone who has ever been the victim of sexual assault: pic.twitter.com/67sz4WpV3i
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) January 10, 2019
While the delicate issue of moving on from past gaffes looks like a minefield for celebrities, Gaga has shown it's really very simple – listen, learn and apologise. There will always be public backlash to anything and everything you say as a person in the public eye, and for that reason, it is surprising so few celebrities have mastered the art of handling controversies.
One such story Hart could have easily taken guidance from was that of rapper Stormzy in 2017. Stormzy issued a measured and mature apology for homophobic language used in tweets he posted between 2011 and 2014. Before the controversy could even gather much steam, Stormzy immediately issued a response on Twitter, saying:
"The comments I made were unacceptable and disgusting, full stop. Comments that I regret and to everyone I’ve offended, I am sorry, these are attitudes I’ve left in the past.
"The homophobic language I used was, embarrassingly, a part of my vocabulary when I was younger and ignorance made me feel comfortable to use them whilst not understanding the hate and the ramifications they carry. That isn’t an excuse, I take responsibility for my mistakes and hope you can understand that my younger self doesn’t reflect who I am today.
"Again, I'm sorry to everyone I've offended. To the LGBTQ community and my supporters and friends, my deepest apologies."
Both Lady Gaga and Stormzy will continue to be stars – not to mention fan favourites – in their industries, not only due to their talent but to their willingness to learn and be better than past mistakes.
Others in the industry have a lot to learn from them.