Listeners of Who? Weekly know all about Rita Ora. They do in theory, at least. The podcast dedicated to the ins and outs of minor celebrities and the peculiar ecosystem of modern fame considers her a patron saint of sorts. They even have a theme song for Ora. She is, to Americans, the perfect example of someone who is seemingly everywhere, even though most people have no idea who they are. Ora was a popular tabloid presence who collaborated with a number of more famous musicians, appeared in a major movie series, hosted a popular show, and had a slew of endorsements to her name. Still, that didn’t make her a star in America. She was fetch, and people were sick of seeing others try to make it happen. For Brits who are more cognisant of Rita Ora and her presence as a major celebrity in the UK spheres, she’s still something of a curiosity. I can name one or two of her songs and would easily be able to pick her out of a line-up, but her omnipresence still baffles me. Apparently, this is a common emotion. Harrison Brocklehurst of Vice described Ora as ‘arguably the most disliked pop act in the country,’ a detail made all the more exasperating by her ability to be everywhere and anywhere, regardless of whether she’s right for the gig.
Ora is currently in the headlines once again, albeit for much less positive reasons. It was revealed that, in November 2020, Ora willingly broke COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in London to host her 30th birthday party. Not only had she not isolated for 14 days following a recent trip to Egypt — and questions remain over why she was traveling in the first place — but her team had paid the restaurant to turn off its CCTV cameras. Social media erupted in understandable fury, with Ora becoming yet another prime example of how the current pandemic has exposed the privilege gap. All of this is happening right as she tries to promote a new movie she has an acting part in (a modern version of Oliver Twist titled… Twist), the reality competition series she is a judge for (yes, Britain cannot escape the madness of The Masked Singer), and a truly terrifying endorsement deal with EE.
A lot of celebrities have to spread themselves thin nowadays, sticking their fingers in as many pies as possible. It’s not enough to just be an actor or a singer. You need multiple side hustles, as if you’re a millennial graduate struggling to pay your bills. We’ll certainly see this necessity of brand expansion increase over the next few years as celebs try to wrangle with the financial consequences of COVID-19. Basically, expect every major star you love to either start up their own liquor brand or start shilling watches in China. It’s a smart strategy, so it’s understandable why Ora and her team would want to keep their options open. She seems willing to do everything: act in movies like the Fifty Shades series and Detective Pikachu; take over from Tyra Banks for a season of America’s Next Top Model; judge on every single singing competition on British TV; and perform at the god-dang Oscars. She was previously lauded as ‘my biggest discovery as an actress this year’ by… *checks notes* Harvey Weinstein. She also may have tried to implay that she was Becky with the good hair. Ora’s team are happy to pay testament to the notion that making their client totally inescapable is the true sign of celebrity, but it doesn’t work like that.
As Who? Weekly so entertainingly details, there’s an entire class of celebrity that toes the line between recognizability and anonymity. There’s a sea of letters between A-List and Z-list and, to an extent, the entire ecosystem of fame is reliant on those figures. We need people to plug the gap between Beyonce and that woman who went viral on YouTube for pestering her kids over not flushing the toilet after taking a sh*te (disgustin’!) Ora is ostensibly an A-Lister given that she’s clearly successful in a variety of profitable areas that provide intense press coverage. She seems to have achieved the basic tenets of being a famous person through the sheer force of determination (and, I imagine, her management down-bidding the competition.) I don’t doubt that she has fans — Twitter shows some evidence of that — but they seem greatly outnumber by those who are negative or merely apathetic towards her. Ora is everywhere but with zero lasting presence, nor does she seem to command a fandom fervent enough to want to see her this frequently. We like it when our stars go away for a while, and over the past decade or so, Ora has never left us. Indeed, she’s gained greater visibility.
Ora is frequently compared to fellow Kosovo-British pop singer Dua Lipa, who also recently faced pushback for flouting lockdown rules. Lipa, however, has managed to breakthrough into major worldwide music fame in a way that Ora never has. She’s got Grammys on her shelf, she landed a Mercury nomination (one of the most prestigious awards in British music), and her newest album is featured on multiple Best of 2020 lists. Even Pitchfork thinks she’s great. While Lipa soars to new heights thanks to her retro-nostalgia and electro-pop that felt like a much-needed musical balm during these dark times, Ora has floundered from project to project, looking for something new to keep her in the press. Lipa’s work commands immense respect among her peers. Ora doesn’t seem particularly beloved in any of the commercial spheres she’s lurched into. It’s not that she’s bad at what she does. She’s just… there. She doesn’t seem to be especially brilliant at any job she chooses: her acting’s passable, her presenting skills are serviceable but a touch bland, her reality judging isn’t much to write home about, and while she has some good songs in her catalog, they’re not consistently so.
I think it’s also worth noting that Ora isn’t Black. A lot of people think she is and, despite her frequently talking about her proud Albanian roots, she seems happy to let that mistake grow. She is frequently photographed with Black hairstyles, including an afro wig, and even said in an interview with The Breakfast Club that she doesn’t mind being confused for Black because it ‘gets me places.’ Ora seems eager to grasp the spotlight whenever possible, and that seemingly includes her willing participation in cultural appropriation. For Ora, and she has openly said this, Blackness is her new trend of the moment. If it gets her famous, go for it. It doesn’t mean that the masses will love her.
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