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In Memoriam For a ‘Voice’ – On Christina Grimmie, ‘The Voice’ and Fame in the Age of Twitter
June 14, 2016  | By Alex Strachan
 

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Christina Grimmie's coach on The Voice, Adam Levine, has offered to pay all expenses for his late protégé's funeral as well as travel expenses for her mother. In addition, a GoFundMe.com campaign created by Grimmie's manager has far surpassed its goal of $4000 by reaching over $140,000 at last check.

Christina Grimmie was a YouTube find on The Voice.

She joined YouTube in February 2009, and in just seven years the go-getter would-be pop singer and tunesmith — despite her success singing other people’s songs on The Voice, she recently disavowed covers and vowed to focus on her own music from now on — amassed some 3,246,000 subscribers.

As of Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after she was shot and killed following a concert set at the Plaza Live Theater in Orlando, Fla., her YouTube performance videos had some 378,300,000 views. “As you can probably tell,” she posted on her original YouTube bio in 2009, “i love singing, writing songs, writing music and i play piano and a little drums & guitar [sic]. . . . For the record guys, I PLAY THE PIANO in every one of my videos, i dont like instrumentals on the computer, i like originals by me :) it feels more original too.”

I’ve kept the punctuation and syntax as she posted it, to give you some sense of who she was — including this personal note toward the end: “Im a full on Christian, by the way. Jesus is my Saviour and i loooove Him and sing for Him.”

Grimmie had already made it onto the Billboard 200 album chart when she was invited to compete on the sixth season of The Voice, in the spring of 2014.

The Voice’s producers were looking to expand the field of contestants beyond the usual crowd of walk-ins. A Voice fan poll encouraged viewers to nominate their favorite performers from social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, with the top vote-getters winning an invitation to the blind auditions.

Grimmie earned a four-chair turn during her blind audition of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball. She chose Adam Levine to be her coach, and he stuck with her from then on. He sensed something unusual in her tone. He could relate to her ambition and kinetic energy, and he liked that she seemed easygoing and easy to get along with, despite that burning ambition on the inside. The Maroon 5 frontman nurtured her through the early rounds, dropping some of his other, potentially more talented protégés along the way. Grimmie made it to the finals, where she finished third overall.

She may not have won, but by then Levine had committed to her future. He said — on the air — that he would sign her to his record company, regardless of the final outcome. She was that good.

During her run on The Voice, Grimmie landed four songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: covers of Drake’s Hold On, We’re Going Home, Lil Wayne’s How to Love, the Elvis Presley standard Can’t Help Falling in Love, and a duet with Levine on Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Love.

Grimmie was shot by Kevin James Loibl, 27, of St. Petersburg, Florida, as she was signing autographs for fans and chatting with friends and her brother, who tackled the gunman. She died five hours later, in the hospital. She was 22.

While it’s all too easy to jump to quick conclusions based on speculation, some things are clear. Grimmie was a child of the social-media age. She made herself accessible to anyone and everyone. She stayed active on social media, even after narrowly losing out on The Voice. Despite Levine’s commitment to her post-show career, she was a self-starter and wanted to use YouTube to push her own career.

Questions surrounding Grimmie’s death remain, and are likely to remain for some time to come. It sounds like a classic stalker scenario, or a relationship gone-wrong, but without further evidence that’s just jumping to conclusions. Orlando police would only say that the shooter killed himself at the scene; that he traveled from a nearby Florida city to specifically kill Grimmie, and that he planned to return afterwards.

The news spread quickly, though, and it spread far and wide, thanks in large part to Twitter.

Twitter is neither hero nor villain in this; It is simply a manifestation of Marshall McLuhan’s assertion — in 1964 — that the medium is the message, that medium and message form a symbiotic relationship in which the medium can influence how the message is perceived.

The Voice embraced Twitter in ways even American Idol couldn’t emulate; it’s no accident that, in recent seasons, Apple Music and iTunes have become major drivers of The Voice’s aspiring performers.

More importantly, social media has changed the relationship between fans and TV personalities in ways that would have been inconceivable when Christina Aguilera appeared on Star Search as a nine-year-old in 1990.

Social scientists have long suggested that a unique bond forms between TV viewers and TV stars. Unlike the social setting of a movie theater, where moviegoers are surrounded by other moviegoers for that one time only, TV viewers engage with the TV at home, where they live, on a weekly or even daily basis.

Social media draws that bond even tighter, because it’s immediate and opens the possibility of instant, two-way communication between fan and media idol.

In the days of the original Big Three broadcast networks, the only way for a fan to get in touch with one of their TV idols was to write a letter to the producing studio or TV network, and hope their letter wouldn’t somehow go astray in the mailroom.

There have been many incidents of public figures being hurt or worse by deranged fans or jilted lovers, of course. What makes this one different — and harder to accept in many ways — is that Grimmie was just 22. There are clichés for everything, but sometimes the cliché fits:

She had her whole life in front of her. She was by all accounts kind and generous, as well as talented. She was active in the Humane Society; her Twitter feed (@TheRealGrimmie) is full of tweets about missing dogs, combatting animal cruelty and finding a home for stray animals.

A 2013 tweet by Grimmie has gone viral in the hours since she died, and it’s both life-affirming and heartbreaking to read: “Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen in your life and you don’t know why. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trusting Him.”

It’s easy to be cynical. We live in a cynical age, after all. The muckraking media site Gawker based its entire business model on cynicism.

There was something clearly sweet and innocent about Grimmie, though, and that’s what makes this one so hard to take.

I have seen every episode of The Voice since it debuted. Hundreds of would-be singers have come and gone in that time, many of them more talented and memorable than Grimmie.

USA Today posted a subjective list on Saturday of Grimmie covers calculated to “give you chills,” a song set that included Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up and OneRepublic’s Counting Stars.

Grimmie is not to my taste in terms of singing — my taste leans more toward Azam Ali and Lisa Gerrard. And yet I do remember her from The Voice, despite the steady parade of would-be singers over the seasons. It was her warm, in-the-moment vibe, the sense that she was genuine, even though reality TV is arguably the least genuine, most artificial form of live television.

Millennials’ attention spans are notoriously short, and it’s hard to gauge how long her tweets will be retweeted and her YouTube videos shared in the coming days and weeks.

She had none of the impact on the music scene of, say, a Prince or David Bowie, but she was representative of her generation: a young millennial, making her way in the world, talented and grateful for The Voice, but determined to carve her own path. Uncompromising, and yet kind and generous, too.

Grimmie’s YouTube set list includes Rihanna, Adele, Sia, Alicia Keys, Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons, Arctic Monkeys, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars — icons of a contemporary generation.

As a personal homage, though, I thought I would upload David Gilmour’s live performance of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, from the classic Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here, as recorded in Gdansk, Poland just a few years ago, with its poetic lyric:

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun

You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom; blown on the steel breeze...

You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.

Shine on you crazy diamond

Christina Grimmie.

March 12, 1994 - June 11, 2016

 
 
 
 
 
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