From Mav: The nice thing about having your own pop culture podcast is that sometimes something happens and you’re like “what the actual fuck” and you just want to be given the opportunity to work things out? Well, I do have a show and so I’m taking that opportunity today. This is a little different than most of our shows. I’m not perfectly clear what I believe here. I’m really just looking for opinions so I can work out how I feel. I heard a weird news story this week on a podcast. There is a young woman named Paige Niemann. She basically made something of a name for herself the last few years as an Ariana Grande cosplayer on Instagram and other social media sites. And she’s really got the look down. If I ran into a picture of her in a collection of Ariana Grande pictures, I’d probably not notice that she was “a fake.” Apparently at some point a few years ago Grande made some comment about being disturbed or creeped out by “people pretending to be her” and Niemann (who was only 15 at the time) took a bunch of flack from Grande’s fans. But it died down over the years. And sure, while Ariana’s followers might have been devoted to supporting her from the faker… impersonators are just part of being a celebrity musician. Just ask Elvis or Cher!
Well, a few days ago, Niemann who is now 18, started an OnlyFans account and the controversy reignited. Ariana Grande fans are complaining about Paige because “she’s violating Ariana” but like… Niemann’s page clearly says “18+ exclusive content that you wouldn’t normally see from me ! not cosplaying or impersonating <3” She uses her own name. Grande’s name appears no where on her page as far as I can tell (I didn’t subscribe, so I can only see public stuff) But still… like… she looks EXACTLY like Grande… So much so that I’m not sure most people can consistently pick which one is real and which is fake when their pictures are next to each other. And I’m trying to figure out how I feel about this…
Part of it reminds me of our episode on deep fakes and its usage for porn of celebrities. But this is a little different. Paige isn’t using Ari’s face. She’s not using Ari’s body. She’s a grown woman who has decided to sell sexy pictures of herself. Isn’t the fact that she’s got a look that is similar to someone famous immaterial. She’s not claiming to be Ariana in these pictures anymore than any other cosplayer/impersonator who is famous for looking like WonderWoman or Spider-man or Cher or Elvis is claiming to be the person they look like. I follow a cosplayer instagram named Alyson Tabbitha who is absolutely amazing at impersonating Gal Gadot, Natalie Portman, David Bowie and Johnny Depp! Or rather, she impersonates those people in their guises as iconic pop culture characters. Tabbitha’s got like Chameleon-esque fucking superpowers. It’s amazing! I don’t think it’s wrong. So I’m not sure it’s wrong that Niemann is doing it. Maybe it’s just that Niemann is VERY GOOD at being an Ariana Grande impersonator… and so good that she can’t turn it off.
So how do we feel about this? Is it different because Ariana, Cher and Elvis are real people? Because there is DEFINITELY Elvis porn parody out there. Is it different because Ariana has cultivated a trademark look? I’m not clear on that either? Is it different because it feels more violating because it’s “porn”? Or potentially porn? Because as far as I can tell, Paige hasn’t even posed nude, but less done anything sexual. I think they’re just lingerie pics (I didn’t feel like paying for her OnlyFans rate to find out). But here I’m thinking of porn star Megan Rain who absolutely has her “look” tailored around her passing resemblance to Megan Fox. Rain clearly cultivates her look to be “Megan Fox-like” and that’s served her well.
But I never actually confuse Rain and Fox. I don’t think anyone actually would. They look as alike as any two pretty white, brunette model/actresses in 2022. No one actually thinks that’s Fox in any of Rain’s films anymore than they think that Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford are actually in the Star Wars porn parodies. But maybe Niemann is just better at mimicking her inspiration? Or maybe she just naturally looks like that as an 18yo zennial trying to be an IG influencer. Besides, Grande didn’t “invent” that look. She’s basically just trying to be a real life Bratz doll. I’d argue that at 18, Niemann looks “more natural” looking like that than the 29 year old Grande. It’s just “a look.” Much like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Barbara Nichols, and a dozen other actresses shared a look in the 50s. And people DID confuse those actresses, and still do. ALL THE TIME. So I think that I personallyfeel like Paige is pretty within her rights morally and ethically here here. I think I think that…
On the other hand, I do sort of get where Grande and her fans are coming from. The truth is, a lot of revenue Paige gets here is going to be based on her resemblance to Grande. Certainly whatever explicit pictures she posts are going to get reshared in collections that are supposed to be Ariana. Even though Paige clearly lists her name, she’s certainly going to get a lot of fans who are watching her just to fantasize about Ariana. However, so what? Isn’t that just going to happen no matter what? People apparently noticed that Paige looked like Ariana when Paige was like 10! She’s been mistaken for her since she was 12. This is just how she looks now and Paige has to live a life. It’s the hand she was dealt. Who are we to tell her that she can’t try her hand at IG modeling (or just celebrity impersonation)?
I don’t think it’s just an Ariana Grande thing. Has a person who has an identical twin violated the other twin’s privacy by posing nude? I don’t think so. A twin certainly doesn’t ask for permission before having sex with a new partner. It just doesn’t feel like Ariana has any “rights” here. And yet… I do get why it all feels “kinda creepy.”
So I want to know what you think. What are the ethics of the situation here. Is Paige in the right or the wrong? Is there a line that is or isn’t being crossed? Is this different than deep fakes? Better? Worse? Let us know what you think so we can discuss it on an episode.