The glitz and glamor of celebrity life is a dream only experienced by some. From the blinding lights of camera flashes to the invitations to A-list events, celebrities seem to have it all figured out. Their omnipresence on-screen and off also makes watching celebrities something hard to avoid. With the constant influx of questions like “What are they doing?” and “Where are they now?,” celebrities secure an audience invested in their lives. But this audience tells a different story: Wanting a little piece of that famous glory can push fans to some pretty unusual limits. When it comes to this relationship, what’s more prominent than how fans choose to celebrate celebrity birthdays? As the lines between praise and obsession cross over each other in these niche festivities, where should fans stand?
Think about birthdays as a whole: When it comes to those annual occasions, everyone chooses to celebrate in their own ways. Maybe one person wants to sit quietly and enjoy the day with their friends, while another wants to throw a once-a-year elaborate soiree. Or maybe a birthday is the one time to catch the “cautious” friend off guard with a surprise party, inviting all their friends to bask in the birthday excitement. Uplifting one’s friends on their extra-special day is almost a brainless activity — who wouldn’t want to celebrate such major milestones in some shape or form? No matter what a person does to mark the date, birthdays always come across as a time of reflecting on the past year with loved ones.
But what about celebrities? Do they get to feel the same about their own birthdays? They’re regular people at the end of the day, even if their god-like status convinces the public otherwise. Take away the cameras and the four-figure wardrobe, and what’s left is another person getting through it all, one day at a time. However, their everyday life is unavoidably put on blast on one of the largest windows possible: the internet. With websites like Famous Birthdays marking their special day for all to see, even the birthdays of stars can’t escape the limelight. Regardless of if a celebrity is personally private about their life or not, the semi-invasive nature of getting to “know” them has facilitated the blending of public and private information. So a birthday celebration on a rented private island for Justin Bieber or a five-party-five-city bender for Paris Hilton will invite more than just their close circle of friends. Internet fans galore also pile onto the web to snag a piece of the festivities.
Celebrity birthdays, and the ways that fans choose to celebrate, extend a superstar’s friendship circle wider than it should be. You might think, “How can that happen?” Take the recent birthday of singer-turned-fashion-mogul Rihanna. While her resume continues to grow, her birthday wishes were short and sweet. Most notably, an entire Twitter Event was dedicated to the star on her special day. With a simple heading reading “Happy Birthday, Rihanna,” the moment was flooded with fans commemorating the event with pictures for “#happybirthdayrihanna.” From red carpets, to modeling gigs, to throwback photos and congratulations for her pregnancy, it seems as if everyone celebrating Rihanna shared posts like they were old friends. In the same way that one might post a childhood photo of a best friend on their birthday, fans swarmed social media with adoration.
The same thing happened just 24 hours earlier for Olivia Rodrigo’s birthday. While the teenage pop star is perhaps on the verge of attaining Rihanna-like status, her loving fans also took to the internet to send her praise. One user captioned her “#HappyBirthdayOlivia” post with the sugary remark, “baked some SOUR themed sugar cookies for Olivia Rodrigo’s 19th birthday.” Following her affirmations was a series of sweets in the color scheme of the singer’s debut album, with some rightly nicknamed “liv” for the birthday girl. Even though sharing baked goods is nothing new online, the cookies represent the underlying significance of celebrity birthdays.
What fans do to highlight celebrity birthdays is unlike any relationship that an individual holds in their day-to-day lives. More often falling under the term “parasocial relationship,” the lack of reciprocation by the idol to their fans does not hinder the happiness on either side of the equation. Fans continually place their favorite celebrities in a glass case, where observing their everyday lives fosters the belief that they are closer together than in actuality. Whether a fan is supporting an internet star in their time of need or is simply scrolling through a celeb’s social media feed, fan culture makes the audience feel like they’re face-to-face with their favorites. If anything, it’s the distance between the celebrity and the fans that encourages their extravagant celebration tendencies.
The dual motives of spreading love for a celebrity and getting noticed by the star fuel fans and their somewhat obsessive actions. While some fans keep remarks light and fun by crafting posts for Rihanna’s and Rodrigo’s birthdays, other fans take it to extreme lengths. K-pop fans, for example, are notorious for giving their all for their idols on their birthdays. As a 2020 article recalled on the K-pop fan frenzy, “When the birthday date of a beloved celeb approaches, fans make sure that everyone knows the day by putting up advertising displays in subway stations, buses and buildings.” The lengths that fans will go to cherish these celebrity birthdays come across as excessive, yet these affectionate acts mimic the sentiments that certain fans would share with a close friend. Despite their good intentions, the “close friend” title for a K-pop idol only loosely hides how much these fans don’t personally know these celebrities.
A crucial aspect that could sour fan praise is the way that these birthday gifts must consider the human behind the celebrity of it all. Since fans are notorious for giving celebrities a colorful selection of gifts — some of which range from choreographed promposals to more body parts than one would expect — their celebratory goals must put gratitude for the star first and foremost. So, if a fan wants to commemorate a celeb’s birthday as close pals, then it’s important to respect their wishes and boundaries like a best friend would. While birthday gifts are constantly appreciated by all, fans can’t lose sight of their original intentions. After all, nobody likes an inconsiderate birthday present.
There is a silver lining throughout the celebrity birthday commotion. Even if some fans’ adoration lands in between cute and concerning, celebrity birthdays also call attention to wider issues beyond entertainment. Some superstars ask for charity donations in honor of their big day instead of fan-picked gifts. Donating to charities that aid families in need or contribute to wildlife rescues are just a sample of what celebrities can do with all their birthday love. Transforming the recurrence of fans loving celebrity birthdays into an agent for change, repurposes what can be made of this parasocial relationship.
At the end of the day, fans ultimately shower celebrities with love because they desire to be with their favorite people through every milestone and roadblock. In a way, the internet does nothing but encourage this process even more, with the veil of social media making it much easier to tap into personal lives that should probably stay personal. However odd it may come across to celebrate celebrity birthdays, the action provides a means to fill the gaping distance between audience and idol. It’s understood that the gilded celebrity status is not something that everyone will get the privilege to touch, so making something out of what little interaction is available might suffice. Who knows — maybe cheering on the birthday of an “untouchable” celebrity gives fans the peace of mind that they, too, can live through these projections. No one can blame a fan for getting lost in the enticing glamor of celebrity status.