How to Build Your Pop Culture Persona


Branding is all anyone can talk about these days. It’s how celebrities stay famous. It’s what Twitter is really for. It’s even what the last season of America’s Next Top Model was all about (besides Tyra Banks’s book, we mean). This week saw famed Bright Lights, Big City author Jay McInerney’s birthday — the renowned playboy is 57 years old, if you can believe it. Inspired by the persistence of the McInerney legend even after all these years, we thought we’d give you a brief outline of how to build a successful pop culture persona using two demonstrative models: the aforementioned Jay McInerney, poster boy of ’80s excess, and Lady Gaga, Queen of overblown contemporary pop. Click through to pick up a few helpful tips on how to build your pop culture persona based on these two tabloid legends, and make sure to send us a postcard from the top when you get there.

1. Come onto the scene with a little salacious controversy.

You have several options on this front, depending on your existing skill set. But whether you write a novel, drop a hit single, or debut in a film, make sure there’s some scandal attached. For instance, if you decide to write a novel, you should make sure that the main character is almost identical to you, that he is consumed with cocaine and the party boy lifestyle, as Jay McInerney did with Bright Lights, Big City. It will help if you have a posse already, so you can look even more like one of the popular kids. If you’re a musician, make sure you’re wearing something so ridiculous no one can look away or shut up about it, like Lady Gaga — in this case, it will also help if that outfit makes it unclear whether or not you secretly have a penis. Now people are paying attention to you. You may proceed.

2. Revamp your appearance.

If your appearance is mostly what you are known for, you must do this several times, getting wilder and weirder with each incarnation. People will associate your personality with your outfit, so consider carefully. If you’re Jay McInerney, you can keep wearing those turtlenecks, because your real adornment is the woman on your arm. Whether she be model or socialite, just keep switching them up.

4. Continually take it up a notch.

If you’re Lady Gaga, put on weirder clothes, copy Madonna, and get accused of bathing in blood. If you’re Jay McInerney, divorce another girl, write another book, and wake up another day dusted in Bolivian marching powder and glitter. As Gina would say, “Shock me shock me shock me with that deviant behavior!”

3. Fight — or pretend to fight — against the media’s perception of you.

“[Bright Lights, Big City] was my claim to fame,” McInerney told the New York Times in 2006. “But it almost ruined my life.” In truth, McInerney has obviously calmed down and grown up, but then, he’s now in his fifties. “I’m an optimist,” he told The Guardian in 2009. “Eat, drink and remarry is my motto. You have to be a hopeless romantic to get married four times… I like to think that I misbehaved in most of the ways I could think of, and that I now no longer have to push the boundaries. I certainly haven’t lost my desire or my appetites yet – though I finally quit smoking – but I left no stones unturned in the pursuit of pleasure, and I’ve had about 17 midlife crises already, so I do feel pretty comfortable now.” Yes, Jay, we believe you. And that’s all well and good, except all it does is surreptitiously remind us that now you’re just the older statesman version of your bad boy self. Well played. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga denies all the rumors and lets Terry Richardson take disarming photographs of her.

5. Start making fun of your own cultural persona — in a way that totally reinforces it, of course.

As in the star-studded 2010 trailer for Gary Shteygnart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story, in which Shteyngart has some troubles with his contracted three debutantes, and McInerney walks in with a bottle of booze and a calming, “Oh, don’t worry, this happens to me all the time. Vassar or Mont Holyoke? Hey, girls. Meet the author!” Yes, it’s a satire, it’s an in-joke for the literary community, etc etc. But it also makes us believe in the Jay McInerney persona just a little bit more. Congratulations! You’re a legend. Gaga, we’re waiting for you to take the final step.