Performing last night in Batumi, Georgia, frontman of The Killers Brandon Flowers found himself resoundingly booed – and it wasn’t for playing skinny-jean anthem “Mr Brightside”.
Instead, in the time-honoured tradition of self-important celebrities wading into issues that even the best diplomats struggle with, Flowers told the audience that a Russian drummer brought on to play “For Reasons Unknown” was their brother. “We don’t know the etiquette of this land but this guy’s a Russian,” he told the crowd. “You OK with a Russian coming up here?”
After the song finished, Flowers picked up where he’d left off, responding to the audience’s mix of boos and cheers: “You can’t recognise if someone’s your brother? He’s not your brother?”, continued the singer, who had perhaps already been mentally penning the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech his intervention would presumably earn him. All this fuss about invasions and generational trauma –-and all it took to fix it was a guest drum set.
Unfortunately for Flowers, the audience of assembled Georgians – whose country was invaded by Russia in 2008 and remains partly under Russian control – didn’t seem to agree that the matter could be settled so simply.
Some members of the crowd reportedly walked out and others jeered. I don’t know what happened to the poor Russian guy, paraded on stage as a representative of a regime he’s much more likely to despise than subscribe to, but I hope he’s recovered from the indignity of being used by a presumptuous American.
The band have since apologised for their blunder and said in a statement published on social media: “”We recognise that a comment, meant to suggest that all of the Killers’ audience and fans are ‘brothers and sisters,’ could be misconstrued.” Indeed.
So what can we learn from this? Well, it’s amazing that it needs saying, but international politics is complicated. Yet, celebrities continue to insist on barrelling into its most turbulent waters, producing ripples that go deeper than they could imagine.
While the rest of the world suffers no shortage of presumptuous B-listers glossing over earth-shattering issues – French David Guetta’s excruciating tribute to George Floyd and Israeli Gal Gadot’s early Covid-19 pandemic cover of Imagine, both from 2020, spring to mind – I’m afraid that America does lead the pack when it comes to eye-roll-worthy celebrity interventions.
Take actress Annalynne McCord’s poem for Putin (I still snort involuntarily when I remember the choice line, “instead of Mother Russia you would call me, and I would set your mind quite free”). Posted to Twitter on 24 February 2022, the day Putin ordered Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the poem positions its author as an if-only surrogate mother for the Russian despot, suggesting that McCord would have stopped Putin’s thirst for violence before it ever started by the sheer force of her maternal nurture (presumably he would have been a professional kitten cuddler).
Or, how about Madonna, who draped one of her backing dancers in an Israeli flag and another in a Palestinian one, for her Eurovision performance in 2019? You’ll be surprised to hear that neither McCord’s poem nor Madonna’s slapdash gesture made any impact on their respective global conflicts, both ongoing.
At least Flowers can take comfort in the knowledge that, when it comes to his international blunder, he is far from alone. But let’s make him the last, shall we? Well-meaning popstars on the brink of brokering peace deals should take note: leave it to the diplomats to strut the global stage.