The story of a man who becomes two opposed musical personalities to fool the world
1 - Connections
“Next up at this “Festival of life through Music,” we have a local young man who writes his own songs.
Daniel peered from the side of the curtains at the gathering in the field. The fragile, makeshift platform he was standing on creaked beneath him as he shifted his position nervously. He felt his guitar slide against his sweating palm and had to grip it even tighter. Many thoughts raced through his mind as he waited to find the courage to step out in front of the meagre audience of about 150 people. “Why was he here, what was he hoping to achieve? What if they hated his songs? Why were they here anyway? Was this just a cool place to be on a sunny Saturday afternoon?
His thoughts were suddenly disturbed by the voice over the microphone announcing his name. He froze as he heard it declared publicly for the first time;
“Please give a warm welcome to Daniel.”
There were a few isolated claps and some faint “woo”s and whistles but, all in all, it was a very muted and doclile reaction. Daniel forced his legs to comply with his tormented mind and he stepped onto the platform. Immediately the sun dazzled his vision and, for a few seconds he was unable to focus on the crowd assembled before him. After a few seconds he reached the micrpophone and paused, peering out at the small river of faces. Many had their backs turned to him. Some were carrying drinks backwards and forwards among the crowd. He heard faint conversations continuing, and laughter echoing from somewhere at the back. Daniel was terrified. This felt so unatural and forced to him. His throat had dried to an uncomfortable degree and his hands were severly tight around his guitar. He could not look the crowd in the eye but dropped his head. He had the urge to run, disapear and abandon this insane adventure. He was not an entertainer. He was not a confident person, a star or a charismatic figure. He was Daniel. For a second he felt lost in time, as his mind went blank. He turned to see the host waving at him frantically. Daniel looked back at the crowd. Some of them had now focused theiur attention on him fully, adding to his discomfort. What could he do? Why was he here?
Then it came back to him - the many lonely days of school, of bullying and isolation, the ridicule and unkindness heaped upon him for being different, for being modest and quiet. He recalled theose awkward moments when pupils had put him on the spot, when teachers had tried to make him stand and express himself. So many times he had wanted to dissapear or die. Why couldn't the world leave him alone, why did he have to conform to their expectations of confidence and scuccess? Then he remembered that day, that very different day, when the class were asked to share a gift or talent with everyone. He remembered with dread the students being quizzed one by one in a “round robin” (how he despised that dreaded term!) forcing each child to humiliate themsleves, parade themselves or just die in front of the others. And finally, when he had been commanded to stand and declare his “gift” he had stood awkwardly racking his brains to think of something that he could offer to appease the god-like teacher and pacify the gawping students around him. He wasn't particularly good at sport. He had no claim to fame. His dog couldn't do any special tricks. “What the hell is my gift?” He thought, agonizing for what seemed like hours. Then it came to him, the only thing he could think of. The words had come out of his mouth even before he had had a chance to consider them. Even as he spoke he cringed inwardly, trying to stop himslef. But it was too late.
“I write songs”, he said softly. There was a murmering, along with some chiuckles and comments from the class. Yet the teacher's reaction was different. Her brow furrowed, and half a smile began to form on her stern face. “Did I hear you right son, did you say you write songs?” The class misunderstood her curiosity and assumed she was being sarcastic. There was a general erruption of laughter from them. But the teacher raised her hands to hush them and asked again.
“These songs, you made them up yourself?” she asked.
Daniel now saw a look of genuine interest on her face. This was unexpected, that somoene was suddenly interested in him. He felt a little re-assured.
“Yes Miss,” he answered, unsure where this was going.
The teacher now walked past the desks towards him.
“How do you do that?” she asked.
The class was now silent, seeing the teacher's sincere surprise and interest in this anonymous boy's activities. Daniel paused, looked around at the astomished faces and then looked back at the inquirer.
“I have a lot of thoughts and they come together. So I play my guitar and everthing seems to work. I write them down and keep them.” His voice was now clearer and more confident than before and he felt the discomfort and shame dissipating from his mind.
The teacher stood gazing at Daniel in what seemed an admiring manner. A broad smile broke out upon her face.
“Then you must bring your songs and your guitar with you next week and play for us all,” she pronounced.
Daniel's thoughts were suddenly expelled by a voice from the crowd in the field.
“Well, what are you waiting for mate? Sing us a song or get off.”
There was a chorus of laughter from the crowd. Daniel looked down once more at his friend, his guitar. He knew that he must run with it or play it. His stiff arm lifted itslef, almost involuntarily. His breath was short and pronounced. He felt naked, humiliated, judged. But something inside him moved his hand to feel those familiar strings. As soon as he heard those first notes peirce the unfriendly murmering, his mind focused, his breath released and he looked up. He played the ten second introduction, which now caught the attention of several omnlookers, some of who slowly sank in their seats, giving his sound their attention. And then, he breathed deeply and started to sing softly.
“Pushing through the crowds, passing by the tills
There's that overwhelming odour of a thousand perfumes
The sound of cards and pins and ringing sounds of money
And I have to leave this place in a maddened hurry
Find a nook to rest, stand and take a breath
And close my mind to the noise around
And suddenly I'm there, in the open air
And I'm listening for that special kind of sound
Cause I don't want to be here
And I will surely die here
And I close my eyes, and see a butterfly
That is painting colours through a summer sky
And I hear a breathless wind, that starts to gently sing
About all the places that I want to be
And these simple things, and the peace they bring
Is all in my nature
It's in my nature”
As the last note faded on Daniel's guitar, he did not hesitate but turned to walk off the stage, not wanting to even look at the audience's reaction. As he paced quickly towards the curtain exit, he heard the sound of scattered applause. It lasted only as long as it took him to disappear from view, and then the normal crowd noises resumed, people giggling, talking and moving aoround.
As Daniel made his way past the other performers awaiting their turn, he felt a simple sense of relief, that he had endured the ordeal, had given of his best. That was enough of this foolishness. From this day, he would no longer listen to well-meaning friends and family who prodded him to make his music public. He would retreat once more to the sanctity of his mind and his music. He gathered up his possessions and looked around for the direction of the car park in the adjacent field. His heart rate slowed and he felt suddenly exhausted. Then he heard a familiar voice behind him.
“I can't believe you actually did it Dan, you're a flippin star mate. Just remember your old pal when you get your first billion quid, okay”
It was Michael, his friend. Daniel had completely forgotten that he had accompanied him on this venture and had been in the audience. Daniel turned to greet him. There smiling madly at him was that old familiar round face and curly locks.
“But why did you only sing one? He asked, “Weren't you asked to sing two songs? You could have knocked em bandy, man!”
Daniel was in no mood for such a cross-examination. He had done the impossible and had braved the crucible. He couldn't hide the frustration in his voice as he answered his enthusiastic friend.
“One was enough Mike. This was a mistake. These people don't want to hear my kind of music, they want other stuff, modern stuff, in-your-face stuff. That's not me, mate, and it never will be.”
Michael placed his hand on his friend's shoulder and, leaning closer, looked strraight into Daniel's eyes.
“Dan, you were great man. Whether they appriciate it or not, you were great and your songs are great,” he said soflty but firmly.
Daniel offered him a weak half-smile.
“Thanks mate, you've always been there for me. But you are my friend, and you are very biased. You would have cheered if I'd sung a Beyonce song!”
Michael stepped back slightly and looked a little indignant.
“Now that's going too far. Beisdses I saw some people actually clapping. There was a nice looking girl who looked like she really enjoyed your song. Do you realize that she might be the first member of your official band of groupies!”
Daniel dismissed the remark as he began packing his stuff into the car.
“Yeah sure mate, I'll have a fanclub by the end of the week, it'll be far out. Now, can we go please?”
Although Michael was a little ofended by his friend's usual dismissal of his opinion of his music, Michael knew his friend well and he understood Daniel's reluctant nature in such matters.He dicided not to pursue the matter further and went to open the car door. At that moment someone approached the car and spoke to Daniel.
“Are you Daniel, the one who just sung the song about nature?”
Daniel looked up to see the smiling face of a pretty girl. She had soft brown eyes but wild, unkempt hair. Daniel noticed the tatoo on her neck and the large dangling earings she wore. Her clothes were very casual, a baggy lemon top and faded jeans.
Without having time to consider a response properly, he just answered “Yes.”
The girl's smile widened, enhancing her glowing features. She stepped nearer.
“Cool” I'm glad I caught you before you left,” she smiled, “I enjoyed your song. You've got a good voice and you can really play that guitar. Was this your first performance?”
Damiel was a little taken aback. He wasn't used to such attention, especially from pretty girls. He glanced at Michael, as if looking for support, and then at the girl. Michael motioned urgently with his eyes and hands and then rolled his eyes in frustration.
“Er yeah. Yes I've never done that before, well apart from in front of classmates and friends that is.”
At this point, Michel couldn't resist introducing himself and also gloating over someone praising his friend's music. He made his way around the car to join the conversation.
“I keep telling him that but he won't believe me,” he said loudly. Then after pausing, a little nervously, he piped “Hello I'm Michael, Dan's friend.......and Road Manager, Agent, Press Officer and Dogsbody.”
The girl laughed and then turned back to Daniel.
“Hello Michael, I'm Louise” she said. Then turning back to Daniel she asked “I was wondering if you would be coming back another time to sing some more?”
“No” murmered Daniel softly.
“Yes, definately” blurted Michael at the same time.
Louise laughed again and Daniel found himself staring at her, enjoying her smile and laughter. Then her face became more serious and she placed her hand on Daniel's shoulder.
“You really are good, you know. You should share your music with people, not hide it.”
The touch of her hand and the warmth of her beautiful eyes sudddenly made Daniel feel at ease, like he had known this girl for a long time. He looked up at her and offered a weak smile.
“Thank you. But I do share my music with my friends and family. I really didn't enjoy that experience up there on that platform.”
Michael couldn't contain himself and had to voice his frustration at his friend's reluctance.
“Yeah, like me and your family are gonna make you rich mate! Keep that up and you might be able to afford that weekend away in Brighton one day” he declared waving his arms in mock adoration. Michael turned to Louise.
“Danno's a good bloke, and he's talented but he's never gonna believe in himself enough to do anything about it. You're wasting your breath love, I've been trying to convinvce him for years. I was the one who convinced him to come her, he would'nt even tell his familty what he was up to.”
Michael walked back around to the other side of the car and got in. He could see no more point to this conversation.
Louise watched him for a moment and then turned back to Daniel with a sympathetic look.
“Dan, would you let me hear some of your songs, in private? I could visit you, if that would be alright. I hate to see talent go to waste. What do you say?”
Daniel stared at her in surprise wondering if she was serious. Did this lovely girl really want to share his music, did she really mean it about visiting him? Daniel found himself unexpectedly excited by the prospect and before he could give it any further thought he impulsively answered her, “Okay, but just you though.”
“Cool” she quipped while reaching for something in her pocket. She handed him a pad of paper. “Just jot your address down and I'll pop over on Friday, if that's okay?”
Daniel took the pen and pad and paused for a second. Was this real? Did this beautiful, vibrant young woman really want to visit his home to hear his music? A thought suddenly crossed his mind that this was some kind of prank, that he had been set up. But almost immediately, he dismissed the thought. The only person who had known about today was his friend Michael and, Daniel knew that he would never do anything so cruel to him. He looked up at Lousie's face again. There was that glowing, re-assuring smile. There was something about her, something fresh and honest, that drew him to her, made him want to trust her. He quickly wrote his address and phone number on the pad and gave it to her. Then he opened the car door and looked at her once more.
“It was nice to meet you Louise”, he said resolutely, as if this would be their only encounter.
Her smile faded for a moment as he got into the car.
“You too Daniel, see you soon.”
As Michael drove toward the exit for the long journey home, Daniel caught sight of Louise in the mirror, walking away and meeting up with a man. Daniel never expected to see her again. That weekend Daniel was preoccupied with thoughts of his clumsy first performance, but mostly of the girl he had met.
A week later, much to Daniel's shock. and delight, he opened the door of his family home to find Louise satnding there with that bright, enthusiastic smile on her face.
“Hi Dan, ready to rock and roll?”
He was so taken aback by the sight of her on his doorstep that he just stood gaping for a minute. Louise motioned with her hand and kept smiling.
“Well superstar, can I come in then?” she asked.
Daniel regained his senses and blushed slightly. He stepped aside and pointed towards the living room.
“Oh, sorry, yep, of course. Sorry, I was just pleased to see you, I didn't really expect you to turn up.”
As he spoke the words he could have punched himself. Why did he say that, like some love-sick teenager? He felt embarrassed, awkward. This girl was here to listen to his music, not to have a date with him.
Louise placed her hand on his arm and held his gaze for a moment.
“Dan, I told you, I was impressed with your music and I want to hear more, okay?”
He felt himself flushing with warmth and pleaseure as he looked into her eyes and heard her soft voice near his face.
“Sorry, yes, I know, thanks, I mean thanks for coming.” He turned away quickly, unable to hold her gaze for fear that his eyes might betray the feelings he was experiencing.
“Do you want a drink, tea or coffee?” he quickly asked, heading for the kitchen.
“Got anything stronger? I do like a drink when I'm listening to new music”, she asked as she entered the living room and surveyed it.
Daniel paused, once again surprised by this girl's forwardness. He went to the fridge and looked.
“Iv'e got some beers left” he called from the kitchen.
Louise appeared at the kitchen door with a look of mock dissapointment.
“I expected something a bit more toxic in the home of a star, but okay, a beer is fine.”
They carried their drinks into the next room and Louise sat on the settee. Daniel stood and glanced at her nervously.
“So what do you want to hear then?” He asked as he reached for a folder of notes. “Iv'e got a lot of songs Iv'e written over the last year but I've also got some a bit older. I can play some of my recordings from the latest, if you like.”
Louise stared at him, and that warm smile broke out on her face once more.
“Daniel” she whispered, “Please relax. I'm not here to judge you or make you feel anxious. You don't have to prove anything to me. I know you write beautifully. But before you play me some songs, I want to know a bit about you, why you write the way you do, how you learned muisc, that kind of thing. I'd like to know the man behind the music. Please sit down because you are making me nervous.”
Daniel found that her voice had a soothing effect on him. Once again he had that pleaseant feeling, like he had known Louise for a long time, like he felt natural and comfortable around her. He lowered himself into an armchair and took a deep breath.
“What about you, what's your interest in music and why do you go to the festival?” he asked her, feeling a little more at ease.
Louise looked away for a moment and thought.
“Fair enough. I love music, always have. I follow music wherever it takes me. I've seen more artists than I can remember. I actually work for a production company so I see a lot of musicians at work. I like to see new acts and try and spot talent on my travels.”
Daniel suddenly felt a little inferior and overwhelmed. She was a talent spotter, had probably discovered famous acts. He was just a little raw obscurity to her, an object of amusement and curiosity.
“So that's why you were at the festival then? Did you find anything worth mentioning to your bosses?” He couldn't hide the dejection in his voice.
Lousie leaned forward in her seat, toward him and, once again, caught his eyes in a deliberate, serious look.
“Yes, she said softly and precisely, actually I did. Now, tell me about yourself, when did you start making music?”
Daniel was confused and he wondered again what she was doing here, in his little house in this quiet part of England. He didn't ask about her discovery at the festival but instead began to answer her question.
“I was given a guitar when I was seven. I found it easy to play, when I was shown how. I used to copy songs on the radio, nice songs that my mum and dad liked. People always encouraged me and said I was good at it. Then I started to write down my own thoughts and put them to miusic. It always seem to come naturally to me.”
Louise leaned forward and took the folder from his hands.
“But you've never played in fromt of a crowd before today have you Daniel?”
Daniel bowed his head with embarrassment but managed to smile about it.
“Was it that obvious?” he asked her.
She stopped looking at the folder for a moment and looked up at him. She seemed to be trying to read his expressions yet, he didn't feel uncomfortable. In fact he found her gaze pleasurable and comforting.
“You're different Daniel” she said softly to him. “You're not like the kind of people I'm used to meeting. There's no pretense about you. You're not arrogant or overconfident.” She paused for a moment and then added, with all sincerity, “You're a rare one.”
Daniel held her gaze for a few seconds but then, the old shy person took over again and he turned away.
“What kind of music do you like, who are your influences?” she asked returning her attention to the folder.
Daniel thought for a moment.
“I like meaningful music, not empty songs about shallow things and shallow people,” he answered.
Louise looked up at him with a concerned look on her face.
“Aren't all subjects meaningful from the perspective of the writer?” she asked.
Daniel nodded slightly.
“Maybe”, he said, “But songs about ex-boyfriends and people's opinions of other people, or sex don't do anything positive for this world, they only create divisions and hostilities. I believe that music should be used to heal and unite people. I prefer lsitening to, and writing songs that promote care of nature, kindness and peace, songs that inspire, not glorify selfish aspirations.”
Daniel found Louise was staring at him again, trying to discern his deep thoughts. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, as if he has said something wrong and embarrassing. Louise smiled a weak smile.
“It's a nice, noble thought Daniel but, unfortunately, life isn't like that. Music that sells is dynamic, it's about people and life and pleasures and pains. Rock, rap, grunge and R & B are what people want, what people buy. That's what sells.”
Daniel stood up and walked to the window. He stood there for a moment, with his back to her.
“That's because that is all that pople are used to and that is what the media feeds them.” he declared. And because that music is easy to make, it's cheap and repetative and unchallenging. People think that singing anger and frustration is like venting steam, that it is what will help us all to cope with life but, that's a myth. Anger and self-justification come so easily to us but, are bad for the human mind and spirit, they are one of the reasons why this world is in such a mess.”
Louise became slightly frustrated by Daniel's words.
“Perhaps, that may be true but, that is what artists have to provide if they want to make money, if they want to be famous”, she insisted.
Daniel suddenly turned to confront her. His face focused and resolute.
“Yeah famous, everyone is so desperate to be famous, unitl there's just one unfamous person out there listening to all the noise and envying all the toys.” He paused, “Who said I wanted to be famous?” he demanded.
Louise now looked genuinely confused.
“But why were you at the festival then?” she asked.
Daniel considered her question for a few seconds.
“To share my music and to encourage others.”
Louise couldn't restrain the smile from her face.
“Wow!” she cried aloud. “You really mean it, don't you?”
Daniel scanned her pretty face, trying to understand her motives, her feelings, but he was puzzled.
“So, why are you here then? I mean, if my music is so pathetic and dull and unsellable, why did you come here to hear it?”
She stood up and faced him. There was irritation in her voice when she spoke.
“I never said your song was any of those things. I thought your song was beautiful. It captured me and made me feel good. I just wanted to hear more. I'm on your side you know! I want the world to be all those things you dream of, I want peace and understanding” she paused heaving a heavy sigh and lowering her gaze, “but it's just a dream Daniel, just a dream!”
Daniel could see the concern on her face and he knew he had offended her. He stepped toward her to reassure her.
“I'm sorry Louise, I'm not angry at you... just the world. I don't belong in the music world, I know that. I tried to tell Michael that but, he wouldn't listen. If you really want to hear some more of my songs, I'll put my CD on for you.”
He reached for the cabinet where the music system was but, before he could reach it, Louise grabbed his hand and stopped him.
“Wait, Daniel. Why can't you play them to me on your guitar? I want to hear you sing them, here, now. It would mean a lot to me.”
Daniel hesistated, his old inhibitions returning to make him doubt himself. Could he actually sing for her, this beautiful girl, alone in his home? Would he not shrivel and die from embarrassment?
Louise toook his hand and cupped his cheek with her other hand. She looked into his eyes and spoke soflty again.
“Please.... I believe in you.”
Daniel found himself moving towards his guitar and sitting down to play one of his songs for her.
All fear seemed to leave him and he playing the soft sound of his song.
Louise sat in silence as Daniel played one song after another. She ocassionally broke into a smile while watching him play. She applauded after each song and asked for another. Daniel was on a high. He had never enjoyed performing so much for anyone in his life. He felt so at ease and his caution began to vanish. As his confidence grew, his voice became stronger and his passion flowed in every line. For the first tme in his life, he knew what it was like to be really appreicated, to be acknowledged, and it felt so good.
It was the sound of his mother's voice that finally ended their intimate seesison. Daniel put down his guitar and greeted his mother.
“You alright mum?” he asked, taking the bags from her as she removed her shoes.
“Hallo love, yes I'm fine. Ooh, who's your pretty friend?” .
Louise rose and greeted her. “Hi Daniel's mum, I'm Louise. Daniel's been playing his songs to me, they're lovely, you must be very proud of him.”
“Allo love,” she smiled and placed a hand on Louise's arm. “Oh yes I am, I always knew he would do something special with his music. He takes after his dad, he had a lovely voice too and a real passion for music.”
Louise glanced at Damiel, who had lowered his head and was looking away. Gone was the zeal and vibrancy she had seen a few moments ago. Instead, the coy, clumsy quiet person had returned.
She looked back at his mother.
“Sorry, “had?” Are you two not together anymore?” she asked sincerely curious.
Daniel looked up and gave Louise a sharp stare.
“That's private Louise,” he said firmly.
Daniel's mother looked at them both, trying to fathom if there was anything between them and whether to elaborate on what she had already volunteered. She sensed something, and she felt justified to continue the conversation.
“Daniel's dad.....” she gave Daniel a stern, motherly look, “My husband,..... died a few years ago. It's been just me and Daniel since then. It's one of the reasons why Daniel stays in this house, to look after his mum. I know the world frowns on such things but, Daniel won't leave me. I've tried to tell him I'll be fine but....”
Daniel interrupted her and spoke to Louise.
“Anyway, Louise, I must be going soon, I've got work to do. Thanks for coming.” He walked towards the front door and opened it.
Louise stood next to Daniel's mother defiantly. A cynical smile broke out on her face.
“What work is that then?” she asked, “Appearing at the London Arena this afternoon are you?”
Daniel's mother turned to enter the kitchen. She laughed to herself. “Oh you've got to be joking love, he'd never want to be at somewhere famous like that. Our Daniel's far too modest to be famous. He just loves to sing.”
Daniel grew more impatient and frustrated, and both the women could see it. After a pause Louise turned to Daniel's mother and smiled.
“I'm glad I met you... er?”
“Joanie, and it's lovely to meet you too Louise. Feel free to pop in any time love.”
Louise pushed past Daniel at the door. She turned and pulled a pen out of her bag, scribbled something on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.
“Think about what I said. You can't waste your gift Dan. I can help. Give me a ring.”
Daniel glanced at the number on the paper, then looked up at her indifferently.
“Thanks but I'm fine.”
Daniel closed the door. He stood there for a moment, considering the events of the past hour or so. He suddenly felt regret, like he had let something precious go. But it wasn't opportunity. He had no desire for fame. He couldn't stop thinking about Louise. She made him feel special, like no-one had ever done before. She was beautiful and intelligent and understanding and he felt inspired when she spoke and smiled at him. He felt like he wanted to play and sing just for her.
As he made his way back towards the living room, he caught his mother staring at him. She had a frown on her face. He knew she was upset.
“Why Daniel?” she demanded to know.
“Why what?” he asked, feigning igmorance.
“Why were you so rude to that lovely girl? She was trying to help you, she appreciates your talent. I didn't raise you to be rude like that.”
Daniel sighed and held his hands up.
“Sorry, okay? I just got a bit annoyed with her pushing and interfering. I hardly know her and she was poking into my life and trying to tell me what to do. But I don't need her help.”
Joanie's look softened but her tone remained stern.
“Listen love, you may want to do things your way but, the world demands certain things of us and we are not really in a position to refuse. Okay, I understand that you don't want to be famous but, a bit more money wouldn't hurt us. Life's hard love, for both of us.”
Daniel looked down dejectedly. Although he knew that they were struggling financially, his mother had never really made a big issue of it. She had this way of trivializing things and making light of problems. There was a unwritten rule in the house, that they didn't dwell on financial matters, they just did what they could.
She took his hand in hers and peered at his tormented face, stroking it gently.
“I know it's been hard. I don't care about money, me and your dad had some lovely times together, and I'm happy to share my life with you, love but, you deserve more. I want you to have all the things I have, and more. I want you to enjoy life, meet someone, have real love, like I did. But, most of all Daniel, I want you to share your gift, to make others happy, because I know that when you do, you'll be happy too.”
Daniel embraced her and held her close. He knew that she was being kind and unselfish, that she had struggled for money since his father had died. The airline insurers had resisted any liability and in the end, no insurance or compensation was paid. The mortgage endowment had been badly managed and had not covered the cost of the house. Life had been hard for the past two years, for both of them.
“I know” he whispered, “Thanks mum. But, whatever happens to me, you are going to be there with me, sharing it all. I owe you everything mum and my gift is your gift.”
He pulled back and faced her, with a confident smile.
“I tell you what, I'll widen my horizons, try to be more open to new ideas. If Louise calls again, I'll listen to what she has to say, how's that sound?”
Joanie grinned at him
“Like a manipulated, overpaid superstar,” she chuckled.