Playback singer Mika Singh has posted a video of himself on an Emirates flight talking about how he booked the entire first class to fly to India from Dallas. “Ek zamaane mein Michael Jackson kehte the mujhe akele travel karna hai. Aaj mein kehta hoon, mujhe koi disturbance nahi chahiye,” said Mika to his 1.5 million followers on Facebook, panning the camera all around, showing off his spectacular isolation. He ended the post on a self-congratulatory note by saying he hoped his Indian fans would be proud of him. By first-class cost estimates, the journey would have cost him Rs 1.5 crore.
At the outset, Mika is a relentlessly hardworking, sought-after performer and presumably, a taxpayer. How he chooses to spend is completely upto him but now that he’s put up this tacky video boasting about how he can throw money around, we, the spectators, may be permitted a sneer and an opinion on the nouveau riche. But before we lose ourselves to righteous indignation, it’s worth noting that among the big rockstars of the world, Mika’s are baby steps in extravagance.
Consider Sir Elton John’s flower bill of 2,90,000 pounds 20 years ago during a 40 million pound spending spree. Hauled up by the courts for the huge hole in his finances, Sir Elton told the judge he had no one to leave the money to and said: “I like flowers”. Last year, it was heartbreaking to see an artist of his stature dressed as a chicken in one of those miserable Hollywood franchise films, Swordsman. It’s unlikely anyone, much less Sir Elton who would be in his sixties now, would opt for that role if he wasn’t desperately short of money. However, this isn’t meant to be a cautionary tale about the financial recklessness of the fathomlessly wild. One of the few perks of adulthood is the right to your own intoxicant, no matter how unwise it might be.
At some level, it’s endearing to see Mika’s excitement, flaunting how he has officially arrived, now that he can afford a few of the whimsical fancies of a Michael Jackson. Except, in the 30 years between MJ’s peak and the mad excesses of the ’80s that coined the term “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”, rockstars have grown up — and grown a conscience. Buying stuff or spending madly just isn’t cool anymore. A Bono or a Shakira, when they’re on tour, are far more likely to be raising funds for a Haiti earthquake than chucking a TV through a hotel window, the classic rockstar move of the ’70s.
No doubt, it’s a process that only happens after you’ve bought, collected, holidayed and partied yourself into oblivion and Mika is clearly at the beginning of that curve. Even if it doesn’t fall exclusively on the superlatively wealthy to set an example for the rest of humanity, the greatest stars in the current rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame seem determined to reduce their participation in the destruction of the world.
The rich are moving towards a more experiential form of consumption, now that it’s become all too clear that every single human being also has environmental responsibilities. The iconic British brand Burberry is facing its biggest crisis in its 150+ years of existence after news spread they set fire to millions of pounds worth of unsold goods. (God forbid, discounted stock may have fallen into the grimy hands of the undeserving proletariat.) That they have the right to protect their brand, is an argument that’s backfired, and how. Firstly, it makes a consumer feel like a dolt for having spent Rs 50,000 on a jacket, only to find out that the brand merrily burned thousands of those same pieces because crushingly enough, nobody wanted them.
These kind of corporate practices are tough to admire in an age when people also derive their social capital from a measure of considerate austerity. Mika might be unaware that the carbon footprint of a first-class passenger is six times that of an economy one. Multiply that by 10, the number of seats Mika bought, and the rocker lifestyle quickly moves from glamorous to gimmicky avarice. Bragging about your own wealth isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s bragging about living so thoughtlessly, without a care for the world, that’s far more offensive.