Looking to the Stars: How Celebrities Have Responded in the Wake of Tragedy

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Published on December 8, 2017, at 1:20 p.m.
by Caitlin Heffley.

Looking to the Stars: How celebrities have responded in the wake of tragedy

These days, you don’t have to look far to find a story broadcasting horrific events laced with death and loss. Mass shootings, suicide bombings and other acts of terror have become commonplace in our society.

From the 2012 shooting in a Colorado movie theater, to the massacre at the 2013 Boston Marathon, to the attack at the London Bridge in June— the recurring theme for offenders is to find places with large numbers of potential victims. It’s only logical that a few of these occurrences have taken place at venues where crowds are inevitable: concerts.

In recent months, not one but two major headliners have seen ruthless attacks on innocent fans during their shows: Ariana Grande and Jason Aldean. Although both celebrities were not harmed, many of their fans were.

But the truth is, no one escapes this kind of trauma unscathed. Like everyone else, the musicians were forced to face the harsh aftermath and the memories of helplessness, fear and cruelty.

What makes their case different from, say, yours or mine? The millions of people watching and waiting for their response.

From a public relations standpoint, this is a sensitive subject. Precious lives were lost, families were torn apart. Had these people not shown up to support some of their favorite musical icons, they would have been safe and sound. So how did Grande and Aldean respond?

Ariana Grande concert suicide bombing
On May 22, 2017, in the midst of her international tour, Ariana Grande was performing at the Manchester Arena when terror struck.

According to the New York Times, as balloons fell from the rafters, signaling the show’s end, a suicide bomb exploded in the arena. At least 22 attendees were killed and 59 were injured, including children.

Naturally, Grande was reportedly in hysterics at the time of the event; however, it was the young pop artist’s actions after the fact that truly set her apart.

Just two short weeks after the deadly explosion, the pop singer performed at a benefit concert in the same location to a crowd of nearly 50,000. Despite the potential danger and risk associated with this performance, her actions communicated an important message to the people of Manchester: unity and courage.

Jason Aldean concert shooting
The Manchester bombing wasn’t the only offense of this type in the past year. More recently, on Oct. 1, 2017, Jason Aldean watched mid-performance as a gunman slaughtered 58 people and injured 500 in what CNN called the “worst mass shooting in modern American history.” 

Shortly after this deadly event at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, Aldean released several tweets expressing his despair over the shooting and proceeded to cancel his shows for the following weekend out of respect for the victims and in observance of such a grave tragedy.

In place of the cancelled shows, Aldean appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” giving a unity-themed performance with a cover of the late Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

The country music star made his response even more personal by returning to Las Vegas just one week later to visit victims’ families and hospitalized fans. This gesture was the perfect display of compassion.

An example for all
Unfortunately, with terrorism and cruelty ever increasing in frequency, artists and their PR teams will be forced to think on their feet. In the coming years, it will likely become a common practice for publicists to have crisis response plans specifically tailored to these types of horrific events.

Following a suicide bomb or mass shooting, any artist could have easily made a statement expressing his or her sympathy for the families of the lost, and left it at that. Grande and Aldean took their acknowledgement a step further with physical actions that broadcast their messages loud and clear.

Words are one thing, but there is no better PR strategy than practicing what you preach. While we hope that nothing like these attacks ever happens again, the fact is that tragedy is almost inevitable.

These stars’ shining examples of how to properly display courage, empathy and compassion should serve as a model for performers and PR professionals alike in the years to come. Bravo.

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