Spaces and Stars: Why Twitter Spaces is the next big thing for Kollywood celebrities

For Tamil film personalities, Twitter Spaces is more than just a feature that enables them to interact with their audiences.
(From left) Pradeep Kumar, Gayathrie Shankar and Vijay Antony
(From left) Pradeep Kumar, Gayathrie Shankar and Vijay Antony

Ten to fifteen years ago, a sensational TV idea was to invite celebrities to the studio and allow callers the rare opportunity of interacting with them. This was an idea that they picked up from the radio, of course. But largely, communication from celebrities has been one-way from them.

They relay messages to their countless fans, whose responses largely get ignored. But everything changed recently when Twitter introduced a feature called Spaces that would allow its users to host and participate in live audio conversations with anyone.

A couple of weeks ago, Tamil Twitter reached fever-pitch excitement when singer-songwriter Pradeep Kumar hosted a Spaces session and did not just interact with fans, but actually took song requests as well. This was heaven for his fans.

Pradeep credits another Spaces session he was a listener of - one about Ilaiyaraaja - as the inspiration behind his own initiative. "With the pandemic going on, I wasn’t in the mood to do something like this," he begins, and shares that it was mainly launched to help Preejo TJ, an independent social worker helping COVID-19 patients by providing beds, medicine, and oxygen concentrators.

"For me, it was a way to procure donations and spread awareness. We are living in such a distressing time, and so, I thought it would be good to spread some positivity. If it could help more people get oxygen, why not?" asks Pradeep.

As much as it was for the cause, Pradeep found that the artist in him was also satisfied. "I was glad to hear people tell me that my voice made them happy during such dismal times. Music has the ability to cut through people’s souls, and I felt vindicated and gratified," he asks.

It was also revelatory for him, as he discovered that some of his notions over what people liked about his music were broken through the interactions and the many song requests he got over the hours he spent on Spaces.

One such Spaces session also helped music composer and actor Vijay Antony. With multiple films in the pipeline - and all stuck due to the lockdown Vijay was in no mood to participate in such a session, but when a young fan requested him to sing, he belted an impromptu rendition of 'Nakka Mukka'.

"It turned out to be a good break for me. It's like Facebook Live, isn't it? But of course, this is only audio and there are some other changes. Ultimately, it's about interacting with fans," he says, adding that the singing and the appreciation reinforced him with a lot of positive energy.

Twitter Spaces' focus on audio made it feel like a community radio experience, says Pradeep, and this is a thought his friend and music composer Sean Roldan agrees with. "I love radio when it is curated for a specific purpose. It has soul, and I think Spaces has a similar vibe," says Sean.

"People were actually listening, not just hearing, to my music," notes Pradeep while Sean adds that he would love to go back to a world where audio ruled as much as video.

Sean rejects the idea that this feature is the closest he can get to his audience. "The closest medium is still the music itself," he says. Perhaps that is the case for all musicians, but for an actor like Gayathrie Shankar, Spaces is the closest she feels she can get to fans.

"I spoke with a fan from Orissa who works in a factory there and told me that all the Tamil workers there lobbied to get Tamil films screened at their local theatre. Someone from Singapore told me that his kid loves my film, Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren. Where would I have heard these anecdotes?" she asks.

The actor is also appreciative of how Spaces enables her to connect with not just the general audience, but even those from her own industry.

She cites the example of dance master Bobby Antony, who dropped into her Spaces session. "It's nice to have conversations about work and cinema, especially at a time when all conversations seem to be about only one topic," she says.

That 'one topic' has brought the entertainment industry to its knees. That's why Gayathrie thinks that Spaces couldn't have arrived at a better time. However far reaching as its potential may be, Vijay feels that its popularity would have soared if it weren’t for the pandemic.

"People aren’t happy now. Spaces can make them happy briefly, sure, but despair is in the air. It’s affecting all of us and without it, Spaces might have become even more popular," he says.

It’s still early days for celebrities and Spaces, and it remains to be seen whether this association will flourish or wither. "When a trend loses its sensationalism, all that remains is the functionality and utility. If those factors are weak, the trend becomes a passing fad," says Sean, who also goes on to list a few useful ways in which to use this latest Twitter feature.

"Perhaps journalism could find a way to relay niche news. It's also a way to reinvent radio," he adds. However, he's keen that recorded clippings not get aired on Spaces, as he believes that to affect its soul.

Primarily though, it's used by celebrities as a PR avenue, and this is an opinion that even Gayathrie, a self-admitted recluse on social media, agrees with. Vijay Antony believes that Spaces is a good platform to promote films as well and he hopes to try it out for his upcoming releases. Pradeep, of course, has already shown that it can be used to promote certain causes.

Singer Chinmayi has also been among those to spread awareness about a cause she feels strongly about: the MeToo movement; in her wildly popular Spaces session, she also took song requests for hours on end.

The problem right now is that the technology isn't glitchfree. Sean gets more specific and mentions his unhappiness with the audio bitrate. Pradeep wonders if messages to the host are displayed in a fair order and whether or not, followers' count plays a part.

Like with any technology, some might even find a way to misuse it, but as Gayathrie says, "For the mind frame we are all in right now, we are just happy to try something new - especially, a tool that helps us connect with people known and unknown."

Many might see Spaces as just another social media tool, but the increasing number of celebrities who are taking to it, makes you wonder if there is more to it. Where else is an anonymous person going to be able to sing 'Nee Kavaithaigala' to Pradeep Kumar and get his response?

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