Meghan Markle launched an American media blitz last week with a podcast and a long magazine profile, but the rather cool reception she and her husband Prince Harry are now receiving in America suggests that there are still bumps in their path as they seek to establish themselves as bona fide celebrities.
The push came with an interview in New York magazine the Cut, titled “Meghan of Montecito,” and she touted the launch of Markle’s Spotify podcast, Archetypes.
Meghan had no trouble attracting A-list names to sit with her in the interview series. The first was retired tennis legend Serena Williams. Second, singer Mariah Carey. The women discussed living under the pressure of the public eye, their racial identity and more.
But for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the response from US media, which has been relatively neutral to date in the US, has come with some criticism of how Meghan has highlighted her life experiences. royal in Britain. She had, as the Cut noted, “taken a hardship and turned it into content.” Last year, The New Yorker warned that the royal couple seemed obsessed with a past “trauma conspiracy”.
“Meghan Markle must leave royal trauma behind,” the Washington Post said in an op-ed page headline. “In truth, the only way for the Sussexes to build a truly new life and have a wider impact on the causes they care about is to stop putting themselves at the center of the story.”
CNN host Don Lemon commented on the second episode of Archetypes, titled The Duality of Diva, in which Meghan revealed to Carey that the first time she realized she was being treated as a black woman, it was when she dated her royal husband.
“If there’s ever been a time in my life when I was more focused on my race, it wasn’t until I started dating my husband,” Meghan said. “Then I started to understand what it was like to be treated like a black woman because up until then I had been treated like a mixed-race woman. And things really changed.
Lemon, who is African-American, said: “It’s a little shocking that at thirty she barely understands what it’s like to be a black woman in America. It’s a bit surprising to me.
The conservative tabloid New York Post went further, noting inconsistencies in Meghan’s privilege and her retelling of the discrimination story she revealed on Oprah last year. The Post put her on its famous front page under the headline ‘Toddler and tiara’ and described Meghan as a ‘spoiled princess’.
“For the past three years she’s had a global platform but all she does with it is complain about being censored, silenced, excluded. Meghan Markle has been a depressing public longer than she was an active duchess,” wrote New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan. “It’s high time for a new topic of discussion.”
But the attention hardly hurt the launch of the podcast. Meghan’s Spotify series entered No. 1 in the US upon release, pushing the controversial but hugely popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast out of the top spot. He was still there on Thursday, according to the latest figures from the Variety business bible.
Meghan and Harry are essentially still transitioning into a full-fledged American media brand; an ongoing process since they set foot in the United States two years ago. They must walk a tightrope between leveraging their royal ties to an American audience largely fascinated by the British institution, while seeking to forge a path that will eventually allow them to portray themselves as celebrities in their own right, having rejected traditional royal life.
“Meghan Markle started out in a fairly crowded crowd of American TV shows, made a complex transition to being part of the royal family’s uber-narrative, and now she’s transitioning into an integrated media presence,” said said Bob Thompson, professor of media at Syracuse University.
“The potential to become a mega-brand is definitely there. We’re seeing it, but transitions aren’t always smooth and aren’t always pretty.
Maiysha Kai, lifestyle editor at Grio, a black-focused news and entertainment outlet, said there may be no other way for Markle and her husband to achieving their stated goal of leaving the royal orbit and achieving financial independence than revisiting their experience of it – even if that is most likely to generate negative headlines.
“His experience in the royal family is the experience that most people want to hear about. Of course, I hope there will be new stories to tell in the future, but they would be totally remiss not to not enjoy it while they can,” Kai said.
But America’s celebrity industrial complex is a strange place, and Meghan is far from the first to seek to leverage a high-profile moment of glory for a larger, enduring and highly lucrative celebrity life. A relevant point of reference, Kai said, is how the Kardashian family turned a socially negative experiment (Kim’s sex tape) into a multibillion-dollar family empire.
“I wouldn’t say getting married into the royal family is like making a sex tape, but I would say there’s a parallel to turning something into a lucrative positive,” Kai said.
Kai acknowledged that the current timing of the Sussexes’ campaign for a life of American stardom was difficult. “I think what we go through is normal celebrity fatigue. You eat it and eat it and then you’re done,” she said.
For now, Meghan’s podcast is the main thing American media consumers need to follow when it comes to the couple’s contributions to American life. Future guests would include actors Constance Wu and Issa Rae, journalist Lisa Ling and comedian Margaret Cho – all likely to spark interesting conversations about gender, race and identity.
Thompson said that judging by the podcast, Meghan could aspire to be someone who is America’s closest thing to homegrown royalty already: chat show queen Oprah Winfrey. But if that’s the case, there’s a long way to go and a lot of work for the royal couple to do.
Oprah, Thompson said, “had for a quarter of a century a daily talk show catering to a huge, undifferentiated mass audience from which she could launch outlets into the rest of the culture – a book club, a magazine, film roles”.
Oprah also had time to learn how to balance the confessional and the personal, and a more neutral interviewer role as the interlocutor between an audience and a celebrity interviewee. “Oprah did it with a degree of skill that didn’t just deflect the subject to the interviewer,” he points out.
And that can take time. Meghan’s plan, Thompson said, was to “carve out a niche audience. It may be a fragment of what was before, but we can still do a lot with it”.
It’s the most American of stories: a start with big dreams.