Like so much in life, Madonna started it. In September 2010 it emerged that She-Ma was in the habit of riding the F train in the NYC subway incognito, telling anyone that recognised her, “I don’t mind you taking my photo, but be discreet.'
Either Madge got a kinky kick out of a noseful of the Great Unwashed, was feeling the pinch of diminished record sales or simply wanted to get murdered. But by getting so much credibility and publicity from casually mingling with us sardine-squished plebs, she set off a trend for major stars nipping across town on public transport, with Rihanna heading to the first of her O2 shows in 2011 on the tube, Jay-Z getting a subway to his own NYC show and Matt Bellamy Tweet-snapping his way along the Jubilee Line to the Brits.
There’s several reasons yer average A-lister might cram onto a sweat-stinking underground shitcan, of course. It’s a great way to appear ego-free and down-to-earth. There’s no better way of flogging the last few £25,000 VIP tickets for your ten-date arena run than by reminding the world you’re playing there by traveling to the venue as publicly as possible. And, with label budgets being slashed across the board, it’s all in the cause of acclimatising the general public to the fact that their heroes will be shoved into their armpits on the Hammersmith & City far more often from now on, so don’t freak out. But as a guide to any other major stars wishing to pop their public transport cherry, here’s how to make a quick roll in the gutter work best for YOU.
The purpose of your journey/publicity stunt is to appear human, down-with-the-kids and unaffected by stardom and success. This will be undermined somewhat if you breeze unannounced into your allocated station and fail to get anywhere near a train because you cause a riot in the ticket hall while your eight-foot security man-mountain struggles for an hour to fill in an Oyster application form for you.
Commuting is a life-sapping, uncomfortable experience made all the more demoralising by the fact that it costs 78 per cent of your income just to get to somewhere you can earn your income. FUCK YOU, BORIS. Though you are a curious carriage-tourist, you need to know the crushing economics of this and be just as appalled as the rest of us at the bare-faced robbery and rip-off that is the everyday rat race, with the added insult of Bob Crow holding a ‘strike’ gun to the capital’s head every time the tube drivers want more biscuits. Just dropping the odd gasp of “seven quid a day?!? That’s the cost of a Barcelona transport pass for a WEEK!” will instantly make you an international jet-setter of the people.
Unlike Madonna, your main objective is to get noticed. You’re trying to barge your way into the news pages as cheaply as possible, remember. So inform the press, bring along a documentary camera crew, wear your skimpiest stage gear and make the whole thing an extension of your supernatural pop persona – there’s nothing more image-destroying than a shot of Rihanna in a puffa jacket sat glumly between two hulking bouncers while the rest of the carriage disinterestedly read the Metro.
The escalator handrail you’re holding onto is likely to hold traces of semen. The seat you sit in is likely to have been pissed on more than once. When you hold on to the hand-rail, you are essentially sticking your hand into a bucket containing 25 different varieties of vomit. Knowing all this, you must remain upbeat and unconcerned and never let on that you intent to get your entire skin replaced the instant you get home. Let’s just say this isn’t a job for Mariah Carey.
As noble as Matt Bellamy’s journey to the Brits on the tube was, the fact that he took pictures of the ‘event’ along the way like the Jubilee Line was as exotic an experience to him as a tour of the Taj Mahal – all very “look everyone! Me, on the tube!” – destroyed any sense of ordinary-bloke-underneath-it-all he was trying to achieve (the picture above is a case in point). You must seem comfortable, unfazed and relaxed, as if you do this all the time and certainly won’t be compiling all these pictures into a slide show of your ‘oik day’ to entertain Bono at this year’s St Tropez megayacht jamboree.
An essential element of the humility of taking public transport is to recognize that not everyone will know who you are. You take your circus along to make sure everyone knows you’re someone but the no-big-dealness of taking the subway press stunt requires you to pretend you’re not that famous at all really. So do what Jay-Z did, and talk to a granny. Unless you’re Des O’Conner they’ll have no clue who you are so you can explain your copious celebrity achievements to them while a) seeming unfussed by all the ‘unexpected’ clamour and b) being nice to a granny. It’s also a good way to avoid the whole thing turning into a scrum to touch you, and nobody wants to watch YouTube footage of middle-aged businessmen shoving small children under trams to get to Taylor Swift.
If absolutely nobody is paying you any attention whatsoever, you have only one option. Start singing your biggest hit. It worked for Florence Welch on a tube after a Kendrick Lamar show in January, just try not to be as pissed as a salmon in whiskey, like Kim Wilde on her way home from a Magic FM Christmas party, ‘treating’ her train carriage to a boozy bawl through ‘Kids In America’ and ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ with a guitarist who can barely stay on his feet.