Grace VanderWaal has a few pointed ideas about fame. From the earliest months of her public exposure, during the intro to her semi-final performance on AGT, she’s made it clear, “It feels like I’m a famous person. I’m not, don’t worry.” Even then it could be wondered whether she herself was in the group of people she was trying to reassure. An AGT victory, an EP and a full album later, she later insisted she wasn’t really famous, having never even had a hit single. More recently, in an interview earlier this year with Vladimir Duthiers for CBS This Morning, she carefully deflected away the notion that she was now famous, aptly describing fame first as a spectrum, before settling on the metaphor of fame as a bubble, one she was close to but distinctly outside, and listing a few mega-stars firmly inside to hammer home her point.

The image of the bubble – both physical and conceptual – representing fame is an astute observation for Grace, or really for any young person thrown into sudden celebrity. The idea may have come to her from others, or she may easily have seen suggestions of the concept in her travels. For bubbles can be formed of many things. A famous person walking into a public space – a mall, a park, a beach – can draw a crowd of fans and admirers, autograph and selfie-seekers who crowd around in a polite but insistent circle. Depending on the level of their fame, this bubble of well-wishers easily can become a continuous obstacle, one that must be handled with charm, diplomacy and tact, or any real or imagined slight can be turned into negative fodder for social media.

Also forming that bubble around the genuinely famous is the familiar image of the paparazzi – amateur and professional content-hounds, on the prowl for the noteworthy, the trend-setting, the scandalous. In some cases the bubble closes in tight, following closely from the car to the door, or alongside during the long walk through the airport, or hanging in the lobby of the hotel or at the stage door. In other cases, the bubble around the famous extends much further, but never quite far enough, to the telephoto lens on the rented boat to take pictures of the famous at rest. Even more so than the fans, the paparazzi could remember every personal interaction, good and bad. They can use their power to shift opinion and nudge the edges of bubble of fame this way and that.

The stereotypical image of the mega-famous shows them resting in opulence, surrounded by life-long friends and new ones, enjoying the comfort and perks inside the bubble. Also nearby in the bubble are the staff and assistants that are required as soon as fame and celebrity turn a human person into a cottage industry. It may be more correct to see both the friends and helpers (for whom the French seem to have a flair for perfecting vocabulary – entourage, retinue, coterie, and so on) as forming the inner wall of the bubble. For all of the genuine concern and best wishes by the most helpful and supportive of these, all of the close personal friends and relatives, the agents and managers, personal assistants, security guards, and helpers form a moving floating human wall, pressing outward on the bubble as other press in.

One last metaphor using the bubble can be drawn, less substantial but more insidious. One can almost imagine an invisible bubble sliding between the famous person and those around them. During each potential awkward silent moment when visiting old friends or relatives, one can almost sense the wall of the bubble separating the mindset of the famous from those around them. Implied in every spiteful comment online and in print is the notion that the famous wear their bubble like armor, invisible and impervious to the most callous comments to them and about them. Instead, obviously, bubbles are perfectly, almost comically clear, and the famous inside are visible to and aware of all of the world outside. Unblinking stares in restaurants, overly-familiar greetings and questions by total strangers, inappropriate conduct in public restrooms (one of Grace’s early anecdotes, laughable and eerie in the same moment), all highlight the insubstantial but life-altering nature of the bubble of fame.

For Grace to be wary of the label of “famous” and all of the baggage that it carries is therefore perfectly reasonable. Her mindset seems to be that she is fully aware that in the end, fame is chosen for you by those outside the bubbles. They are pushed over you, and pulled away from you, and may suddenly pop for no explicable reason.

For in the end, all you have control over is the mindset itself. Grace’s seeming shyness about fame may come from a place of modesty, but it also hints at how she sees those who relentlessly pursue that fame. For her, and for others with a taste of fame, the choice is whether to live as the butterfly or as the moth. Butterflies, bright and colorful, active during the day, are thought of as care-free spirits that travel on the wind, homeless but not lost, free in the sunshine. Their cousins the moths, almost exclusively nocturnal, are well-known for being mindlessly drawn to exposed bulbs and open flames, to dash themselves senseless in the blinding bright light.

This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: