In defence of a rock star

Attention-seeking Spanish media attack musician Leiva over an interview that took place months ago, as he claimed he didn’t want to be a coronavirus vaccine “guinea pig”, writes Alessio Colonnelli, translator and commentator on European political and social affairs.

In the Spanish edition of Esquire, out this month, a famous rock star says: “I don’t see myself as a guinea pig.” No vaccination against coronavirus for Leiva, then, who is famous in both his native Spain and Latin America. Or so it seems.

Leiva was immediately branded by some newspapers as a negacionista – a person denying corona virus exists at all. A crackpot. Other celebrities have made headlines across Spanish-language countries for endorsing conspiracy theories or teorías conspiranoicas, a portmanteau made up of conspirational and paranoid. The hullabaloo has generated reams upon reams of commentary, attracting lots of advertising money.

El Huffington Post, in particular, was very keen on highlighting what an imbecil the singer-songwriter had apparently been in publicly saying he refused to be vaccinated. With dwindling numbers of celebs making fools of themselves, a new big shot had just been found out. Eureka.

The paper bombastically claimed the musician was criticised on social media for his anti-vaccine words in Esquire and published a few tweets from anonymous profiles. These made fun of Leiva by referring to his past use of drugs. His brain, readers were made to believe by implication, must’ve gone to mush. One said, caricaturing Leiva’s manner of speech: “I have no problem smoking something that has travelled up someone’s ass or sniffing stuff that’s been cut with tile cement anyway. But I don’t trust vaccines.”

Cheap laughs. Or click-bait, you may want to call it. Unfortunately, there is a type of journalism that is desperate for that. Anything goes. But there’s also a name for such media outlets – rags. Spain must have its fair share. Look carefully, and you’ll find evidence of that too.

It wasn’t fair. The interview in the glossy magazine has just come out, but it took place months ago when only a Russian vaccine called Sputnik was available – and no authorities showed any interest in it. Other vaccines had failed somewhere through stage 3 or earlier. Chances of finding a suitable one looked grim. How many of us among the general public doubted an effective vaccine could be discovered anytime soon, let alone within 2020?

And so, on 2 January, Leiva tweeted in response to this criticism that perhaps he “didn’t choose the right words” at that particular moment, and apologised for that, but now, “months later”, he would definitely recommend taking the vaccine. He also regretted the fact that no concessions are made these days for those who have genuine concerns and want to take time to reflect on things.

EHP however didn’t seem convinced by Leiva’s reply. It took exception – it did not believe the interview had taken place months before as the rock star maintained. It insisted it happened very recently. Perhaps EHP journalists felt offended; after all, Leiva did finish off his Twitter post in style using a wordsmith’s language which told them to basically go and fuck off.

It took me some basic research to ascertain that the interview had indeed taken place a few months before: a) reference is made in it to a recent accident co-interviewee Joaquín Sabina, even more famous than Leiva and a friend of the latter, suffered almost a year ago; b) Leiva, Sabina and a photographer are wearing summer clothes inside an apartment with wide-open windows; and c) Leiva’s beard is not as white as it is in his latest photos or videos on Twitter from Mexico (in the Esquire interview, the almost 41-year-old makes a reference to a near-future journey to the Central American country).

Not only this: Esquire endorsed Leiva’s Twitter statement by publishing both the interview’s link and the singer’s claim in one tweet. As if to say: he’s right, the interview was old.

However, judging by the vicious media counterattack, this isn’t just about sad click-baiting (EHP tweets manically every other 5/10 minutes). It also looks like Leiva has made enemies. Someone is trying to get at him. If you listen to his songs and read/listen to previous interviews, also with Latin America outlets, you realise this committed musician does have political sympathies. I won’t say which, it’s irrelevant. Yet tension is such in Spain that it might have pushed some journalists and editors to the brink of defaming him. There’s enough material in this story that the musician could refer to if he were to take them to court.

But I doubt he will – too much of a gentleman. This would be cheap publicity he doesn’t need, of the kind too many mastheads, however, are unafraid of resorting to and which is further damaging journalism’s reputation everywhere in Europe, including Britain. No country is safe from this watering down of standards.

One last remark. In a separate interview with El Español back in May, Leiva admitted to being “a hypochondriac.” And he notoriously is, having said this time and again over the years. “But I’m not afraid of coronavirus; it is curable and it is not a rare disease,” he added.


  • Alessio Colonnelli is an Italian freelance translator, writer and commentator on European political and social affairs, and a contributor to publications that include The New Statesman, The Independent, Prospect Magazine, the Huffington Post (UK), Foreign Policy and Politico Europe. His regularly updated blog, Thoughts on Europe, can be found here. Twitter: @co1onne11i.

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