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Tressie McMillan Cottom pens cover story for Vanity Fair

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), spent part of her summer interviewing musician and mogul Sean Combs and writing an expansive profile of “the original influencer,” which became the September cover story for Vanity Fair magazine.


Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom and the September cover of Vanity Fair.
Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom and the September cover of Vanity Fair.

From Puff Daddy to Diddy to Love” chronicles Combs’ sensational career, his professional growth and branding pivots, and the losses and lessons from his past that are helping him define his future. The article situates Combs as not just a successful celebrity, but an innovator who envisioned what celebrity would become.

“We were still sending SMS messages on our cellular phones and two-way pagers as Combs was making hip-hop art that predated visually driven social media culture” McMillan Cottom writes. “He was a GIF machine before we knew what a GIF was or how, 15 years in the future, making viral content could turn anyone into a celebrity. . . Content is now king, and Combs was one of the first mega-celebrities to turn music, art, fashion, and branding into a content machine.”

Even as it details Combs’ legacy, the article questions if Combs, who adopted the name “Love” earlier this year to signify the start of a new era, can remain relevant and influential.

“It is no longer enough to look slick or create the newest dance,” McMillan Cottom writes. “Today’s celebrity has to have a position on climate change, white supremacy, LGBTQ+ equality, and politics . . . And above all, Combs is trying to do the brand iteration that made him successful in a climate that is openly hostile to what his brand represents. Combs’s ‘Black excellence’ is, in practice, a celebration of Black capitalism. And, if you have not noticed, a lot of people have labeled capitalism as enemy number one.”

In addition the Vanity Fair cover story, McMillan Cottom recently wrote a review of Savala Nolan’s book, “Don’t Let It Get You Down,” for the New York Times.

Earlier this year, she signed a two-book deal with Random House. The first book, Basic, will be a paradigm-shifting exploration of how white identity is created, commodified, and disseminated. The second book, titled The Vivian, will be a searing memoir that explores contemporary Black motherhood through the lens of McMillan Cottom’s own experiences.