The end of the gushing celebrity profile
The most exciting trend in this year's September issue of Vogue involves neither clothes, handbags, or make-up tips. It's the absence of a gushing profile of its cover girl Beyoncé. Instead of the more traditional celebrity interview, there's a beautiful fashion editorial accompanied by an appreciative essay by Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson.
Please let this become a trend.
The celebrity profile is a form in crisis. Stars have become less and less likely to say anything of substance and risk damaging their careers. We can credit social media with this shift, as well as the rising number of celebrities who seem more attuned to their brand than their craft. (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and Blake Lively are all good examples.)
As such, magazine articles featuring celebrities have devolved into a formulaic cat and mouse game where nobody gets the cheese. Actually, there does tend to be a lot of cheese consumed by slender women, but that is about all anyone gets. These stories usually go like this: fawning profiler meets make-up free but still magnificent star at a restaurant. She orders a cheeseburger or spaghetti alla carbonara, extra parmesan. She is charming. And a little mysterious. There's usually one more interaction — a meeting at a photo shoot or maybe just a text — in which she makes a reveal that is never as big as the article presumes. Having kids is hard. Being single is fun. She did Botox once and regrets it.
Really though, who among us actually feels like we have gotten any insight into life from reading a celebrity profile? Fine, let's lower the bar: Who among us feels as though they have gotten any insight into a celebrity's life from reading a celebrity profile? Nevertheless, they remain the de facto way magazines cover stars.
No, this doesn't mean that magazines should avoid covering celebrities. I love celebrities. They're fun. And they sell. But there are better ways to cover them besides either the fake, yet entertaining fare given to us by tabloids or the often vacuous, pro-forma snoozefest of a charade that appears in places with higher editorial standards.
Vogue set a fine example with a photo-spread accompanied by an essay by a cultural critic. Even if gushing, an appreciation done well will contain more substance and depth than the stale narratives celebrities feel safe saying. Another option: allow the celebrity to write about a topic they really care about. Maybe it is their favorite lipstick. Maybe it is the charity work they do in New Orleans. This focus on one topic of her choosing will probably tell us more about her than a dozen carefully constructed, PR team-approved comments on body image, motherhood and feminism. What if the celebrity wants the interview? Then they should be interviewed with the understanding that it won't be published unless they actually say something.
This wouldn't just be good for readers who would get something good to read, but for female celebrities as well. And, insofar as they are largely seen as role models, that would ultimately be good for us too. Female stars are often judged for their likability and relatability more than their work. (Kristen Stewart is an example.) The celebrity profile, which gives us the illusion that we are getting to know a star, pressures them to be our pre-approved version of likeable instead of whomever they really are. Get rid of them and we'd probably have a better shot of hearing what they actually have to say.