Discover more from The Squawk
Mailbag for September 22, 2023
Why the Kardashians, publicist pushback, a TIFF see and skip list, John and Chrissy, and more
Thanks for all your mailbag submissions. Just a reminder, as still we’re only in week three of this, that we’ll be posting a new chat every week for the upcoming mailbag. I used to do this in the early days of LaineyGossip and now we’re doing this again in the newsletter, so it really is coming back around, full circle.
That’s a good place to start with the first question because there was a time in our history when I made a point of NOT talking about the Kardashians. And now…
Question from Betts:
I’m curious about the Kardashian coverage. Lainey used to be pretty staunchly against Kardashian/Jenner posts and now we’ve seen posts on Kylie (I know it’s Timothy Chalamet, but still Kylie) and Kim. What changed?
Capitulation, LOL. I mean they’re impossible to ignore. Bad Bunny is the most streamed artist globally and he’s dating Kendall Jenner. Timothée Chalamet is… well…he is who he is, as you yourself acknowledged. But also, the conversation around both of those relationships is SO interesting. Both of those fanbases revolted. There were think pieces written about the online reaction to Timmy and Kylie.
To this day I still have not watched more than five minutes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and obviously the new show that they’re doing now. But I’m in the minority – because you don’t become as pervasive as they are without a HUGE audience. At the beginning, for me, admittedly it was probably old school snobbery. Not unlike how, back in the mid-2000s, the gatekeepers of fame and celebrity were dismissive of reality performers. Film and television stars didn’t want to have anything to do with reality. Shit, film stars barely wanted to do scripted television, remember?
I just shot a documentary the other day about the history of fashion and one of the things I talked about was about fashion’s gatekeepers and how for so long they tried to keep the fashion bloggers away from the shows and then, with the rise of social media, they realised the fashion bloggers were becoming more influential than the fashion reporters for legacy media. Anna Wintour wouldn’t let the Kardashians into the Met Gala for a long time. And look what’s happened – they’re pretty much guaranteed an invitation now. In Hollywood, the television and film stars, almost all of them are on Twitter or Instagram or TikTok, joining the platforms that the Kardashians were using way before them.
What I’m trying to say is that we were all powerless to them! The way they (or Kris) systematically and strategically broke down those walls is breathtaking, even admirable in the context of fame navigation and manipulation.
That said, I probably don’t gossip about them on the site as much as they are covered across other outlets and it truly isn’t out of pettiness. The reason is… in my mind there’s nothing to analyse? No matter what you say about them, whatever the angle, it’s their intended angle. Is it real, is it fake, is it staged, is it not staged? Yes, all of the above! They are both truthtellers and liars, their product is both organic and manufactured. So no matter what you say about them, it never matters. And they don’t care because they (or Kris) figured out that the way to the top is not to prioritise likeability but to focus on attention for attention’s sake. They gamed the attention economy. And all any of us can do at this point is to stand back and clap, sincerely.
Question from Maggie:
I’ve always wondered how often you receive push back from publicists? Do you often get legal notices from celebrities who didn’t like the coverage?
We have, in our time, received a couple of legal notices that I can’t obviously go into too much detail about. I can tell you that on those two occasions where it went as far as a legal notice, we have engaged our own legal representation and stood our ground.
It is, however, more common to hear from publicists. Ten years ago, they were snarkier. It would be a condescending email or sometimes an email asking for a phone call and then I’d get yelled at. Those were the days when a publicist could throw their weight around because there weren’t any repercussions. In my personal experience, that’s changed. Maybe it’s because so many people are on social media and are all too happy to share about the time they got yelled at by a famous person’s publicist. Or maybe it’s because they’ve realised that it’s more productive to bring people onside?
So over the last five or six years or so, when I do hear from publicists, the tone is more like “I saw what you wrote about X and I just want to give you some more context about this situation”. This is what happened not too long ago, maybe about a month? A very famous multihyphenate’s rep reached out in response to one of my posts politely clarifying exactly why he was where he was and what he was doing and that it was not unusual for someone who was in his position to be checking for what he was checking. And making sure I understood that it was all above board and that he wasn’t in violation.
Me personally? Not often. I have learned to make an effort to get fashion IDs right after a big event, because you'll hear from someone if you get it wrong, and I am like a defensive driver but for social interactions. Also, I deal mainly with film publicists, and those are relationships that can build over years, and I have never had anyone push back on a bad review or get me to try to change a rating/review. I did get blackballed from a studio's press list for a while for something unflattering I wrote about the C suite, but then they had a merger and it was a whole new team and I was right back on the list. Honestly, it's not the publicists who push back--they just want you to get names/spellings right, that kind of thing. It's friends and family who reach out. They're googling their loved one, see something we wrote, and hit "contact us". It's a bad idea every time, and exactly why people DO hire publicists. Unless you're Tom Cruise's sister, you do not want your family doing your PR.
Question from Devon:
Would Sarah be willing to summarize her TIFF ‘23 coverage into a Top 10 and maybe a “skip it” list?
Not a full top 10, because I only reviewed about 12 movies, but the top 3, in alphabetical order are:
The Boy and the Heron
Poolman (sorry, Chris Pine, you weren't Best Chris that day)
Finestkind (didn't even both reviewing it, I was so unenthusiastic)
A great movie that is just wildly entertaining:
Super bummed it sold to Netflix because they're not going to give it a real theatrical rollout, and it was designed for an audience. Like, there's built-in applause breaks in the pacing of the film. I don't blame Linklater and Glen Powell for taking the highest offer on the table, it just sucks a film like Hit Man is no longer a sure thing theatrically. I know we're all "movies are back", but really...four movies carried the entire summer of 2023. We're basically back to where we were pre-pandemic, in which a few movies do well, but smaller/mid-size stuff still struggles to find an audience. With the right marketing, Hit Man could have been a Knives Out-style breakout, but now, people will put it on while playing with their phones.
Question from Rachel T:
From the other month – why did John + Chrissy do AD? It doesn't feel like a divorce???? But what else could it be? Also, I feel like John Legend is always saying yes to the stupidest spokesperson/sponcon stuff but doesn't do brand relationships long term. I saw some rando pop-up on their IG. The Google home assistant thing. Genesis cars. He was a management consultant out of college - maybe he just likes money?
Um, they all like money. WE all like money. I’m not entirely sure that John Legend is actively choosing NOT to do brand partnerships long term. The way I see it, it could be that he’s not offered long term brand partnerships and if that’s the case, it’s a combination of how brands see him and how he has managed his image. What is John’s image? He’s super talented, he sings love songs (I will always have time to defend his album Bigger Love even though the critics didn’t like it), he’s married to Chrissy Teigen. And while she’s polarising, he’s almost the opposite? She’s the kiki to his bouba. And, perhaps, for brands who are looking for a multiyear ambassadorship, he’s just not hitting on that particular balance of effective ambassador with a healthy dash of intrigue/mystery/cool?
On that note though, you’ve raised an interesting point about sponsorships in general that I think about a lot and just haven’t had a chance to address yet. Western/North American attitudes towards celebrity endorsements are so different from other parts of the world! Like, I see a lot of eyerolling about ads and sponcon from the west, and celebrities have to be so careful not to take too many endorsements or not be too in your face with their endorsements, and before the internet Hollywood celebrities would do overseas endorsements but specify that they couldn’t run in North America (until the internet basically removed those borders) because they didn’t want to turn off the western audience. But it’s the opposite in East Asia.
For Chinese and Korean stars and their fans, it’s almost a point of pride the more endorsements they get. Over in Korea they actually release rankings reports for which idols or actors score highest on the advertising index per month. You can see an example of that here. Dylan Wang is a Chinese actor whose popularity skyrocketed last year after he starred in one of year’s most popular drama series (Love Between Fairy and Devil) and since then, I feel like every week in my feed I’m seeing him land a new endorsement deal from pizza to toothpaste to cars to clothing to fragrance to skincare to sunglasses – and I don’t know if you’ve been to China but there are LED screens EVERYWHERE. And all the brands he works with buy time on those screens. In the subway, on the side of buildings, his face is plastered on every surface. (It’s a very nice face.) Again, this is for MULTIPLE brands. You come off the subway and his face is all over the station for a beauty product. You get up to ground level and his face is staring back at you from every corner of the city square as he’s behind the wheel of a car. And this is not a turnoff for people. For the fans in particular, it’s not only not a turnoff, but like I said, they WANT this for their faves. They see it as a mark of success. It’s just such a fascinating cultural difference to me and I would love to hear more perspectives on it.
A lot of AD Open Door videos are lowkey real estate videos. Among a certain class of real estate, "featured in Architectural Digest" is a major selling point. It's always interesting to check celebrity real estate blogs and see which AD-featured homes have sold within 6 months of being featured (some sell within days, like Liv Tyler's to die for townhouse in New York). But what I really want to talk about is a recent video essay by Kendra Gaylord, host of the Someone Lived Here podcast (in which she visits the historic homes of writers and artists). You can see the video here. At first I thought it was just going to be a fun little video about trends in AD Open Doors, and how the format evolved over time, but Kendra takes a hard left into serious issues around the housing crisis--you really should watch this video if you're at all interested in celebrity real estate, celebrity home shows, or just home/reno shows in general. Kendra gets into the impact of turning housing--a necessity and human right--into entertainment, and now I am looking at these Open Doors in a whole new light. It's not just about everyone's collection of special wood and citrus, it's how anesthetizing it is when we start viewing housing as entertainment. I love AD Open Doors just like I loved MTV Cribs just like I love perusing Zillow for multi-million-dollar homes and judging which zip code has the tackiest rich people, but...Kendra has a point. Housing isn't entertainment.
Question from Jenger:
I am curious as to how much input TV personalities have on what they wear, how they are styled, etc. for a show. If you love the outfit/pieces can you keep them ? What are the best tips you’ve learned working with hair/make-up/ stylists. 😘
It depends on the personality, their experience, how long they’ve been doing it for. And what the occasion is. Let’s take Drew Barrymore, for example. Like the very first episode of her show? There would have been a lot of people weighing in on her outfit. Of course, she and her stylist would have worked out which looks she liked and felt comfortable in, but then they’d also be camera testing the fit and the hair and the makeup and then sending at least a couple of options up to the network executives. Same goes for promotional posters etc. As the show goes on, they get more relaxed about it but in the early days, input is coming from a lot of places. They cover a bit of this on The Morning Show. There have been a few scenes where both Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are in consultation meetings about hair and wardrobe etc.
As for whether or not you can keep the pieces, I’m sure if someone like Drew wanted to keep them, she could. In my case, for the clothes I wear on television, they’re borrowed and returned. When I really love something I’ll buy it for myself.
And where hair and makeup artists are concerned, these people are precious, so the most important tip is to appreciate them, they are often not just there for your face or your hair but they are the recipients of so much emotion. That room is a vulnerable and therefore sacred place. The artists absorb so many feelings, a wide range of feelings. They’re friends and therapists and sounding boards and cheerleaders and they work magic with their tools. It’s fucked up to me how often I hear about how artists are mistreated, taken for granted – whether it’s at on set or at a civilian wedding, because people don’t value their work and/or treat them like servants.
In my experience, hair and makeup artists are collaborative. They want to collaborate. They want you to feel good. So tell them what makes you feel good. Tell them what doesn’t make you feel good. But also, knowing what you like and don’t like is a personal process, something only you can figure out. It took me a few years in television to find my style identity. I was asked about this in an interview with ELLE Canada recently and I talked about how, when I first started working in TV, I just wore what everyone else was wearing because I wasn’t confident enough yet to look the way I wanted to look. So I ended up in a lot of bandage dress. Those fucking bandage dresses! I hated them so much.
Question from Rachel P:
Hi! Will Lainey be doing book recs here? Some of my very favorite books came from her (Your Voice in My Head, Life After Life, How to Murder Your Life come to mind...). I noticed she stopped doing her book recs on the blog - would love to see them come back!
During the pandemic, I diagnosed myself with a condition I invented called “inlectio”, like insomnia for reading. My whole life I’ve been a prolific reader, like at one point I could go through as many as ten books a week. A whole day and night would go by, and I wouldn’t notice because I’d be involved with books. And then it was COVID and no book, no matter how good, could hold my attention. And then it was a spiral because I became anxious about not reading, like it was a betrayal of my identity; I felt lost.
So this is a sensitive topic for me but I want to talk about it because I have been slowly working my way out of the inlectio. I am reading more, not as much as I used to, but steadily more. And The Squawk has been a motivator. Because I do intend to include book posts here. So that content is coming! Just give us a bit more time and we’ll get there.
Here though is a short list of standouts for me this year so far:
Yellowface by RF Kuang
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality by Lindsay Wong
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski – but you have to read a physical copy. An e-book is NOT going to be the same experience, the physical book is incorporated into the narrative.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – short, mysterious, fantastic payoff at the end.
Unfortunate Ends by Soren Lily – a curated collection of entries from real medieval coroner’s rolls. Lots of people rolling into ditches and falling into bodies of water and being murdered by clerks.
Thanks again for the questions and for commenting on the posts and for coming here and supporting us and our work. It’s been a thrilling few weeks on so many levels and we are so grateful for this community.
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Keep squawking, keep gossiping,
Lainey and Sarah