CORONAVIRUS

It's The Death Of Celebrity Vanity — For Now

We're seeing a whole new side to stardom during the coronavirus pandemic.

I can’t make fun of celebrities’ vanity anymore. It’s on hold, along with their shooting schedules and hair appointments. As famous people Zoom into our lives with tasteful makeup and low expectations, we’re seeing a whole new side to stardom — one that puts gloss and glamour back into the closet while emphasizing how real these people are (or seem, anyway).

It’s a respectable approach to a world crisis, even if it makes you long for an occasional feather boa and arm gesture.

Celebrities are acting more casual and sincere than usual because ostentatious displays would seem inappropriate when there’s a plague, a shutdown and an economic collapse disrupting everyone’s lives.

Stars are good at this kind of thing. In 2003, many of them wore solid colors to the Oscars as a statement in the middle of U.S. strikes against Iraq. These divas can take direction to make a point and also to not look hopelessly insensitive — and besides, the red carpet had been canceled that year.

These days, they’re also inviting us into their homes — virtually, that is — whereas they used to issue restraining orders to anyone who tried to get there. Patti LuPone, the Tony winner and co-star of Ryan Murphy’s “Hollywood,” was beamed in from her basement for Rosie O’Donnell’s March 22 livestream chat show, and it was such a hit that the Broadway diva followed up with two more tours. The New Yorker described Patti’s celebrity cellar as “a cross between a penny arcade, a TGI Fridays, and an after-hours piano bar.” And the whole thing endeared Patti even more to her fans, who may not have seen this private side before — and certainly had never seen her jukebox.

Celebs used to be guarded about their houses, except for pre-approved spreads in glossy architectural magazines. But social networks started wearing down their resistance, and they’ve become more open to showing their digs and their looks. And now, the crisis has dropped all walls. Literally. 

Also in March, another Evita, namely Madonna, did some home videos that made big waves. Most memorable was the infamous one where she pranced around her bathroom and sang “C’mon, let’s go eat some fried fish” — to the tune of her hit “Vogue” — into a hairbrush. The singing was unvarnished, the choreography was rudimentary, and the net effect was pretty cringeworthy, I must say, but it was all in fun and showed Madonna in a silly, intimate light, unafraid to shred her usual artifice in an attempt to make a renewed connection with the outside world. 

And there was more. For the “One World: Together At Home” televised special on April 18, the first performer was Lady Gaga, who did not wear a fruit salad on her head and sing, “I want your ugly/I want your disease.” Instead, she dressed in casual wear, sported headphones (thereby covering much of her unremarkable hairstyle), and actually featured too much red lipstick — as if it was applied by herself, not a professional. (I guess gays are locked up in their own houses.) It was a whole new look for her, as she seriously spoke in praise of medical workers, then sang the bittersweet “Smile” while tinkling the keys. It was nice — but I can’t wait for her to dress up and go to Vegas again. I’d even pay!

Meanwhile, Meryl Streep always melts into her characters, but for April 26th’s “Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration” — a benefit for ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty) — she simply melted into the role of Meryl Streep. She, Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald wore robes and muted makeup and hair for a boozy trio of “The Ladies Who Lunch” which was beamed in from the three women’s’ homes. If that wasn’t enough of a low-vanity shtick for you, it ended with the always-perfect Audra screeching, “I did it all wrong! God!” Yeah, right!

The lack of vanity has even hit the national news, where serious reporters are coming in from their homes so comfortably that they even forget to dress. On April 28, ABC correspondent Will Reeve (the late Christopher’s son) appeared pantsless on “Good Morning America,” his legs clearly visible within the camera’s frame. I guess this was his equivalent of showing off Patti LuPone’s basement. Viewers were titillated and/or amazed, but Reeve handled his mishap well. He tweeted, “I have ARRIVED**in the most hilariously mortifying way possible,” then added, “I will not be getting hired as a camera operator any time soon.” I don’t know of anyone who was angry about the whole gaffe — unless they somehow imagined Walter Cronkite doing the same thing.

Speaking of not wearing things, pop star Demi Lovato just got over 3.7 million likes for posting photos of herself in a hot tub with no makeup on. But the new celebrity modesty was best exemplified when I asked for an interview with an awards-nominated actor and was told by a publicist that famous folk generally aren’t doing any campaigning in the press right now, they only want to publicize fundraising causes and other urgent issues.

This is wonderful — and yet, I have to admit I secretly long for a return to production values, superficiality and pandering for self-advancement. I certainly don’t want to see my idols in the bathroom anymore.

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