Most of the world has been in isolation for about five weeks now, and the rules about effective celebrity messaging are starting to come through. Early on in the pandemic, of course, there were tone deaf offerings like Gal Gadot’s painfully condescending Imagine video and Madonna’s narcissistic, unfunny extended Instagram bathroom selfie, which featured enough lights to power a community theatre production of Sunset Boulevard.
But now celebrities are starting to figure out how best to communicate that they’re privileged, probably have easy access to COVID-19 testing and health care and yet are still stuck at home and losing their minds like the rest of us.
Here are some key points to keep in mind while navigating our love/hate relationship with famous folks in lockdown.
Class and a sense of humour go a long way
Whether it’s an elegant Stanley Tucci teaching us how to prepare a Negroni, or Ryan Reynolds joking that he would eat one of his kids if things got really serious, it’s amazing how much laughter and grace are needed at this moment. The pot-smoking, pottery-making Seth Rogen seems built for self-isolation (remember his Twitter rant about watching Cats?). But he took things to a whole other level by beginning his recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance with a Zoom prank that, like all great comedy, tells us a lot about what we’re going through now.
Sure, the rich and famous are self-quarantining in their 20 room mansions, complete with home gym, and bemoaning the fact that their blockbuster movie openings are being postponed. But whether it’s Rihanna donating $5 million to coronavirus relief efforts, Jennifer Garner reading children’s stories to help support food banks, mobile meal trucks, and community feeding programs or Tyler Perry paying for seniors’ groceries, many famous people aren’t just talking the talk on TikTok.
Show that you’re just like us (even if you’re not)
Sure, we kinda want our celebrities to live in gorgeous, aspirational places. But at a time when millions of people are wondering how they can make rent, seeing real estate porn can be off-putting. One of the most refreshing performances on last week’s star-studded One World: Together At Home fundraising effort came from singer/songwriter Charlie Puth, who had moved back home with his family in New Jersey and was singing from his old childhood bedroom, complete with unmade bed. Utter realness. Which brings us to…
Don’t show off
Yes, Jennifer Lopez looked very glamorous (even in a sweatshirt) during her One World spot, but her introduction of, and performance of, the Barbra Streisand song People felt fake. Not only did the vocals seem pre-recorded, but that roving, searching video camera only made me think: “Who’s holding it? A minimum wage assistant?” Be transparent about that stuff. Most artists on the show performed for a fixed camera.
Contrast JLo’s vanity act with Kesha’s spontaneous and heartfelt introduction and performance of Rainbow. Her hair was mussed and the streaming footage was wonky, but her sincerity and artistry came through completely.
Keep it simple
When this is all over, I think Steve Martin’s simple and unassuming banjo performance will emerge as one of the most affecting celebrity responses to the pandemic. There’s no false earnestness or cheerful optimism. No humble bragging. No talking, even. Just a modest little gesture to entertain us for a few minutes until we go on to the next thing.