But people are also craving a way to escape the flood of horrific headlines, and a popular choice is anything brought to us by Hollywood: movies, TV, music, comedy, celebrity gossip. So how do the publications purely dedicated to covering these topics handle a global pandemic — one that has already severely impacted the entertainment industry — while at the same time, provide a much-needed distraction?
A dive into the print tabloids on stands this past week is like a very brief trip to an alternate reality, as you become absorbed in the blessedly mundane stories: Let’s take a tour of Pharrell’s $16.9 million mansion. What has Suzanne Somers been up to? Dennis Quaid, 65, is engaged to a 26-year-old — oh, and their wedding has been postponed because of coronavirus concerns. Then real life comes screaming back to you.
Reality sets in most often while reading People, the celebrity magazine most grounded by serious journalistic responsibilities. The March 30 cover reads, “Facing Fears and Finding Courage: The Coronavirus Crisis.” In a letter inside to readers, editor in chief Dan Wakeford reveals it’s the first time the nearly five-decade-old magazine has ever been produced without anyone in the office: “We’ll keep bringing you our compelling entertainment stories, inspiring human-interest profiles and essential service. We feel our mission becomes even more useful in difficult times.”
The issue has plenty of other stories (Prince Harry drama, “The Bachelor” drama), but the main spread is an eight-page special report, which covers everything from the virus’s impact to Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s diagnoses. Updates are also interspersed with regular features: In the “chatter” section with notable quotes, there’s Orlando Bloom talking about how he was celibate for six months before meeting Katy Perry (“I don’t think it was advisable. You have to keep it moving down there.”) next to Octavia Spencer saying her contactless handshake for the next few months will be the Wakanda greeting. Plus, there are plenty of Instagram photos of how stars are social distancing.
On the other side, In Touch’s March 30 issue largely has the usual (who wore it best, winners and losers of the week), but also has a covid-19 cover with a heavy celebrity spin. The headline “Hollywood Battles Coronavirus: Who Has It and Who Doesn’t?” is splashed across the page with claims that Angelina Jolie “fears for her kids,” Justin Bieber took a “secret trip” to a clinic, and Idris Elba, who tested positive and said he’s asymptomatic, is “fighting for his life.” While the corresponding article is slightly more toned down (“Celebs band together as COVID-19 costs the industry more than $20 billion”), there’s a cringeworthy sidebar about which celebrities Wilson could have infected at a Hollywood charity fundraiser she attended on Feb. 27.
Then, there are the tabloids that feel as if you’re in a different world: Us Weekly, OK! and Star, which, like In Touch, are all owned by American Media Inc. (People is owned by the Meredith Corporation.) Star appears to be operating on its own planet: A subhead that reads “Gone Viral!” is only about Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez’s popular TikTok video, and the cover story reveals Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s beach wedding is in the works. (Of course, the magazine notes, “Reps for both stars deny they’re tying the knot.” But the story includes lots of details from an unnamed “insider,” and ends on the crazy-making quote, “Jen’s eager to be a mom. It’s a dream come true for her to be part of a proper family!”)
Elsewhere in Star, the only indication that something has gone awry is in the pages of “NORMAL OR NOT?” with a picture of “America’s Got Talent” judge Howie Mandel in a full hazmat suit. Mandel “isn’t taking any chances amid the coronavirus pandemic,” the caption reads.
OK! has a similar approach, with a lead story about the secrets and scandals of country music stars and only brief mentions of the pandemic. In a story about how filming “A Quiet Place” brought A-list couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt closer together, there’s an added note that the March 20 premiere of the sequel “was recently delayed due to coronavirus concerns.”
But the magazine that best reflects the state of jumbled confusion is Us Weekly, which on the surface is mostly business as usual with a cover story on Prince Harry — and then has a tiny sidebar that says “WORLD IN CRISIS,” paired with a subhead promising “stay-healthy tips & tricks” from 11 celebs. (They include exercising, considering going vegan and prioritizing mental health.)
One story is devoted to coronavirus, with the headline “Coronavirus Crisis: Hollywood on Pause”; it details stars who have been diagnosed in addition to what productions are shut down. In true Us Weekly fashion, it both terrifies us and tries to ease our minds, as the story concludes: “As things will likely get worse before they get better — movie theaters in multiple cities have been closed as a precaution — the global box office could reportedly lose up to $20 billion. Be well, everyone.”