Here I am, at the most extravagant and exclusive Hollywood event of the year: the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. I coincidentally find myself sitting next to Lady Gaga who’s lighting a cigarette like we’re fellow bar patrons. That was just minutes before I nearly tripped on Heidi Klum’s dress after passing Michael B. Jordan eating an In N Out burger. To be clear: I’m not a celebrity. I’m a reporter. But I was a reporter there with conditions — unable to interview the stars or even jot down notes, but to merely observe. Sure, the A-listers and I may have been at the same party under one dazzling roof, but from the get-go, our experiences were wildly different.
Hours, even days, leading up to the extravaganza, the stars are prepped with their custom couture and glam squads by their sides. Me? I barely made it to the party. Not with a dress, at least. A day before the event, I learned the dresses sent to me on loan, were, funnily enough, being delivered the morning after the party. Rather than primping and prepping, I was clotheslining helpless sales representatives at every department store in the greater LA area. Cut to 11 PM on Oscar night. The celebrities are well into celebrations and bubbly. I was my own chauffeur, sitting in traffic due to the 27 road closures from the event. I may not be a celeb, but I’ll tell you one thing: Emma Stone doesn’t have to deal with this nonsense.
But then, I arrived. And to be honest, it blew me away. It was like a fantastical bubble jam-packed with almost every celebrity you could think of, and I was smack dab in the middle of it. It was surreal. This is coming from me, a jaded entertainment journalist — someone on red carpets almost every day, interviewing people like Chris Hemsworth, Katy Perry, and Oprah — and I’m rarely fazed. While I live for the spontaneity and excitement of what I do, “starstruck” really isn’t in my vocabulary. But that night, I didn’t even know where to look first because I was so taken aback by celebrities everywhere doing such… normal things. Guess you could say I was starstruck.
Every step I took, I was literally bumping into a major A-lister (if not into them, then accidentally on or in their dress). I unknowingly bypassed Brie Larson through the chaotic red carpet. I was advised to hang tight while posing for a photo because Vin Diesel was accidentally photobombing me. Nick Jonas b-lined by me trying not to spill his drink. Chadwick Boseman grazed my shoulder minutes before Sophie Turner ordered shots at the bar next to me. I had to navigate the dance floor without whipping Hailee Steinfeld or Priyanka Chopra during their conversations.
This was one of the rare places celebrities didn’t have to think nor pretend — a place where no one was really looking. And I’ve realized, for the most part, we’re the ones who’ve created the wall that’s preventing us from seeing that. Don’t get me wrong: Celebrities live awesome, privileged lives. While I don’t pity them, witnessing them not trying to be perfect was also eye-opening. It was perfectly average behavior, but all felt like a dream because it was coming from famous people.
The whimsical allure Hollywood has to offer has been fantasized about and adored by people for years, and celebrities are the knowing participants. But the thing is: We like having such untouchable figures. We like having a distant world of fame and fortune to admire that these people represent.
But we’ve also heightened all of this into a culture that has made them— who, underneath it all, are just people — into figures we expect to be pristine role models.
From the inside, the media landscape is changing by the minute and, frankly, it frightens me. We’re in a time when peoples’ livelihoods and careers are at stake with every single thing they say or do. Conducting interviews, for one thing, isn’t what it used to be. Celebrities are afraid to say anything that could risk backlash. (Publicists constantly hovering over them at any given moment doesn’t help.) And I don’t know that I blame them. Even we fall victim to portraying curated, “perfect” lives on social media. But this highly-controlled environment, becoming tenser by the day, is not just making it harder for reporters to do their jobs, it’s exaggerating the distance between our world and theirs. The recent controversy surrounding The New York Times and Vanity Fair days leading up to the event is just another example.
After The NY Times published an investigative piece which legitimately explored and questioned the heightened presence of corporate sponsors at the event, Vanity Fair disinvited The NY Times’ reporter (who didn’t even write the story) from covering it. A publication, which values journalistic integrity, banned another for displaying that exact standard — all to protect, not only its own reputation, but the fragile bubble an elite party such as this allows celebrities to exist in.
Maybe the bubble should burst and we should see celebrities for the people they really are. Maybe we shouldn’t worship and put them on a pedestal for doing good, nor denounce and exile them for the bad. Because at the end of the day, they are not the knowers of all things. They just want to kick their feet up with a stiff drink like the rest of us. We’re not held to such perfect standards in our daily lives, is it fair of us to hold them to the same?
At 2 AM, reality strikes. It becomes clearer than ever I am not one of them. While the stars are swiftly chauffeured away in giant SUVs, I find myself waiting in 40-degree weather, alone at valet and without my shoes on for 30 minutes. And just like that, my carriage turns into a pumpkin as my fairytale night abruptly becomes a life that’ll have to exist in my memories. As I drive my Honda back to my little apartment tucked in the valley where my slippers are waiting, I walk away from the evening knowing I can live life as freely as I choose to with no one watching, realizing the famous people we admire don’t have that luxury.