Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, AP)
Year in Review 2019Year in Review 2019Remembering the year that you, me, and everyone we know was canceled. Rest in peace

This was the decade that celebrities migrated to our phones, where their lives unfolded on tiny LED screens. Conversely, the outlets that covered the lives of the rich and famous also had to change. The news cycle sped up, adopted Twitter and Instagram comments as bottomless wells of gossip, and rogue social media users became their own source of celebrity scoops.

But if delivery methods of gossip evolved, then so did the topics that drove that gossip. Unlike the aughts, which were dominated by socialites like Paris Hilton and pop stars like Britney Spears, the celebrity figures that captured the most attention this decade included reality television stars, royals, and the women once silenced by powerful, abusive men. After the economic collapse of 2008, which left many without jobs or homes or a conceivable future to aspire too, collective interest in the party antics of the decade’s famous fixtures also waned. Consumers of pop culture became more interested in the dealings of the wealthy whose finances were unaffected by the recession, like those that bought their children college admissions, royals who were shaking up the British monarchy, and predatory men who used vast business and financial resources to silence the women who threatened their empires.

Similarly, gossipers also changed the way they relate to the women who dominated the pop culture landscape. The old-world sexism of the aughts—obsessed with lurid and often exploitative coverage of pop stars, actors and socialites—was abandoned for conversations around sexual harassment and ethical gossip consumption. Stories once buried or forgotten, resurfaced in the light of a new decade. Even the coverage of the 2014 celebrity photo hack was surprisingly respectful, largely sympathetic to the women who had been victimized.

And while black creatives might have forfeited their job security (and at times, industry goodwill) to carve out space for conversations on representation, pay equity, and the deeply entrenched racism that permeates every layer of Hollywood—many outlets failed to adapt their gossip coverage to keep up. At the height of the Hollywood Me Too conversation, the most prominent voices were white women. This carried into discussions about pay, which white women dominated, as well as the ensuing forums around industry representation, which often featured white women speaking over non-white actors who were more at risk of lower wages and on-set harassment and racism. The Kardashians, American royalty crowned by those same outlets, garnered much of their popularity by co-opting blackness through familial or cultural proximity. And Meghan Markle was maligned by the British press for existing as a black woman anywhere near the monarchy.

With the 2010s fast coming to a close, Jezebel looks back on some of the celebrity gossip that shaped this decade. I combed through nearly a thousand pages of gossip archives while compiling this, assessing the levels of coverage and exposure various outlets like TMZ, People, Page Six, even this site and its defunct sibling Gawker provided them. This list is in no way definitive, or ranked by order of importance, but it does provide a snapshot of a decade that will be remembered as one of the most tumultuous and fast-paced in recent human history.


Beyonce, Solange, Jay-Z, and $1 Billion in an Elevator:

Everyone remembers what they were doing when the footage leaked of Solange whooping Jay-Z’s ass in an elevator after the 2014 Met Gala at the Standard Hotel. The video had no sound, making it difficult to tell if anything was actually said between the three of them and the bodyguard. After a beat, Solange lunges at Jay-Z while a contemplative Beyoncé looks on, seemingly unaffected. Solange is eventually restrained, and the three left the hotel while a horde of onlookers and photographers cheered their names, unaware of the brawl that had occurred just moments before.

Beyoncé later addressed the incident in her “Flawless” remix, in which she spat: “Of course sometimes shit goes down when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator!” In the days following, it was reported that Solange had “gotten into it” with designer Rachel Roy at the Met after-party, as many accused Roy of cheating with Jay-Z, or at least flirting with him. Subtweets and social media shadiness ensued: Wendy Williams thought Jay-Z pulled something “slick,” Michelle Williams let loose a cryptic tweet, Solange favorited the tweet, Beyoncé Instagrammed a quote about troubled marriages, and Solange deleted almost every picture of Beyoncé from her social media.

Two years later, Beyoncé released Lemonade, which seemed to be in direct response to the many allegations that had surfaced concerning her marriage following the explosion on the elevator. In it, she chronicled Jay-Z’s infidelity, its impact on her psyche and their relationship, and how she overcame that heartbreak to come back together with her husband. Lyrics like “You better call Becky with the good hair,” stood out in particular, directly referencing the supposed “Becky” that had interfered in their marriage. Roy, likewise, received a flurry of bee emojis in her Instagram comments after cryptically referencing the lyric, writing: “Good hair don’t care, but we will take good lighting, for selfies, or self truths, always. ✨🙌🏽 live in the light #nodramaqueens 🙄🔱🚯.”

The elevator fiasco both defined Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s later works this decade and provided gossip outlets with near-infinite amounts of content. Considering how Beyoncé, a mastermind in her own right, has constructed her public image the last 20 years of her career, the public is never quite sure how manufactured anything is before it’s given to us. How TMZ obtained the footage, and if it was leaked by Beyoncé’s team, we’ll likely never be known. There are also theories that the alleged cheating referenced in Lemonade has nothing to do with the elevator, and happened a decade prior—the same infidelity she made reference to in her 2006 song on B’Day, “Resentment.”

As well as the endless speculation it provided, the elevator also permanently changed Beyoncé’s public image. It humanized in her ways that had previously been impossible, in large part because of her continued refusal to give candid interviews. (Her curated Vogue essays for a cover story last year notwithstanding.) As her kids continue to get older, and Blue Ivy continues exhibiting a predilection for singing and dancing and performing like her mother, I’m certain that the Carters, despite the elevator scandal and its aftermath, have built an empire that will last a thousand years.

Kimye vs. Taylor Swift:

The world has been witness to the “feud” between Kanye West and Taylor Swift since 2009, when he interrupted her VMAs acceptance speech with the now-iconic: “Beyoncé had one of the best music videos of all time.” Barack Obama weighed in and called him a jackass, Kanye apologized, Swift accepted (sort of), and performed “Innocent” at the VMAs the following year, a song allegedly about Kanye.

By 2015, everyone had literally moved on from the feud. There were more important things to worry about, and besides, Swift presented Kanye with the Video Vanguard award at that year’s VMAs. What was there left to do but find something else to talk about? Unfortunately, the two had other plans. In February 2016, Kanye held a listening party for his newest album, The Life of Pablo. In one song, “Famous,” he rapped: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? Because I made that bitch famous.” Rumors immediately sprang up that Swift was displeased that her name was being used, once again, by Kanye for a publicity stunt. At the Grammys that year, she alluded to this by saying “There will be people who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments, or your fame.”

A later GQ profile of Kim Kardashian claimed that Swift heard the song before it was released, which contradicted the narrative the pop singer and her camp were trying to establish. Then, on July 18, Kim released footage via Snapchat of Swift confirming her support of the lyrics to Kanye and his team. Swift later released a Notes app apology—which everyone noted was probably written long before the footage had been released—and the story exploded. Some claimed that Swift was indeed the snake Kim had accused her of being, while others thought Swift should sue for being illegally recorded. Lawyer Jay Butler told Jezebel at the time: “Potential loopholes for Kanye and Kim might include showing that Taylor Swift could not have reasonably believed the conversation to be private. However, that loophole seems a stretch quite narrow if Swift participated in the call from her home or private office and had no knowledge that the call was being recorded.”

The story shook the foundation of the American gossip landscape. Everyone was talking about it, even if you didn’t care about either party. It also solidified the use of “receipts,” as Kim changed the way celebrities engage with each other on social media specifically. In the years since, we’ve seen more Notes app apologies, iMessage screen caps, and Twitter DMs than ever before, especially when scandal orbits the Kardashians. With the power to control their own images, celebrities have weaponized their private communications to get ahead of the eventual TMZ blasts that once held dominion over their drama-ridden lives. (They’re also featured prominently on reality shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians or the Housewives, where showing “receipts” often fuels seasons worth of plot lines.)

The feud also changed the course of Swift’s career. In the years following, she released an entire album about what she perceived as the “murder” of her old self, and the ruination of her “Reputation.” (Fittingly, Reputation was also the name of the album.) This new Swift had a changed sound, a completely different wardrobe, and was noticeably absent of the sweet, doe-eyed purity that she employed in the early stages of her pop-superstardom. Interestingly, the feud continues to this day, despite the public’s noticeable lack of interest. This hasn’t stopped either party from becoming more famous, wealthy, or weird than ever before. An interesting paradox!

Harvey Weinstein and the MeToo movement: 

What else could possibly be said about the MeToo movement and the fall of Harvey Weinstein that hasn’t been inscribed on terabytes worth of internet archives? When the New York Times and New Yorker published decades of allegations in October 2017, Hollywood was changed forever. Actors at all levels of their careers came forward with their own stories, some involving sexual assault and violence, others involving threats if certain acts weren’t performed to his liking. Weinstein eventually issued an “apology” for the causing women “a lot of pain,” but argued that he had never harassed or assaulted anyone.

Many of his accusers, of course, disputed his apology in the months that followed. Among them, Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rose McGowan, Lucia Stoller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Annabella Sciorra, Paz De La Huerta, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne, Alice Evans, Lysette Anthony, Lena Headey, Lupita Nyong’o, Brit Marling, Mimi Haleyi, Natassia Malthe, and many, many, many more.

In the aftermath of the Weinstein allegations, many more prominent men were accused of sexual harassment and rape. It also shifted the cultural conversation around sexual harassment, forcing outlets to revisit past stories that had gone overlooked prior to the scandal. Among these: Bill Cosby, who was finally sentenced to three-10 years in prison in September 2018. Or the longstanding accusations against other entertainers, like Ronan Farrow’s eventual Matt Lauer expose, Kevin Spacey’s firing from House of Cards, longstanding accusations against Bryan Singer finally surfacing in The Atlantic, R. Kelly and the docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, or Michael Jackson and his accusers, who spoke in HBO’s Leaving Neverland.

Slowly, this conversation bled into other industries: business and finance, cooking, journalism, music, academia, sports, and more. Across the world, women were emboldened to speak up against the culture of sexual abuse and harassment that has long defined almost every facet of our lives.

Despite this, however, Weinstein is still a free man as countless rape cases pile up around him—even while heroic women like Kelly Bachman courageously confront the “fucking rapist.” MeToo might have given women better tools to
have necessary and important conversations and workplace changes, but it also illuminated how slow change is. The evidence against Weinstein seems incalculable in scope, and he will likely never see the inside of a jail cell.

College Admissions Scandal:

Image: Getty

At a moment when public attention on wealth and class has dramatically increased, the college admissions scandal—codenamed by the federal government “Operation Varsity Blues”—landed like a nuclear fucking bomb. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had something to say about it. Even your grandma, and the guy at the gas station cash register, and your neighbor you willfully ignore next door.

On March 12, 2019, 50 people were indicted in federal court in what was described as the largest college admissions fraud bust in history. Parents indicted were accused of bribing authorities and academic institutions to secure their children spots at various colleges—among them, actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, unexpected names on the jaw-dropping list compiled by the government. According to court documents, Huffman paid $15,000 to game test scores for her daughter. She later was sentenced to 14 days in jail (of which she only served 11), a $30,000 fine, and 250 hours of community service, which she has been photographed attending in the weeks since her release. In an apology issued to the court, Huffman said: “I take full responsibility for my actions, I will deserve whatever punishment you give me.”

Loughlin meanwhile has remained completely silent on the court proceedings. Her daughter Olivia Jade, a Youtube vlogger, was unceremoniously run off the site in the weeks that followed the original March indictment, losing lucrative corporate sponsorships and college-centric Instagram advertising deals in the process. She’s since returned, to little fanfare, while her mother continues to hole up in her Bel Air mansion. Where Huffman has since apologized, Loughlin refuses to engage with the public, her fans, or the media hounding her for comment. She lost her jobs at Netflix’s Fuller House and Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart, and has traded in ballgowns and red carpet ensembles for discreet yoga pants and crime hats.

Like many other stories on this list, gossipers were entranced by the exposed mechanisms of wealth and corruption among our countries elite, made all the more interesting by the famous people in proximity to the scandal. It wasn’t surprising that powerful people bought their children places in institutions of equal power—the statues and buildings named for legacy families at those same institutions was already proof of the matter. But for those mechanisms to be laid out so plainly, and in a way that provided some semblance of a consequence for the enterprising elite who, afforded every opportunity to succeed, still chose to purchase their way to somewhere in the middle of the line? That was exceedingly gratifying and even cathartic.

As the decade has progressed, and wealth inequality increased, the public has noticeably grown more agitated by the same displays of privilege that once entranced us in the ‘aughts. The economy may have crawled back from that particular cliffside, it has never felt more harrowing to be a citizen of this country not already blessed by generational wealth. And while this isn’t the last time the wealthy and elite will use their privilege to clamber over those of us being crushed by capitalism, the college admissions scandal proved that we are far, far less willing to let them get away with it.

Deaths of Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston

If anything, the celebrity culture of the aughts was consumed with the struggles of the stars that populated it. Tabloids were fixated on boozy nights out at various Los Angeles hotspots, where stars like Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton might stumble into the street, slur through a TMZ video, and later be arrested for a DUI. The entire planet witnessed Britney Spears’s breakdown, culminating in an infamous head-shaving fiasco still quoted by many as the most “iconic” celebrity moment of the decade.

For many of these stars, rumors of substance abuse followed them through the 2010s. But the way both the media and the public dealt with those issues changed following the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston within six months of each other. When Winehouse passed in July 2011, she had been hounded by the press for years over her public drug and alcohol use. Her own father repeatedly aired those demons out in public, addressing her via the tabloids, pleading for her to “get help.” Photos of Winehouse wandering around barefoot were also sold to those same tabloids in the aughts, who trafficked in all sorts of illicit stories about her. Similarly, Houston’s struggles with cocaine and other drugs followed her for much of her career, made only more infamous by that Diane Sawyer interview in 2002, where she famously responded: “Crack is wack.” In the same interview, she also asked Sawyer, “Do you really know, do you really know?” in response to repeated questions about her weight, which Sawyer alleged was due to drugs and even anorexia. Houston died 10 years after that interview, when she was pronounced dead in her hotel room on February 11, 2012, from what the coroner later described as coronary disease and cocaine abuse.

Following these legendary singers’ passings, many accused the media of being partially complicit. While no one gossip reporter was responsible for the actions either women took, the culture of the aughts—of capturing every lurid detail of their lives, no matter how damaging or ethically dubious the consequences might be—was immediately called into question. Op-eds published in the days that followed saw major outlets “grappling” with how to cover their lives, while also acknowledging the public substance issues that contributed to their deaths. Others outright shamed cable news’ sensationalization of Houston’s death, cashing in on the public sadness around the legendary singer’s passing.

Neither Houston or Winehouse were the last celebrities to die of substance-related overdoses—accidental or otherwise—this decade. But with their deaths, and the outcry from the public to change how those deaths were handled, the media coverage of similar events has shifted notably. With them, the overly sensational, often exploitative gossip climate of the previous decade also seemed to pass.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, and the Fall of the House of Windsor: 

Image: Getty

Nobody seemed to believe, at first, that Prince Harry was dating Meghan Markle. Their surprise 2016 romance hurtled into the gossip circuit like a comet—a British prince, smitten with a cable actress from America who’d also starred as a briefcase model on Deal or No Deal. As many British tabloids like the Daily Mail and The Sun still point out, Markle is also biracial, which continues to fuel racist vitriol and backlash from many in the U.K.

Now, over a year into their marriage, Prince Harry and Meghan have sued British tabloids the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Alongside the announcement came a documentary of their royal tour of Africa, in which Markle tearily told the ITV reporter how hard the scrutiny had been on her marriage, her pregnancy, and her time in the House of Windsor.

What’s remarkable about the Sussexes is how quickly they overtook both the American and British tabloids. From the first rumors of their relationship, you would think that Markle had long been the most famous woman on the planet. This mass attention continued throughout their engagement, culminating in the most talked about the wedding of the century. But after the knot was tied, and everyone dispersed from the palace lawn, the attitude of the coverage began to shift. Rumors of a feud between the Cambridges and the Sussexes quickly surfaced, with outlets reporting behind-the-scenes drama concerning Markle’s refusal to engage with longstanding palace protocol.

Like the scrutiny over her slotting into palace tradition, Markle also broke with established royal code in how brazenly transparent her family drama was. Her father, Thomas Markle, routinely sold stories about her and her relationship with him to the press—one such letter sent by her to him is the fixture of her suit with the Daily Mail—as did her half-sister Samantha Markle, who famously dubbed Meghan “Princess Pushy” in the press. This, like the supposed “feud” with Kate Middleton, dismantled the pristine image of the House of Windsor Queen Elizabeth had done her damndest to build. (Jeffrey Epstein and Prince Andrew have now joined in to piss all over the wreckage.)

Teresa Giudice and Joe Giudice Are Indicted for Fraud:

When the Real Housewives of New Jersey first aired on May 12, 2009, it was the fourth installment in Bravo’s burgeoning Real Housewives empire. Unlike its predecessors, specifically Real Housewives of Orange County and Real Housewives of New York, the series premiered in 2009 as the economy was just struggling to crawl back from a crippling economic collapse. While those past iterations depicted hyper-glamorous socialites and wealthy suburbanites dealing with a post-recession climate, New Jersey seemed to exist in a bubble. The women lived in massive, gilded mansions, with overly teased hairdos as high as their Louboutin heels or Dolce & Gabbana skirts. Their lives seemed mostly unbothered by the crumbling world around them, with values seemingly plucked from an older, more pious era of housewife-ry. One star, in particular, Teresa Giudice, astounded viewers of the first season with her 10,000 square foot Montville, New Jersey home. The furniture seemed plucked from Trump Tower, with floor to ceiling, gold plated mirrors, luxe drapes, marble floors, and gauche Victorian sofas hearkening to the sort of wealth that seemed to die in the ongoing recession.

Speculation concerning that supposed wealth was only made worse by her husband’s work in the “construction business.” If nobody could afford to buy homes, or renovate homes, where was he getting all that money? Then, before the second season could air, both Teresa and her husband filed for bankruptcy. Court documents revealed a mind-boggling $8.7 million in liabilities between them, including most of their possessions and multiple homes, the Montville Mansion included. Just a few years later, in July 2013, Teresa and Joe would be slapped with a 39 count federal indictment for fraud, with the government citing the couple’s failure to disclose income amidst their bankruptcy proceedings, their attempts to defraud lenders, and the four years between 2004 and 2008 Joe didn’t file any tax returns. In the aftermath, Teresa spent 10 months in prison in 2015, and Joe spent two years in federal custody before being handed an order of deportation in 2018. The couple appealed, their request was denied, and he subsequently moved back to Italy earlier this year while his struggle to obtain a visa continues.

What’s remarkable about Teresa and Joe’s story is its inability to die out. It’s been over a decade, and headlines around their financial struggles, or Joe’s deportation, continue to dominate every major news outlet—not just the ones concerned with celebrity gossip. While the Housewives have certainly seen more wealthy, successful alumni, none have broken through the mainstream like Teresa and Joe. Together, they’ve defied every pre-established supposition about American reality stars (that aren’t the Kardashians): That their lives are meaningless, their dramas petty, their shows not worthy or mass recognition. Perhaps it’s also why the Real Housewives continues to be a Bravo powerhouse.

While Teresa and Joe’s life may have been unrelatable in the size of their home, or the wealth they fraudulently flaunted, but it also mirrored this country’s evolution since the turn of the decade, especially Joe’s deportation, which has played out at a timely juncture during Trump’s presidency when children are still locked in concentration camps. It’s perhaps even more telling that, despite this, Teresa and Joe still publicly defend the president.


Honorable Mentions

Caitlyn Jenner’s Coming Out:

While certainly not the most relatable trans woman to ever break through the mainstream, it is undeniable that Caitlyn Jenner, for a brief moment, was the most famous trans woman on the planet, and every trans woman I know was consumed with the news. It changed our lives in so many material ways. For weeks after, random people at my grocery store job would solemnly ask me, “What do you think about Caitlyn Jenner?” While I didn’t appreciate being clocked so visibly in public, it was undeniable that there would be no going back for trans people. On the internet and in real life, I watched as just about everyone around me debated what exactly constituted a “real” trans woman. Conversations once held exclusively in niche LGBTQ+ spaces and at support groups late at night, were now on full display. Whether any trans women wanted it, or not!

#FreeBritney

#FreeBritney was a bookmark on two decades of gossip, the culmination of Britney Spears’s incredibly visible struggles with fame, mental health, and rumors surrounding her conservatorship. It was also an internet “movement” that began with a cryptic series of assertions from a podcast documenting Britney Spears’s Instagram account, Britney’s Gram. The hashtag #FreeBritney was seen on “protest” signs outside Los Angeles’ courthouses, celebrities added it to random Instagram posts, and was even screamed by Miley Cyrus while onstage at a music festival.

Leah Remini Leaves Scientology:

Leah Remini was not the first person to leave Scientology, but she is the most famous person to defect from the massive organization. In July 2013, the New York Post reported that Remini was “stepping back from a regime she thinks is corrupt,” owing to the Church’s public practice of excommunicating members. Afterward, she began publicly speaking about the many abuses she witnessed and even published Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. In 2016, she also premiered a docu-series, Scientology and the Aftermath, on A&E. It chronicled various alleged abuses perpetrated by the Church, including sexual assault, physical abuse, child labor camps, spying, fraud, and forced family separations. The series dramatically shifted the conversation around Scientology, pushing past much of the church’s litigiousness that left many too scared to broach even the surface of the allegations surrounding it.

Ariana Grande and the Manchester Bombing:

On May 22, 2017, a terrorist detonated a shrapnel bomb during an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom. Twenty-two people died in the aftermath, ten of who were under the age of 20. Less than two weeks later, on June 4, Grande and manager Scooter Braun organized One Love Manchester, a charity concert to support the victims of the bombing. Besides Grande, stars that performed included: Little Mix, Pharrell Williams, Miley Cyrus, Liam Gallagher, The Black Eyed Peas, Imogen Heap, Mac Miller, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, and Justin Bieber.

The speed with which the event was organized spoke to the Braun’s connections, as well as how deeply the tragedy was felt by fellow artists and musicians. It also changed Grande’s career forever, and saw many forget the various “scandals” in orbit around her, like the infamous doughnut-licking, “I hate America!” incident. But besides that, it showed the deep commitment Grande felt for her fans, even when confronted with such an unprecedented tragedy like the bombing. Now, at the close of the decade, Grande is more famous, and more widely listened to, than ever before.

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