You know when you really like someone, a lot, to the point where it becomes your life’s work to make them notice you, so, for some reason, without fail, you take on their mannerisms—a tweaked-out accelerated version, usually—as though your only chance of getting them to see you is to be their reflection? And the longer this goes on, the more you start shedding the act and reverting to a stripped-down version of yourself, which is, in fact, worse than the self you should have started with?
That’s kind of what I did with Michael K.
I read an article that called him “Gay Shakespeare,” which, it’s a little much, but his blog, Dlisted, does tend to be read by people who actually read (like Tina Fey). You know the mot juste? He has the shade juste. This is what happened in his brain when he saw Lindsay Lohan dance in Mykonos: “If somebody’s osteoporosis-having grandma got drunk on four white wine spritzers before her dance audition for the role of Velma Kelly in Shady Pines’ production of Chicago, she would serve up the same kind of old lady hotness that LiLo served up in Greece. And yes, she’d get the role thanks to that Boniva leg shuffle.”
He’s called his own writing trash and maybe it is but it’s some of the best dog-eared piss-stained pulp you’ll find out there. He turns viral cats into Hot Sluts of the Day, Chris Pine’s penis into a “prostate-busting peen” and Petra Collins’s whatever-that-is into a “sedated Victoria apparition.” And his nicknames make you wonder why they aren’t birth names: Empress of Lucite (Playmate Shauna Sand), Texas T-Rex (Matthew McConaughey), Chicken Cutlets (quintessential D-lister Phoebe Price).
I miss him. I miss the world that made him. Not that he’s entirely gone. He still posts a couple times a day, but he has other writers now. And it’s not just him, it’s everything. All the other celebrity gossip bloggers—Lainey Lui, Jared Eng, Perez Hilton—no one really talks about them anymore. Not their blogs, anyway. All these huge places saw what they were doing ($$$) and started blogs of their own and basically, everything is a blog now. There’s still gossip, but it’s back in the social sphere where it came from, people saying smart stupid things in a sentence or even an image. Michael K barely uses Twitter—you can’t write a sonnet in 140 characters.
He should have been easy to find. His email is right there, email@example.com. So I emailed him and nothing. I emailed him again, and nothing again. So I emailed him again and again. The problem is, you can’t stalk this guy. He never uses his last name and he isn’t much online outside of his blog. He has done a handful of interviews but has revealed, like, next to nothing about his private life.
Michael K was always the anonymous one, even back when he started on January 23, 2005, while working admin at a gay hookup site, because, of course. One drop in the seminal wave of celebrity gossip blogs—and yes that is supposed to sound disgusting. They were all girls or gay guys because even though literally everyone loves gossip, it has always been dismissed (along with all the best things in life) as a girlie past-time. Lainey Lui(LaineyGossip, 2003) was the smart one, Mario Lavendeira (Perez Hilton, 2004) was the dick who drew dicks, Karl Wang (The Superficial, 2004) was a smarter dick, Jared Eng (JustJared, 2005) was the nice one, and Lisa Sugar (PopSugar, 2006) was basically like her name. There was also a contingent of black bloggers arriving in parallel to cover the neglected world of black gossip, including linguistic genius Shareka Roberts (Crunk and Disorderly, 2005), bright-eyed Natasha Eubanks (Young, Black, and Fabulous, 2005) and aspiring mogul Jamarlin Martin (Bossip, 2006). “When you talk about Michael K and Dlisted, he has always been the natural comedian of everybody,” Lui tells me (she has always shared links with him, a grassroots way for bloggers to support each other).
Obviously, gossip columnists preceded these guys by a million years. Louella Parsons was the first, around 1914, followed by Hedda Hopper, both of them putting the fear of God into Hollywood (weirdly, since the studios basically worked with them). These new gossips were different, though. For one thing, they were online, for another, they weren’t part of the machine. You had this whole generation of young people (I was one of them; I was young once), who were creeping online and suddenly they were given these free publishing tools like Livejournal and Blogspot and Blogger and fuck if they didn’t use them to talk about fucking, but, like, also the culture.
It’s kind of hard to pinpoint how all these culture-savvy kids became the collective voice of celebrity gossip, but around the same time Bonnie Fuller became the editor-in-chief of Us Magazine and launched the greatest magazine feature to ever exist: “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!” I don’t know about anyone else, but I was pretty convinced at 22 that every single person with over $1 million refused to pump gas or dump trash. The point is that this private-public breakdown was in the air and a bunch of kids just like us were given the ability to jump on it.
Michael K answered. Turns out all my emails went to spam.
“I like it ‘cause it’s like I’m talking to my friends,” that’s what a bunch of blog readers told Erin A. Meyers who surveyed them for her book with the overly long title, Dishing Dirt in the Digital Age: Celebrity Gossip Blogs and Participatory Media Culture. “They already knew the news, they just wanted to see what Perez had to say about it,” she tells me. Perez Hilton didn’t say much, to be honest, that’s probably why he had one of the top 10 most visited entertainment sites next to People, within three years of launch. He was a gay misogynist who scrawled cocks and coke all over pap shots, a shameless self-promoter who thought it was fun to call Miley Cyrus a “slut.” This was the late 2000s, remember, not a time of deep self-reflection in which we were collectively interrogating a historically patriarchal discourse. Most of us just kind of went along with it; Perez Hilton was our pop cultural id.
But a bunch of us knew Michael K was better than that. He wasn’t on the cover of The Advocate or profiled in The New York Times. He didn’t have a TV show. Like all great writers, he didn’t need that shit, he had his writing. Which is why it’s a bit of a tragedy that he got submerged along with the rest of the industry. By 2007, the gossip bloggers told Meyers, the industry was already saturated.
Late to the party as always, mainstream media was launching its own blogs like Yahoo! omg or buying the small ones for crazy money (Avid Life Media reportedly offered Perez $20 million). Then Britney Spears had a breakdown and snarking on celebrities started to look a bit gauche. They had control now anyway with Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. By the close of the first decade of the new century, it didn’t really matter what Michael K said or how he said it. Celebrities were speaking for themselves and, when they weren’t, it wasn’t Perez adding a penile flourish with MS Paint, it was TMZ slapping up an actual penis, no comment required.
I did not expect Michael K to sound like this. I don’t know what I expected - probably, like, RuPaul? Anyway, he has the most endearing voice on earth. He sounds like Kermit the Frog lost in a fog. He speaks from his throat and it kind of sounds like he has a cold. Anyway. He’s also a lot more reticent than I thought he would be. He says Dlisted is him but a more outgoing version.
“I’m much more of an introvert,” he tells me from his Adam’s apple. When I say I’m using a phone card, he says he can call me back and I don’t let him because I can’t imagine he makes much more than me. I see the other bloggers expanding their “brands” with television and becoming indistinguishable from, like, Nancy O’Dell, but not him. “I don’t really like attention,” he explains. “I feel more comfortable at my desk.” He says there were offers but he didn’t translate on screen. Anyway, it turns out even though his traffic, which he barely checks anymore, was cut in half by Twitter, he continues to get 600,000 hits a day or “half-a-pack of Virginia Slims a year.”
His site has kind of grown. He had guest writers as far back as 2007 and now it’s him and four other bloggers. Allison Davey, who is Canadian like me, was hired five years ago after a callout for interns (I applied for that job, bitch). The way she describes K, he sounds like the kind of mentor you don’t often find in media anymore; patient, nurturing, rigorous, even with someone as inexperienced as Davey says she was. According to her, he is equal parts hard working and intuitive and that means her work has “got to be great because I know his standard is high.” Thank god Michael K has to work as much as the rest of us on his writing. It almost seems natural that he is less popular than he used to be—all of us are.
The rigor doesn’t surprise me, either, there was always something kind of higher-minded about Dlisted. Dr. Anne Graefer, a lecturer in media theory at Birmingham City University who wrote her dissertation on humor in gossip blogs (what a world), says she found Michael K more politically correct than many of his peers.
Before hashtags were even a thing, he dropped his most searched feature, blind items, because the ones about sexual assault “felt crossing a line.” And when you consider not only his sexuality but his ethnicity—his father is Japanese, his mother Spanish—it follows that he would have a marginalized gaze. He uses theatrically vulgar camp humor, a hallmark of queer culture, but he uses it specifically to bolster “tacky glamour,” as he calls it, while tearing down privilege: shitting on Goop, thirsting after Prince Harry. As Graefer puts it, “The crucial point is that Michael K’s humor kicks socially upwards and not downwards.”
The larger culture caught up with Michael K at the same time that it appeared to deem him irrelevant. The Shade Room sashayed onto Instagram in 2014 with all the black gossip and snatched up 14 million followers in no time, disrupting blogs for good. Founder Angelica Nwandu didn’t let anyone act out on her site, which was in line with a wider shift from snark (the language of blogs) to smarm (the language of Republicans). She was also transparent about her politics, slicing up light content with heavier issues like Black Lives Matter. This heralded a more general move by the media towards representation. LaineyGossip, for example, is now made up of a diverse staff of entirely of women who infuse their posts with intersectionality. “Back then my site and me were a reflection of what we believed then,” Lui says. “Now my reflection is about who I am now and the conversations we’re having now.”
Like we all do, Michael K feels immense pressure to cover “the heavy stuff” but he tries not to. “It’s, like, not our lane,” he says. “The only reason to really do it would be for clicks and to get commenters to fight in the comments about it.” Either way, the community he built is no longer the only concern. The recent arrival of stan culture—online groupies with a rabid approach to those who do not support their cause, in this case, Lady Gaga—means that Michael K must sort through letter bombs in an inbox that was previously occupied by regular readers.
In August 2016, for instance, K wrote about Lady Gaga’s casting in A Star Is Born. “Barbra Streisand just pulled out a shovel and is making her way to Judy Garland’s grave,” he wrote. “She’ll dig until she hits the casket and then she’ll open it up, get in and roll with Judy.” In response, he received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org, which read, “Hey, faggot. I saw your article about Lady Gaga today and thought I’d warn you. If you don’t stop criticizing her, this picture shows what will happen to you.” The picture was a graphic image of a double Taliban beheading.
Michael Kuroiwa has a podcast now - the guy who has been relatively anonymous for 13 years said I could publish his name. “At the beginning, I cared but now I don’t really,” he says. The guy who stopped blogging about his personal life because his family and friends complained, the one who created a persona because he didn’t want it to be all about him (“that’s not that interesting”), that guy has traded in his anonymity for a changing culture which eclipsed the industry that birthed Michael K. “It feels like a lot of people aren’t getting their information from blogs anymore,” he says, “they’re getting it from podcasts.” (Tell that to Buzzfeed).
It’s weird to hear Michael K collapse into Michael Kuroiwa after reading him for so long. As the podcast goes on, the two personas have begun to fuse, K’s flagrant camp melding into Kuroiwa’s quiet wit. But every day I still wait for him on Dlisted because every day he writes something like this: “Since bitterness and cynicism are the not-so-secret ingredients that keep the frostbitten bag of rotten vulture gizzards I call a heart nice and frozen, I truly let out an, ‘Oh my fucking GOD no!,’ while watching last night’s Emmys when I realized that a live wedding proposal was about to go down… I screamed, ‘Please let her say NO,’ right after. But she didn’t, and the icy turd in my chest may or may not have melted a little when she said yes. DAMMIT! I hate feeling things.” Same.
Soraya Roberts is a culture columnist at Longreads and the author of In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life.