2016, the year that no one could look at the jumbotron
... Or at least that was the instruction given to models at the now infamous Yeezy Season 3 show. Considering 2016 was a year of being seduced by screens and propaganda; by constructed images like Swift and Hiddleston as a real couple, or Donald Trump...
Like a month coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, 2016 was ushered in more-or-less by Beyoncé's visual tour de force, Lemonade, and ushered out by Madonna's performance at Art Basel Miami. I am neither qualified nor much inclined to discuss the former, save to say that it proved one of 2016's rare highlights; Madonna, however — whose own understanding of when one is or is not qualified leaves a little more to be desired with each passing year — is fair game. Dressed as either a clown or a very sexy baby, she covered Britney Spears's "Toxic" at a crawling speed in front of a backdrop of pictures of Donald Trump: which, as far as a Madonna stunt goes, is inoffensive and generally on the right side of things. As an evening at Art Basel Miami, it was nondescript. (Ask anybody who's read my old art criticism: I firmly believe that the apex of Basel-Miami-as-metaphor happened in 2014, when Usher used a naked woman's vagina to charge up his iPhone.) Later that night, she twerked alongside Ariana Grande, because, well, who hasn't? Sean Penn also attended. This was, everyone agreed, regrettable.
For celebrity women, 2016 has been a year as surreal as it has been surprising. It was the year in which we discovered Azealia Banks and Russell Crowe, for instance, knew each other socially. It was the year in which Pamela Anderson was accused of poisoning Julian Assange with a sandwich on Reddit. It was the year in which Lindsay Lohan — my own redheaded spirit guide — developed the accent "Lilohan." Blac Chyna gave birth to a new Kardashian. Kylie Jenner like realized things. Katy Perry learned the word "misogynoir." Bono received an award as one of Glamour's "Women of the Year." Kristen Stewart finally won me over with her exquisite queer sulkiness. Rita Ora, who is 5' 5" and a pop star, signed on to reboot America's Next Top Model. More than any other, it was the year in which Taylor Swift took the oddly passive-aggressive idea of a "squad" (friends are good when they're good-looking!) ever-further into the mainstream, devoting her Instagram feed on the 4th of July to her taut friends in swimwear; to be a famous woman without hot friends on the internet was, from that moment, to be a tall tree falling alone in the forest, or one sad hand clapping.
This year, Taylor — rarely idle — found herself categorized as a Nazi pin-up, had a nude wax replica made of her sleeping body, and outed herself as a Swedish man named Nils. She also ended up being shamed by Kim Kardashian, which must really smart. It seems especially odd in retrospect to think about Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston having been a couple. Frankly, it seemed fairly odd at the time: all sexualities aside, the whole thing resembled a silver-screen lavender marriage — i.e. so quaintly stiff and like a business arrangement that Swift and Hiddleston looked like the canine 'bride' and 'groom' in a local-news dog wedding at all times. To paraphrase one of the year's few winners: what's worse — being earnest, or being a man in an "I [Heart] T.S." tank top? The jury's still out, though the contract or the love affair's dead in the water. Swift has since gone back to being the subject of rampant speculation about whether she and her model friend Karlie Kloss are a couple (people call them Kaylor: if they came out, it might yet succeed in saving this horrible year).
The whole world, at the end of 2016, feels somehow more than a year older. This has felt like a century. Like Carrie Bradshaw once said, albeit about a blemish: this thing has roots. What was your reaction to learning that this was the year Britney Spears turned 35? If this was how you learned, just now, then I'm sorry; if not, I can only assume that you've already mentally calculated the age that you were when "…Baby, One More Time" first hit the airwaves. These lessons are hard ones to learn: but the fate of the sons or daughters of men and the fate of pop stars famous for wearing a schoolgirl skirt is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath, and there is no advantage for pop stars famous for wearing a schoolgirl skirt over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust, and all return to the dust. Et cetera. Spears's reaction was to take to Snapchat Stories, which she has recently discovered, and to post a delightful, somewhat dorky series of selfies, memetically titled: "Get home from Vegas after 6 weeks and realize I'm getting too old for this shit."
You and me both, Britney, given that this was the year that Trump became President. It was also the year that Spears met Clinton on the campaign trail, tweeting: "Being in Vegas for #PieceOfMe is amazing for so many reasons... Especially when you get to meet @HillaryClinton!" The only acceptable winner of the 2016 Presidential election was, as it turned out, a T-shirt — one worn by Rihanna, who frequently parlays her cool and exceptional looks into something so modern it redefines bad-taste as good. Nobody else could wear a T-shirt featuring Hillary Clinton — then, a little closer to the election, a T-shirt featuring themselves in a T-shirt featuring Hillary Clinton — and come away not only unscathed, but hipper. Most female celebrities are not unlike the most beautiful girls at your school; Rihanna is, quite possibly, the most beautiful girl on the planet on which you have just crashed your spaceship. This means that her mean is our best, and her worst days are palpable hits. That Hillary popped up on T-shirt Rihanna on real-life Rihanna makes Rih a two-time recursive frame for a Presidential hopeful, which would seem crazy on you or on me, but on her just seems sane: if you were this good at the simple and straightforward business of living, would you not wear your own face on a T-shirt?
One of Trump's biggest female celebrity voters has more than once worn her own face on a T-shirt: his family friend, Paris, whose sex tape Trump claims to have watched and enjoyed, and who, at 12, he feels the awkward need to explain that he did not want to fuck. "Now, somebody who a lot of people don't give credit to but is in actuality very beautiful is Paris Hilton," he told Howard Stern. "I've known Paris Hilton from the time she's 12, her parents are friends of mine, and the first time I saw her she walked into the room and I said, 'Who the hell is that?' At 12, I wasn't interested… but she was beautiful." Paris, apparently flattered, this year returned the favor: "I've known him since I was a little girl," she purred, when asked who she'd voted for. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a reality star endorsing another reality star for President — forever. Or else: imagine a reality star being viciously robbed, tied up and threatened with rape, and the internet finding the idea of this hilarious — since this is a thing which happened to Kim Kardashian back in October, and feels like one of the year's most defining tabloid cruelties.
Twinning the 15th anniversary of her Glitter breakdown and her subsequent recovery, The Elusive Chanteuse, Mariah Carey, filmed her own reality TV show. She calls it a "docuseries," the same as Lindsay Lohan did when working with Oprah Winfrey, although the content is reportedly tamer. ("The premiere found Mariah frequently horizontal," says the cultural critic and bona fide Mariahspert, Rich Juzwiack, "as if this were an episode of My Strange Addiction in which her addiction is lounging.") There is no word, yet, on whether we can expect Mariah Carey to run for senate in 2020: though she has the ego and a genuine tan. Pamela Anderson — aside from the weird and fictional sandwich murder — disavowed pornography, talking about its "corrosive effects on a man's soul" and calling porn movies "a public hazard." Women's souls remained, presumably, safe. Angelina Jolie, who has saved the soul of her public image by reverting from the profane to the sacred, divorced Brad Pitt and became single; men everywhere who had no business caring, rejoiced. About 30 underwear models became Leonardo DiCaprio's ex-girlfriend. Kanye West made a list of 38 instructions for models in his Yeezy show, the best of which was: "Do not ever look at the JumboTron," as compared to commandments like: "You are a picture" and: "Do not try to look cool," it feels near-existential.
Kanye's JumboTron decree is sound advice: this year has been a year of being seduced by screens; by propaganda; by constructed images like Swift and Hiddleston as a couple. The image of somebody from reality TV being the President. Of Mariah Carey as being somebody who gives a half-damn about showing "reality." The image of Hillary Clinton as a winner on Rihanna's T-shirt. The image of Pamela Anderson as a murderous caterer. Being a Yeezy-style picture matters, but most of our pictures in 2016 have been fairly elaborate lies. Everybody has to pretend that every famous girl has always had the face they do now; everybody has to pretend that optimism will do something — anything. Everybody has to pretend that Kendall Jenner is a supermodel. Everybody has to pretend that Instagram means something. Asked to describe the year in just three words, Mariah Carey — who had only just split from her billionaire boyfriend — informed a journalist from E! "It was good." 2016 was, above all else, a year of lying to ourselves so desperately that we almost believed it.
Text Philippa Snow
Image via YouTube