Vogue’s “73 Questions” series is one of my favorite long-standing Youtube series. It also strikes me as a strange window into, not just the lives of celebrities, but how we’ve come to view celebrity culture.

The interview series has been going strong for seven years, garnering over 14 million views on Youtube. The interview follows a straightforward format, filmed in a single take video: a celebrity greets the interviewer and answers 73 rapid-fire questions while giving a tour of their residence or workplace. Celebrities featured in this series include Sarah Jessica Parker, Simone Biles, Taylor Swift, Roger Federer, and Kendall Jenner.

But the ever-popular series raises a lot more questions than it answers.

The comments of these videos are often filled with judgments on how scripted, staged, or unnatural celebrities come across. In an interview with The Cut, the producer of “73 Questions,” Joe Sabia, pointed out there is a huge amount of production that goes into each of these videos, such as setting up the lighting for the sets, pacing the questions, and managing choreography. On average, it takes five to seven takes for the final cut, although Sabia had noted that some of these takes go up to 12 or more.

It’s an incredibly impressive production. And yet, the careful pre-productions and practiced repetitions destroy all idea of surprise or natural reaction during these interviews. There is truth behind those comments about the staged and scripted nature of these videos and knowing that breaks the entire interview format.

Celebrity interviews are typically produced with the intention of getting to know the celebrity in “a way you’ve never seen them before”—unscripted, authentic, and unfiltered. Obviously, that isn’t always true. Everyone has a brand and a publicity team that carefully manages that image. But celebrities usually don’t know the exact questions beforehand. They don’t have carefully measured choreography and practiced answers.

Instead, Vogue’s “73 Questions” becomes an acting challenge in its entirety, asking celebrities to act as themselves. It’s seemingly absurd, but it also forces us to recognize this weird position that we put celebrities into.

 

On one hand, there is the idea of celebrity culture that sees these figures as too distant, too separate from the “real world,” and all too inhuman. It smacks of the 2000s when Gwyneth Paltrow released her Goop product line, which was put on blast for its wildly expensive prices and products that seemed….bizarre. (Healing stickers! Vampire Repellant!)

 

And in an almost reactionary, knee-jerk response, celebrity culture took a 180°, trying desperately to convince the public that they are just like us and struggle with the same bad hair days and faux-pas that we all do. So in the 2010s, Jennifer Lawrence encapsulated this “relatable celebrity.” She falls down the stairs at the Oscars! She makes goofy faces! She eats pizza! She refers to sacred Hawaiian stones for butt-itching!

Jennifer Lawrence falls on the stairs at the 2013 Oscars.
[Image description: Jennifer Lawrence falls on the stairs at the 2013 Oscars.] Via Daily Motion.

And even that had its limits. People began to raise their eyebrows and question it. Real or not, Lawrence’s second fall at the Oscars had some questioning the authenticity and even leading to ‘Stumblegate.’ In an SNL skit of Celebrity Game Show, Ariana Grande did a spot-on impression of Jennifer Lawrence’s “average person” attitude, with Kenan Thompson’s as Steve Harvey, pointing out, “You say you’re a regular person more than any regular person I know.”

So celebrities shouldn’t be too distant to the point that they are completely unrelatable. But they also cannot try too hard to be average, because let’s face it, they aren’t. And yet, Vogue’s “73 Questions” achieves this wildly perfect balance of both and neither. It lets you into these celebrities’ work and homes, asks them their favorite movies and fashion icons, makes them seem like people. And in the exact same stroke of a glossy, choreographed video, it reminds you that this is entirely acted out.

Now, I think it’s incredible, in part, because it is such a strange dynamic and also because it is so successful. Audiences are aware of these videos’ scripted nature; and, as Sabia said, the producers and interviewees are also aware of the audiences knowing. It becomes a back and forth, “You know, that I know, that you know…” and so on, building a common knowledge around false intimacy. And maybe that is the happy medium that people are okay with having among celebrities.

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  • Helena Ong

    Helena Ong is a freelance writer and journalist from San Francisco, California. In the past, she's worked at San Francisco Public Press, World Policy Journal, and NBC4 Los Angeles. She graduated from Pomona College, where she served as Production Editor for her college newspaper, The Student Life.

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