Do you remember when a cardboard cutout of Ana de Armas was tossed in the garbage for a photo op, setting off waves of speculation about whether she and Ben Affleck had broken up? There was no press release or statement, just a symbol for us to read into (and meme). It kind of summed up celebrity gossip in 2020.
Over the last year, as celebrities struggled to stay relevant during the pandemic, gossip took on a different role. Even during a global health crisis, celebs couldn’t quite turn it off, and are definitely not just like us. More people—including celebs—were bored and scrolling.
If there’s a pandemic gossip success story, it’s Deuxmoi, an Instagram account created in March 2020, as New York City weathered a COVID-19 surge. The account was previously a fashion blog started by two friends in 2013 but was repurposed as Deuxmoi, and the first official post was an open call for celebrity gossip, which netted a rumor about Leonardo DiCaprio allegedly wearing headphones during sex.
The account now, which brands itself as “curators of pop culture” in its Instagram bio, has more than 800,000 followers. People can submit stories and gossip through a form on the website, which asks the user to give a pseudonym. Deuxmoi submissions are posted as screenshots on Instagram Stories, creating an urgency to check in. There’s no vetting, and a disclaimer in the bio states: “This account does not claim any information published is based in fact.” Many submissions aren’t even gossip: They’re blurry fan photos of celebrities; innocent “I saw X at Y” spottings; or simple facts, like that Jennifer Garner attends church.
There were some bigger blips: It circulated tips that Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz was leaving the celebrity church before he confirmed it. In January, when allegations started coming out about Armie Hammer, Deuxmoi elevated screenshots from ex Courtney Vucekovich and House of Effie, the handle of one of the women accusing the actor of abuse. (House of Effie did not respond to a request for comment, but has now formally accused Hammer of rape.) And there are lingering rumors, like that James Corden is eventually going to have his Ellen DeGeneres moment.
Its founder is a woman—she’s been profiled in the New York Times and Elle—but so far remains anonymous. As Maureen O’Connor wrote for Vanity Fair in February, the quest to discover her identity intensified after Hailey Bieber claimed to know who she is in December. In January, O’Connor floated a name she believed was behind the account to the woman she’d been speaking to for her story. The response was curious: “The person you keep naming is no longer associated with our account.” (Deuxmoi did not respond to the Daily Dot’s interview requests.)
Deuxmoi’s rising influence
Elaine Lui, founder of the long-running site LaineyGossip and a host on CTV’s The Social and etalk, says Deuxmoi is interesting because “The gossiper becomes gossiped about.” She adds that it’s not without precedent—Perez Hilton was also gossiped about, though he wasn’t anonymous.
“Like everything, gossip is cyclical,” she says. “Deuxmoi is the recent modern iteration of that…When we talk about cyclical, in terms of what’s new and what isn’t, a lot of the things Deuxmoi reports had its precedent back in the day with Gawker Stalker, as people have pointed out.” She adds that while more mundane stories about celebs have circulated over the last year in the absence of major scandals, the Armie Hammer story is a good example of how there’s still an “emotional investment” in these bigger celebrity stories.
Still, some people have noticed a change in “voice” since January. Followers on the Deuxmoi subreddit, which has more than 22,000 members, have pondered who is running the account now and commented on the “less informed” quality of recent posts. A post about the “future” of the account marked Deuxmoi as “irrelevant” and “dull.”
Another post took issue with Deuxmoi’s friendlier, possibly PR-fortified approach to gossip. In response to an Instagram question about whether there are celebs the account won’t post about, Deuxmoi said no, but that some submissions that are “disappointing to hear” won’t get posted because they don’t want to “bum everyone out.”
We’ve been bummed out a lot recently, as we’ve collectively re-examined moments in celebrity history through a new lens. After the release of Framing Britney Spears, an older generation revisited (and revised) how it participated in and consumed the insanity of early aughts gossip and tabloid culture. Paris Hilton’s 2020 doc allowed her to control her narrative and reveal bleak truths about fame and her upbringing, as did Demi Lovato’s recent docuseries.
The early aughts were a formative time: Perez Hilton started his blog in 2005 and TMZ appeared in 2007 to televise celebrity stalking. Crazy Days and Nights, a blind-item site run by anonymous entertainment lawyer Enty, started in 2006 and over the next ten years teased stories about predators like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and the NXIVM cult years before they came out in reported, on-the-record stories.
Lui, who started her blog as a newsletter in 2003, says the reaction to the Britney Spears doc was a major reckoning. “What was interesting in that conversation is that it wasn’t just talking about Britney and what she’s up to and what her situation is,” she says. “It was interrogating what our collective responsibility in what happened to Britney is and was. These kinds of gossip conversations are where gossip can be good. Where it can lead us to places where we’re interrogating ourselves.”
That self-interrogation hasn’t exactly applied to celebs. Over the last year, with traditional circuits for promotion—talk shows, conventions, red carpets—gone, many celebrities and influencers apparently freed themselves from publicists or, like Affleck and de Armas, created their own fodder for gossip—though not without incident. Documenting celebrities during COVID became its own beat.
The viral nature of TikTok gossip
This is especially true on TikTok, which has further shifted how gossip is collected and presented. Vlogger Dennis Feitosa, who goes by Def Noodles, takes a more satirical approach to his coverage of influencer drama, but last summer he started calling out TikTok and YouTube personalities who didn’t wear masks or attended massive parties as COVID cases surged in L.A. County.
The Instagram account TikTok Room, which has more than 2 million followers, is billed as the “first ever TikTok shade room.” It’s dedicated to TikToker “tea” and trafficks in screenshots and reuploads, but it also focuses on interpersonal influencer drama like unfollowings and comment section gossip. In an interview with No Filter last summer, its two young creators said they want to make the account “the next TMZ.”
TikTok itself has become an unverified rumor mill: In January, after news of Kim Kardashian and Kanye’s West split, influencer Ava Louise spread a rumor that West and beauty vlogger Jeffree Star had an affair. She later admitted it wasn’t true, though media outlets reported it as rumor. TikTok has also amplified directly sourced gossip and first-person exposés: Service workers revealing which celebs are rude or bad tippers. Perez Hilton attempted to pivot his brand to TikTok, but was met with resistance and subsequently banned in December.
Velvet Coke, an Instagram account with more than 1 million followers that’s mostly focused on celeb throwback photos, says they try to stay away from gossip because it’s a “tricky subject.” But, like Deuxmoi, its “Celeb Encounters” feature apparently started with a call for stories in the last year.
“I really appreciate any submitted story,” says the account’s owner, who prefers to go by Velvey. “But I think we can all agree that ‘I saw Ariana Grande at a restaurant’ isn’t very fun so I stick with actual conversations, interactions, etc.”
They’re holding on to some of the “wildest” stories, since vetting them can be “messy.”
“If it’s something really wild,” Velvey says, “I tend to just censor the names and then it becomes a fun guessing game!”
Do we want gossip to be fun and good and friendly? Or do we need it to bum us out? The cyclical nature of gossip blogs is providing another component in 2021: Bloggers looking back at their influence.
Liat Kaplan, the woman behind previously anonymous 2010s Tumblr Your Fave Is Problematic, recently wrote in the New York Times that she felt some “shame and regret” about her teenage blog. The Tumblr collected stories and rumors about celebrities years before the term “cancel culture” was co-opted by conservatives to defend Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. Though Kaplan laments how she approached calling out problematic faves, she says it was a misguided attempt at holding the famous accountable: “The information I posted was out in the open, but I was cataloging it to make a case against the veneration of the rich and famous.”
Erin Lang, one of the co-founders of early aughts gossip LiveJournal Oh No They Didn’t, recently detailed on TikTok how she was shut out of the site by two moderators, citing a 2014 report by Vice. ONTD was created by Lang and two friends when they were teens in 2004; it became a dedicated community for cultural criticism, and is inextricably tied to certain early aughts moments, like when Pete Wentz’s dick pics were leaked by a user in 2006. In the comments of the TikTok, people called Lang a “legend,” “iconic,” and revealed that they grew up reading ONTD.
Lui did some looking back, too: Last summer she apologized for older LaineyGossip posts that were called out as racist and homophobic. “I felt, while it wasn’t pleasant, I wasn’t uncomfortable with a dialogue about past mistakes,” she says.
Deuxmoi hasn’t had one of those moments yet, at least not publicly. You can see its appeal elsewhere, like in the massive popularity of Netflix’s Bridgerton, a series centered around anonymous society gossip. But even the stars of that show have recently become fodder for Deuxmoi’s rumor mill.
In 2020, gossip still served to entertain but it was also an important collective activity; a way to combat loneliness and fatigue, and call out celebs on their shit. We all came together to analyze famous people’s Zoom backgrounds and deleted Instagrams.
“Gossip isn’t going anywhere,” Lui says. “To gossip is to be human. It’s a form of communication. It’s how people have communicated throughout history. …There was a time when we collectively gossiped irresponsibly. I do have hope that gossip can evolve, like everything.”