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Gossip was the saving grace of 2022

The year of living pettily.

The cast of Don’t Worry Darling gave us one of the best off-screen dramas of 2022.
Stefania D’Alessandro/WireImage
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

2022, like many a year before it, was exhausting. The pandemic still loomed, Russia waged an unthinkable war on Ukraine, Kanye went full Nazi, the Supreme Court upended settled law right and left, including Roe v. Wade, and Elon Musk took over Twitter and promptly wrecked it. We suffered through historically high inflation, continued supply chain breakdowns, and, like, whatever happened with Ticketmaster.

Reality’s march toward the surreal proceeded apace.

In between all of that endlessly exhausting big news, however, the other things we cared about were ... refreshingly banal. Whether your bag was celebrity drama, royal drama, morning TV drama, or even education drama, 2022 had a scandal for you.

It wasn’t all glee; more than a few of this year’s scandals were painful, and some were even arguably dangerous. But of all things, gossip — plain, ordinary, normal, low-stakes gossip — might have been the saving grace of 2022.

Your Gossip Year, Wrapped

How much did we love gossip this year? Let us count the ways.

We were listening to the Normal Gossip podcast, gossiping about Normal Gossip, and gossiping about the Normal Gossip gossip. We were reading gossip influencer Deuxmoi, gossiping about Deuxmoi, and gossiping about the Deuxmoi gossip. We were eavesdropping. We were sipping the tea, and we were spilling it.

And there was so much tea to spill! Desus and Mero? Say it ain’t so! The Try Guys? Broke our hearts as well as our brains. Funny Girl? We never knew we cared so much about Broadway drama or whether Lea Michele can read.

Among A-listers, things were popping: Bennifer got married; Brangelina kept getting divorced. Chris Rock got slapped, and Julia Fox got papped. The late Queen Elizabeth may have been rolling in her grave over the latest season of The Crown and all the drama it brought with it, but Meghan and Harry certainly weren’t about to let the royals off easy.

As for Olivia Wilde’s twisty film Don’t Worry Darling, it was a scandal so juicy its scandals had scandals. Did the stars all hate each other? Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine? Did Olivia fire Shia LaBeouf or did he quit? Are Wilde and star Florence Pugh friends or enemies? Was ex-husband Jason Sudeikis trying to publicly humiliate Wilde by serving her divorce papers onstage during the controversial film’s press tour, or was it just an exasperated response to a year of cheating rumors, on-set drama, and even more press tour drama? We can offer no answers, but the endless bad press yielded results: The film was a modest box office hit in its September release and has since earned nearly $90 million worldwide.

The Don’t Worry Darling scandal encapsulated the effervescence of the year in scandal: Not just a tawdry drama, not just a he-said/she-said debate, but a whole dramatic cinematic universe of secrets and shocking twists. This year’s scandals weren’t one-and-done tales: They were constantly unfolding, cascading, expanding, from the three-arc narratives playing out weekly in Normal Gossip’s salacious anonymized stories to Funny Girl’s months-long casting saga to the still perpetually unraveling royal narrative about Meghan and Harry. And because we live in the future, many of these scandals also came replete with receipts: lurid photos, texts, screenshots, video evidence, and even instant replays. This was high drama, 2022-style.

Cheating scandals dominated the tabloid headlines this year, and many of them played out with a gravitas that marked a post-Me-Too tonal shift. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine drew massive backlash in October after multiple much-younger women accused him of inappropriate flirting while married to supermodel Behati Prinsloo — although he nearly derailed his own cheating drama by sending such bad sexts they skipped “problematic” and landed on the doorstep of “embarrassing.”

A few days after news of Levine’s cheating scandal broke, actress Nia Long grabbed headlines when the Boston Celtics suspended her husband, head coach Ime Udoka, for one year following an investigation into his alleged relationship with a junior member of his staff. Once again, the public backlash conveyed shock and outrage that such an ideal woman could find herself with a philandering spouse.

The most dramatic and perplexing cheating scandal of all came with the revelation that Ned Fulmer, lately of popular informational YouTube group (and BuzzFeed offshoot) the Try Guys, had cheated on his wife. The Try Guys had cultivated strong parasocial relationships with their fans, and Fulmer in particular had branded himself as the Wife Guy. Consequently, the Try Guys cheating scandal in particular carried the sting of betrayal for many fans, and fully subsumed social media in collective shock, hurt, and mourning. The other Try Guys (Keith Habersberger, Eugene Lee Yang, and Zach Kornfeld) responded swiftly, cutting ties with Fulmer and issuing a somber public statement.

For the most part, the public’s attitude toward cheating scandals remains condemnatory — for good reason, given the shattering impact infidelity can have on the wronged partner and family members. Just when you might have thought cheating scandals had become fully fixed in the public’s mind as a form of emotional abuse, however, 2022 threw in one last late-year twist: a cheating scandal that gained fans and supporters instead of drawing backlash.

Good Morning America anchors T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach closed out the year with an old-fashioned love affair that surprisingly won the hearts of the public instead of its judgment. A torrent of leaked photos revealed them being winningly cute and affectionate together, and the public responded with glee. Both Holmes and Robach had reportedly already separated from their previous partners before the affair began — though this story seems complicated and more revelations may be on the way. Still, that reassurance was enough to make this cheating scandal more of a delightful treat for the public than a cause for moral outrage. Who knew morning show pundits could so effectively steal the show from the celebs they interview?

We can’t pretend that all of the year’s biggest gossip was fully banal, however. Several of the biggest scandals of the year had serious overtones and even more serious repercussions. Throughout the spring, the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial dominated the headlines, yielding the kind of thorny situations people love to debate — but the glee people felt in, especially, attacking Amber Heard was too sobering to feel like gossip. Megan Thee Stallion has faced a similar public gauntlet throughout the Torey Lanez shooting trial, during which the public has often treated her like the accused even though he’s the one on trial. In both situations, the draining court process and the implicit misogyny of the public’s reaction toward these women serve to mediate the joy we find in other scandals of the year.

In a less criminal but still costly incident, Will Smith’s shocking Oscars slap resulted in a 10-year award show ban from the Academy and prompted many people to weigh in with dire speculation about his mental health. He later described the incident to Trevor Noah as “bottled-up rage,” which prompted the New York Times to declare 2022 “the year we lost it.” Also struggling to keep it together: Ezra Miller, whose year of volatility involved them doing everything from starting fights over bad barroom karaoke and brandishing knives at friends to far more concerning allegations that they were, uh, maybe developing an Icelandic sex cult and grooming multiple underaged teens. The Flash star seems poised to barely hang onto their franchise role; Warner Bros. wrangled them into submission by August, amid reports that Miller had previously been a disaster on set. Miller said in a statement that they would be seeking treatment for “complex mental health issues.”

Meanwhile, Kanye West has increasingly spiraled. Ye, who has been open about his mental health struggles in the past, hasn’t mentioned such struggles lately even as he apparently torpedoes his career. His increasingly erratic and distressing behavior initially seemed like an extreme post-divorce life crisis (bullying Pete Davidson), before becoming truly stunning. Ye’s shocking new willingness to pal around with avowed white supremacists and his newfound commitment to vile antisemitism is exactly the kind of scandal that’s too painful and harmful to reduce to gossip. We can’t reduce it to a mental health struggle either, given that extreme racism is not currently considered a mental health disorder (though there’s some debate about whether it should be).

Still, the overwhelming awfulness of Kanye West praising Hitler is exactly the kind of news we needed all the other 2022 gossip to distract us from.

We needed a break. Gossip gave it to us.

Gossip wasn’t only a petty distraction this year; it might have been the equivalent of a collective sigh of relief.

After all, we’ve just lived through a half-decade of extreme planetary stress: a volatile Trump presidency, a wearying pandemic whose long-term consequences are still unfolding, an attempted insurrection, a terrible war, and an ongoing global climate crisis.

But as most of those situations passed, things seemed to be stabilizing in other ways: The Biden presidency proved surprisingly resilient; the job market opened up. We prosecuted the insurrectionists! We freed Brittney Griner! We inched closer to harnessing fusion energy!

2022 was, in essence, a moment for cautious optimism: An exhale, finally, of the breath you’d been holding ever since you first started to feel like somewhere, somehow, things had gone horribly wrong; that everything was falling completely off the rails with no end in sight. 2022 was a respite, and we filled that space with things that felt, for the most part, low-stakes and refreshingly petty. “I’m not surprised that years of social crisis — in a society that barely qualifies as such — have created an audience for low-stakes sensationalism with a human-interest angle,” Sewanee professor Maha Jafri told Time in a recent look at the year in gossip.

That’s the genius of a podcast titled Normal Gossip. Former Vox writer Kelsey McKinney’s podcast, which became a breakout hit over the summer following its January launch, traffics in the idea that not only is gossiping normal and healthy, it might be just what we need right now. “[During the pandemic] I wasn’t getting my regular fill of just, like, funny inconsequential stories to tell bartenders or to repeat to friends,” McKinney said in an interview about the show’s founding. “This made me sad because discovering those little stories is one of my favorite things about being a journalist and about being a person.”

In other words, being able to gossip is a return to normalcy. A world where we, collectively, have the bandwidth to indulge in petty gossip is a world that feels like the way it used to feel. Did we fully appreciate before this year the simple goodness of talking in low whispers (or subtweets) about tawdry secrets and scurrilous goings-on? Did you ever think you would care so much about who Pete Davidson is dating?

Gossip made this year bearable in countless ways. Even better, the 2023 drama is already shaping up to be wild. So for the new year, pop the champagne and put on the kettle — the tea is gonna be hotter than ever.