Over the past few months, I have heard some new rumors about celebrities. Did you know that Jennifer Lopez orders the spicy rigatoni when she dines at Carbone? Or that Blake Lively’s career is stalling a bit? Also, David Schwimmer is, tragically, not very nice. And if you were curious about what Leonardo DiCaprio is like during sex, he allegedly wears headphones.
None of these things really matter, and whether they’re even true — none of them have been “confirmed,” by any real journalistic standards — is somewhat beside the point. They’re slivers of rather banal (besides the headphones) gossip from the Instagram account Deuxmoi, a rare bright spot in the digital world during an otherwise gloomy year. Though Deuxmoi accepts nearly everyone who requests to follow it, the fact that it is a private account means that to find the drama, there’s only one place to go.
Deuxmoi is in the business of blind items, where anonymous tipsters send in tidbits of information or sightings of celebrities, sometimes with names attached, sometimes without. A certain A-list actor may be said to be cheating on his wife, for instance, but we can only guess as to whom (whereas the more mundane intel, like a pasta order, is fair game to attribute to a certain person).
Celebrity media is nearly as old as the idea of a celebrity, but talking about stars takes on new meaning in a time when many people have described themselves as starved for gossip. With more idle time separated from family and friends and other forms of escapism — such as literally escaping on vacation — chatter about the scandalous, enviable, or surprising goings-on of the rich and famous provides a way out of the endless boredom of quarantine.
Deuxmoi, and the endless gossip or “tea” accounts like it, is thriving in 2020. Since March, Deuxmoi has grown its 45,000 followers more than tenfold. TikTok Room, an Instagram account devoted to niche drama between TikTok stars, has grown from 300,000 followers to nearly 2 million in the same time span. They may not be subject to rigorous fact-checking, but they offer a choose-your-own-adventure for readers, who perhaps care less about the end game of finding the truth and are just happy to be along for the ride.
This has always been the case with gossip and blind items, which, to their credit, have laid the groundwork for some of the biggest celebrity scandals in history. Yet in providing seemingly low-stakes fun for readers, the industry can often end up derailing individuals’ lives in the process. The new generation of Instagram tabloids is attempting to change that dynamic. Instead, they’re asking, “Can gossip be good?”
What is Deuxmoi, the anonymously run celebrity gossip Instagram account?
Like so many of this year’s most engrossing cultural phenomena, Deuxmoi was born out of quarantine boredom. Its owner has remained anonymous during its rise in popularity, though we know she is a woman based in New York who does not work in the entertainment industry (I’ll refer to her as simply “Deuxmoi” in this piece). She said she’d happened to gain 45,000 Instagram followers from a project she and a friend started in 2013. But with the page mostly dormant for the past few years, she took advantage of a slow news day in March to post a few blind items she thought were interesting. Then she encouraged followers to send in their own.
As thousands of new people have flocked to the page, more and more tea has been spilled. Some followers are regular folks who happen to have had run-ins with celebs, others are in the entertainment business, and many more work in hospitality spaces where celebrities often expose their best and worst behavior.
A few highlights over the past few months: James Corden might be the next Ellen DeGeneres (in the bad way). Adrian Grenier has nice-looking genitals. Sex and the City actor Chris Noth hates when you take his picture. Someone once saw Bernie Sanders ordering tomato soup at the Senate cafeteria. Celebrities said to be famously nice include Steve Carell, Drew Barrymore, Luke Wilson, the Hadid sisters, and Pink. Celebrities who are not: Marisa Tomei, Leslie Mann, and the aforementioned “Rude Ross.”
Again, these are not necessarily “facts” like you would expect to read in a reputable newspaper or magazine, nor does Deuxmoi pretend to be a reporter. “I don’t consider myself a news source,” she told me. “I’m honestly like the moderator of a live message board.” When I ask her what’s valuable about Deuxmoi versus traditional tabloids, she explains that traditional tabloids often have narratives they’re trying to sell, whereas her posts are composed entirely of screenshots of direct messages or emails she receives with little or no commentary.
“What I’m receiving is what everyone else is seeing,” she says. This, in turn, lets her audience piece together whatever narrative they want. “The community of people that the account generated is honestly the most interesting thing about the account,” she says. “They’re very, very active in participating. If I ever have a question, I’ll get an answer in sometimes less than a minute. It’s crazy.”
That community now includes more than 460,000 followers, who show up not only for the drama but for the intra-Deuxmoi language and the hyperspecific inside jokes. Bring up “studio execs,” for instance, and Deuxmoi superusers will recall the hilarious days-long back-and-forth between unnamed people purporting to be film studio executives arguing over which celebrities could get any project produced (Emma Stone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), whose careers were getting “cold” (Channing Tatum has apparently “lost momentum”), and other tidbits like “Kaitlyn Dever is this generation’s Laura Dern” or “Blake Lively needs to find her niche, which is honestly whatever Jen Garner has just about aged out of playing.”
“That was one of my favorite things; people went crazy for that,” Deuxmoi says with a laugh (though she believes not all of the people said to be involved were “execs,” more like assistants or other industry folk). “It was really funny, but it was also an insider’s take on what’s going on. That’s what the account is all about. You don’t have to take it all so seriously.”
The messy history of blind items and the celebrity rumor mill
Obviously, this is meant to be fun. To follow Deuxmoi is not only to read industry insiders’ takes on famous people’s careers but also to feel like a studio executive yourself, keeping tabs on the minutiae of celebrity power rankings as though you’re in charge of casting your own film project.
That celebrity gossip is interesting to us as people is nothing new, but the blind item format — the tidbits too legally or morally risky to publish outright — has a more recent history. In Alyssa Bereznak’s thorough retelling of how blind items changed Hollywood for the Ringer in 2018, she explains that the first modern blind item column began in the New York media scene in the 1890s, when a Civil War hero named William d’Alton Mann hired a team of underlings to pass on rumblings about the Manhattan elite.
But the current gossip landscape was mostly built 100 years later with the rise of the internet: Sites like Perez Hilton, Socialite Rank, Lainey Gossip, Crazy Days and Nights, the Shade Room, and Blind Gossip trafficked largely in rumors about society’s elite rather than fact-checked reporting. Though the now-defunct Gawker also regularly published investigative journalism, its longtime tagline was “today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news,” where rumblings about New York media figureheads were often described in an editorial voice that was as entertaining as it was snarky.
Though they often refused to name names, these websites were the first to report, however indirectly, on many of the biggest celebrity scandals in history. Crazy Days and Nights published one of the first whispers of the NXIVM scandal in 2012, six years before cult leader Keith Raniere was charged. Gawker blogged about the Louis C.K. sexual misconduct allegations in 2012, five years before the New York Times did. Page Six ran a blind item about politician John Edwards’s infidelity in 2007 while his wife was being treated for cancer; he would admit to it three years later. Harvey Weinstein was a fixture in blind items because rumors about his serial sexual abuse had circulated for years; Lainey Gossip founder Elaine Lui told Vox in 2017 that “for the 15 years that I’ve been reporting, that’s how long I’ve been hearing about it.”
Yet the rumor mill goes both ways — Weinstein also is alleged to have smeared those who threatened to expose him in legacy media gossip channels. When whispers circulated of certain actresses “sleeping their way to the top,” for example, many of them were actually victims of the producer’s abuse. “Though tabloids like the Enquirer do sometimes pursue stories with an admirable moral end goal, they’re also frequently guilty of using their aggressive reporting to assert culturally conservative viewpoints,” Bereznak writes.
As entertainment journalist Dave Quinn, who’s covered celebrities since the mid-2000s, most recently at People magazine, tells me, blind items are as powerful as they are unwieldy. “Look at what the media and the tabloids can do to someone’s psyche — what it did to Britney Spears, to Princess Diana.”
Deuxmoi intentionally steers clear of more serious topics, partially for legal reasons (her website includes a lengthy disclaimer that it publishes rumor, not fact; she says hasn’t faced any legal issues yet), but also because Deuxmoi herself isn’t as interested in the hardcore drama. “I like the stupid stuff,” she says. “I like the coffee orders and I like what products they buy. [My readers] want the salacious stuff. They want to know who’s [secretly] gay and who does drugs.” These are the types of messages — cheating rumors, addiction — that Deuxmoi will blur out to protect the identity of the accused, turning them into blind items rather than potentially expose a celebrity to a serious allegation that may or may not be true.
The law is typically on the side of the press, thanks to both the First Amendment and a 1964 Supreme Court decision that states that in order to make a libel or defamation claim, a celebrity must prove that a news publication knew the information was false and published it anyway, thereby acting with “actual malice.” Publicists and celebrities themselves often refrain from commenting on blind items because to do so would essentially confirm that the rumor is true. Enty, the anonymous entertainment lawyer behind the blind items site Crazy Days and Nights, told Vanity Fair in 2016 that he hadn’t been sued once in 10 years, and only occasionally receives an angry email from a celeb.
Over the past decade, contemporary celebrity coverage has come to be defined by its deference to famous people; the snarkiness characteristic of aughts tabloid culture has largely fallen out of fashion (the performative pearl-clutching and racist, sexist dog whistles of the British tabloids aside). When I spoke to a co-founder of the popular Instagram account Comments by Celebs, which posts Instagram comments to and from celebrities, she told me their aim is to avoid negativity altogether. “Our whole goal is that we would never want the person in the picture to look at it and be like, ‘Wow, really sucks that they posted that,’” she said.
Quinn attributes this to the introduction of social media, which has dramatically altered the relationship between the famous and the press. “There was this big boom with sites like Perez Hilton, where [the coverage] was very negative and nasty — it was like the takedown journalism years. What’s changed is that social media has allowed celebrities to break their own stories and control their own narratives,” he says. “Once they were able to do that, the negative tones kind of disappeared, and we focused a little bit more on understanding from their own point of view.”
The more cynical take might be that as celebrities have been able to create more direct relationships with fans, entertainment media lost much of its power to control the opinions of its audience. Once famous people were able to portray themselves as endearing and accessible rather than elitist and aloof, in order to gain the trust of readers, journalists had to adopt a more sympathetic tone or risk being written off as mean, jealous, or manipulative — or worse, face the terrifying wrath of a celebrity’s digital stan army. (Said one writer who provoked legions of Nicki Minaj fans in 2018 with a marginally critical tweet, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”)
Media mistrust is also at the root of many people’s enjoyment of blind items and gossip websites. “I’m showing you an honest perspective. This is the exact information I receive; you can choose to believe it or not,” Deuxmoi says. Yet even she faces skepticism from her followers. “They’re under the impression that a lot of publicists write in with fake information, but I don’t get that at all. The ones that I’ve gotten that I think have been written by publicists are so saccharine and sweet and totally over the top to paint the celebrity in a good light. But that doesn’t happen that often.”
Lui of Lainey Gossip says some of that cynicism stems from the way the Kardashians have changed the business of fame. “We see what’s on [their] show and we’re like, how much of this is scripted? They’re so good at manipulating a narrative that it’s permeated how we think about all celebrities,” she told The Cut earlier this year. “We assume that if [Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas] are getting photographed every day, that they’re probably fake; that this is a faux-mance. But I don’t think it’s a faux-mance. I think they’re really into each other.”
We’ve seen what happens when public trust in media erodes — allegations of “fake news” can curdle into ambiguousness about what is or is not factual, allowing misinformation to spread unchecked. But as Deuxmoi herself says, maybe it doesn’t have to be all that serious.
We all need a little gossip now
Like so many quarantine trends — bread baking, tie-dyeing, Animal Crossing, cottagecore — celebrity gossip offers an escape that doubles as a salve for anxiety. While products literally designed to chill us out have also gone viral in recent years, for some of us, that sense of peace can only come from, say, the podcast Who? Weekly, which details the daily drama of C-list celebrities about whom you have to ask, “Who?”
Laura Loret de Mola, a 30-year-old development creative at a streaming platform in New York, had always been ambiently interested in celebrity news, having years ago discovered Who? Weekly. But since the start of the pandemic, the rest of her podcast diet — which previously included the New York Times’s The Daily and NPR’s Radiolab — has taken a back seat. “I just couldn’t devote myself to listening to them,” she says of hard news shows. Who? Weekly “has been something I’ve turned to when I just want to chill, and I’ve been wanting to chill a lot during this time. It’s the only form of news I look forward to now.”
“I downloaded the Calm app,” Loret de Mola adds, “but I’m not fucking listening to Calm, I’m listening to celebrity gossip or watching C-list influencers open stuff they got in the mail on Instagram.”
The pandemic has made gossip “essential again,” as Joseph Longo put it in Mel Magazine, from Deuxmoi to the Gossip Girl reboot to Ben Smith’s oft-juicy media column at the New York Times or the rise of the Hollywood Fix, a bare-bones operation in which one guy with a camera follows famous TikTok stars around various LA hot spots and interviews them for his YouTube channel. Regardless of what Pope Francis, who described gossip as “a plague worse than Covid” says, it’s clear people are yearning for something to talk about that doesn’t involve the latest horrors of the day.
Good gossip, therefore, has become even juicier. Some of this year’s lowlights include actor Dominic West being photographed possibly cheating on his wife with co-star Lily James in Rome and later hiding from paparazzi in a bush; prominent New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin reportedly being caught masturbating on a Zoom call; and a minor Pennsylvania politician who was accused of running a Twitter account in which he pretended to be a gay Black Trump supporter. (The account in question may in fact belong to Patti LaBelle’s son.) Ellen DeGeneres was finally forced to reckon with her terrible professional reputation — which the gossip columns had warned about for years — while Lea Michele was alleged to have once threatened to defecate in a fellow Glee cast member’s wig.
Is the gossip boom a sign of a thirst for the return of mid-2000s tabloid snarkiness? Not quite, argues Deuxmoi. “My followers don’t describe it like that. A majority of the stuff I post is from people who’ve had normal interactions or people who work in hospitality. It’s not manufactured information, like a publicist telling a reporter what to write or how to spin it, which I think happens a lot in other news outlets.”
There are downsides to running an incredibly popular gossip account. For one, Deuxmoi says she’s extremely burned out from checking Instagram “any free moment that I have, from the minute I wake up,” and disseminating information to her followers. She took a three-day break from posting over Thanksgiving and was inundated with demands for new content. “I definitely had a breakdown,” she says. “In the beginning, it was fun and it was a distraction, but I talk to friends about it and I’m like, ‘Why the hell am I even still doing this?’” In getting into the business of celebrity gossip, she’s felt the weight of the same pressure to kowtow to audiences that famous people themselves deal with.
Conversely, her experience running Deuxmoi has also forced her to reevaluate her relationship with celebrities and the gray areas that go unreported. Audiences may flock to blind items for black-and-white scandals with a clear-cut cast of heroes and villains, but it’s possible that while they’re there, what they’re finding is actually more nuance.
“A lot of people were ‘ruined’ for me because it forced me to take off my rose-colored glasses, which kind of sucked because you do want to see them as special,” she says. Instead, she discovered what the tabloids have been saying for years: “They’re just like us: human.”