The joy of spying on celebrity homes over Zoom and Instagram Live

Technology

In my sixth week of self-isolation, my favorite pastime has become judging the homes of celebrities over grainy Zoom calls and low-quality Instagram live streams.

The more trouble they seem to have, moving cameras around and finding a perfect spot to film, the better. Julia Louis-Dreyfus confessing to Jimmy Kimmel that she wanted to film in her bathroom, where there’s better lighting since she lacked a hair and makeup team, but learning that the router signal wasn’t strong enough is peak entertainment for me right now. Dreyfus conducted the interview from her office instead, where the quality was notably good. Kimmel remained in his home office, where commenters on YouTube have been tearing apart his interior design choices.

We’ve been getting direct glimpses into celebrities’ lives thanks to social media for years, but the current pandemic has forced everyone to share more than they normally would have — these aren’t pristinely framed, edited, and maybe even Facetuned Instagram posts. What makes this new era of peeping so much more satisfying is the level of unkemptness, making it all feel just a bit more honest and real.

It’s not that celebrities’ homes exist in complete disarray; these are still the splendid homes of the world’s rich and famous. But without makeup artists, hair stylists, designers, and experts to explain how lighting works or how to get the best shot, these aren’t the glam moments we’re used to seeing. Ironically, the more unkempt a room is or a house seems to be, the more I actually like the celebrity whose interiors I’m absolutely judging. They’re the opposite of Drake’s Architectural Digest spread.

We’re obsessed with how celebrities live. The perceived lavishness of their day-to-day world is why an entire industry is dedicated to following celebrities’ every move. We want to know who they’re wearing, where they’re eating, and how they’re living. Instagram has provided curated glimpses into worlds that were once off limits, but they were manicured.

Now, they’re not. Miley Cyrus has started hosting a talk show on Instagram with her celebrity pals as a quarantine activity, and part of the charm comes from Cyrus unabashedly declaring that in this unprecedented time, she doesn’t give a damn whether her room looks like a total disaster. She’s fixing audio and video issues on the fly, knowing that the thousands of people watching understand what she’s going through.

“Okay this is so deep and I don’t want to lose this, but our connection is being weird,” Cyrus said in the middle of an interview with fellow former Disney Channel star Selena Gomez, laughing while fixing her DIY setup off camera. “I’m going to reconnect you, one second.”

I mean, mood. Courteney Cox showing Kimmel her completely empty pantry over Zoom while explaining that her family is snacking more than usual is relatable content. Kesha performing for Jimmy Fallon — sitting in front of a bedroom mirror decked out with cool lights littered around the frame to give it some kind of an aesthetic — should strike a chord with MySpace, Tumblr, and TikTok kids everywhere.

When a celebrity’s background looks too polished, like they’ve gone overboard preparing to be on video, that says something, too. Look at the background of Colin Jost’s house, where an acoustic guitar just so happens to be perfectly propped up on the couch, as though he had just finished playing it before shooting a Weekend Update segment over Zoom with co-host Michael Che.

Even if it’s not the most exciting television content, these videos serve an entirely different purpose: a rare look into the homes of celebrities that were once off limits. As Anne Donahue wrote in Cosmopolitan, “Why wouldn’t anyone want to play the latest, greatest, most distracting game on earth amidst these difficult times?”

What started with various celebrities Zooming into late-night shows to have conversations with hosts like Fallon and Kimmel have become more elaborate affairs. The cast of Saturday Night Live hosted an entire episode shot from their individual apartments and houses. Disney teamed up with dozens of musicians, actors, and celebrities to perform sing-a-long versions of popular Disney songs from their own homes. Lady Gaga kick-started an entire music festival that gave an inside look into the homes of celebrities who are otherwise extremely private, including Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder’s cool setup and Elton John’s courtyard.

Celebrities are aware that people are judging their homes. Comedian John Oliver shoots his show in front of a white wall — something that Seth Meyers commended him for after realizing that people were commenting on his current setup. Kimmel asked Ellen DeGeneres for her opinion on his wallpaper after joking that every YouTube comment was an opinion on the floral print seen in many of his rooms. Fallon showed off some of the more outlandish pieces of furniture in his house, and Chelsea Handler joked about her work-from-home setup with nowhere else to go.

That’s just it: most of us have nowhere to go. We’re all staring at the same walls of our homes, looking for anything new to distract us. Peering into celebrities’ homes is one of the few distractions that arrives every single day and night via Instagram rap battles, Zoom calls with late-night hosts, and people finding their way to TikTok. Eventually, life will go back to normal and celebrities will stop Zooming each other from their kitchen pantries, bedrooms, or in front of massive mirrors. Until then, I’m going to continue digitally sleuthing like a creep — ignoring Jost’s corny guitar placement and instead trying to figure out if the photos behind him are couples photos with Scarlett Johansson.