TikTok users are mocking celebrities who try and fail to be relatable – and becoming celebrities themselves in the process
Admit it: at some point in your life, you’ve fantasised about being a celebrity. While the grittier side of fame is something most people aren’t interested in, it’s easy to get carried away by the idea of a life of glamour, money and admiration. Maybe you’ve even tried to turn your fantasy into reality by singing into your hairbrush and pretending to be on a sold out world tour, or talking to yourself in the mirror as though you’re being interviewed on The Graham Norton Show. If this is the case, you’re not alone, as there’s a whole subsection of TikTok where people pretend to be celebrities.
Unlike traditional impersonations where people tend to mock a particular person or accent, the world of fake celebrity interviews on TikTok sees creators imitate the format of these interviews themselves. “I keep my Oscar in the loo, yes, I’m very relatable,” says creator Davina Bentley, pretending to be an “English actress on a late-night US chat show”. Creators have also impersonated celebrities being interviewed on red carpets, awkward Zoom calls, as well as awards speeches, picking up on mannerisms and phrases that almost every celebrity seems to have fallen back on at some point.
Dr Carolina Are is a researcher at City University specialising in online moderation and digital culture. “It’s a bit of a meta interpretation of fame because these creators are famous – they are connected to hundreds of thousands of people,” she says. She’s right: for example, Emily Uribe has amassed over 100 million likes on TikTok thanks to her fake celebrity interviews, which she started making in 2020, while George Johnson boasts nearly 175,000 followers.
@davinacomedy #sethmeyers #jamescordon #stephencolbert #actress #actor #femaleactor #jummykimmel #florencepugh #keiraknightley #lilyjames #emilyblunt #katewinslet #relatable #englishactresses #marvelfilmpromotion #satire #impressions #femalecomedian #femalestandup #dramaschool #actingagent ♬ original sound - DavinaComedy
Why are these videos so popular? “It’s just a fantasy. We’ve all pretended that we are on a talk show or in a YouTube video or in a movie,” Uribe tells Dazed. Johnson agrees, explaining that she has “always pretended to be a celebrity being interviewed” and adding that she believes it’s something a lot of people do in private.
Bentley recently went viral after sharing a video imitating English actresses on late-night TV shows and she tells Dazed that clips of real interviews being shared online made her notice just how generic they are. “I don’t own a TV but as I saw these interviews more and more online, I noticed just how many of them were with hot, white, skinny English girls trying to do something to show you just how normal they are, like you and me,” Bentley says.
There is something inherently funny about celebrities trying to be relatable because the fact is, they’re not. Delaney Rowe is an American creator whose TikTok mocking Vogue’s 73 Questions went viral. She says that the holy trinity of relatable content for celebrities is mentioning pizza, sweatpants or watching sports: “it’s as though they’re like, ‘yes, that’s what humans do!’”
This is the kind of personal brand that helped celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence build their image, but it is now heavily mocked. So why do so many celebrities, particularly women, set themselves up for failure with this tired, ‘everywoman’ persona? “I think celebrities are almost over-correcting for their extravagant lifestyle by answering questions in this very relatable, likeable, grounded way,” Rowe suggests, adding that some of the best comedy comes from characters like these celebrities who lack self-awareness.
They’re literally just like us 🤪♬ original sound - Delaney Rowe
However, this is perhaps a sad indication of how much scrutiny celebrities face in the digital age. “More is required from celebrities now – we need more from them. There’s so much digital labour now, not just for celebrities, but for all sorts of people online,” Dr Are says, explaining that this labour not only involves celebrities having their own social media presence, but the awareness that every word they say or movement they make could be turned into a meme or a TikTok sound. “There’s a lot more celebrity scrutiny right now and I think that’s because of the pandemic – because we were all stuck online.”
In the age of digital fandom, many of us feel we have a right to analyse celebrities’ behaviour in a way we never have before, and perhaps these fake celebrity interviews are indicative of that. Whether it’s fans psychoanalysing Taylor Swift’s relationship history via a ten-minute song, body language experts trying to figure out whether celebrities really are happy via their red carpet pose or, most recently, attempts to prove Aitch and Amelia Dimoldenberg are dating by screenshotting each second of their TikToks and Instagram stories, we interact with celebrities in a way that would be considered downright creepy (and potentially illegal) were we to act this way with people we know on a personal level.
Equally, it’s not unusual to be intrigued when celebrities drop hints about their relationships online or feel irked when they avoid answering a straightforward question. “I think celebrity interviews are still relevant,” says Johnson, when asked about whether the widespread mocking of the format might signal its demise. “But I also think there’s a certain extent to which people are beginning to see through celebrity culture and are getting a bit sick of it.”
TikToks like Johnson’s are part of that awareness as they allow people to see how carefully scripted the way celebrities often act is. “It’s a meta critique of that celebrity culture,” Dr Are says of these TikToks. “But at the same time, it’s a normalisation of the culture, so I wonder how revolutionary it is.”
Ultimately, the people making these TikToks aren’t setting out to revolutionise celebrity culture anyway, even if some people might believe their videos are inadvertently doing so. In fact, even though Uribe is now probably the most well-known TikToker when it comes to impersonations, her TikTok page started as a Harry Styles stan account, so she’s hardly against the admiration of celebrities. Bentley agrees that there is no malice in her impersonations: “I’m not laughing at the celebrities themselves – I’m laughing at the artifice of the format,” she says.
Fake celebrity interview TikToks might just be a microcosm of the video-sharing app in itself, at least in their purpose: no one really knows what they were designed for, but they certainly provide a good laugh.