The Celebrity Apology Video Aesthetic


When celebrities address public criticism, they deliver their explanations in homey or sparse settings aimed at making them more relatable, public relations strategists say.

Last week, Drew Barrymore took to Instagram to defend restarting her talk show amid a bitter writers’ strike, a move that her critics said amounted to crossing a picket line.

Facing the camera, slightly off-center, in a room so heavily wallpapered even the ceiling wasn’t spared, she asked her 17 million followers for their understanding. “I know there’s just nothing I can do that will make this OK to those it is not OK with,” she said, a macramé wall hanging behind her.

The homey setting was familiar. It’s an essential element of the celebrity apology video genre.

These videos appear off the cuff — hair disheveled, faces uncharacteristically makeup-free, weird lighting — but they are likely curated to elicit empathy, down to the cozy, intimate locations, any hint of far more opulent surroundings out of the frame, according to public relations experts.

“They wanted to show authenticity and relatability,” said Molly McPherson, a crisis communications strategist. “By offering a glimpse into their personal spaces, it not only shows a sense of vulnerability, but it’s trying to establish trust.”

Russell Brand posted a video on his YouTube channel defending himself shortly before the publication of a news investigation into sexual assault allegations.

September has been a particularly busy month for celebrity damage control. On Sept. 9, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis posted an apology video on Instagram. Dressed in rumpled T-shirts and against a weathered wooden wall, they explained why they had written character letters in support of their friend and former “That ’70s Show” co-star Danny Masterson, who was recently sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for the rapes of two women.

And on the same day that Ms. Barrymore posted her video, the comedian and actor Russell Brand turned to his YouTube channel to pre-emptively challenge a news investigation into allegations that he had sexually assaulted several women, appearing in a room that he has used for his other videos with décor that fell somewhere between a HomeGoods showroom and a virtual Zoom background.

“It’s supposed to be faux authentic,” said Seema Rao, an art historian who has analyzed celebrity apology videos on her TikTok account, of Mr. Brand’s choice location. “Maybe he really splurged and went to World Market.”

Rather than find sympathy, the stars found themselves as TikTok fodder. On Sept. 15, Mr. Kutcher resigned as the chair of Thorn, the organization he co-founded to fight child sex abuse. Within hours of posting her video, Ms. Barrymore took it down. By Sunday, she had reversed her decision to restart her show. And on Tuesday, YouTube banned Mr. Brand, whose channel has 6.6 million followers, from profiting from its site.

Ms. Barrymore declined to comment through a spokesman. Representatives for Mr. Kutcher, Ms. Kunis and Mr. Brand did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Celebrities have long used their homes as social currency, offering them up for public consumption, and as aspirational messages showcasing their impeccable taste and wealth. Celebrities regularly grace the covers of shelter magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, as Ms. Barrymore did this month. Mr. Kutcher and Ms. Kunis happily brought a cameraman into their Santa Barbara beach house when they rented it out for free on Airbnb, part of a marketing partnership with the vacation rental site. The couple posted that video to Instagram a day before the apology video.

Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis posted a video to Instagram explaining why they wrote letters in support of their friend and former “That ’70s Show” co-star Danny Masterson, who was recently convicted of the rapes of two women.

Ms. Barrymore’s stars and stripes wallpapers made an appearance on TikTok when the actress, who sells a line of peel-and-stick wallpaper at Walmart, posted a video of her cleaning her messy bedroom. So why wouldn’t it work this time? “I think she thought we were going to look at the macramé in the back wall and the striped wallpaper and we’d connect with her like she’s one of the girls,” Ms. Rao said.

Mr. Kutcher and Ms. Kunis may have made a similar calculation by choosing a rustic backdrop. “They were definitely looking for something that didn’t look expensive,” Ms. Rao said. Instead, “it looked like ‘American Gothic.’”

The weathered Kunis-Kutcher wall has made the rounds before. The couple stood in front of it in 2022, crooning, “Imagine all the people” in an episode of “The Boys” that lampooned the widely panned “Imagine” video that the actress Gal Gadot had made to lift spirits at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

This time, however, they were the ones being mocked. Many keen-eyed viewers on social media noted what wasn’t visible: The wall is the exterior of a poolside guesthouse on the six-acre estate the couple calls KuKu Farms. It’s there for all to see in a stunning 2021 Architectural Digest spread.

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