There’s a lot of talk in media these days about “pivoting to video,” the corporate-jargon catchphrase for what happens when a digital media organization lays off a bunch of journalists because it decides video is the future of web content and/or cheaper than paying writers. Glamour and parent company Condé Nast are no strangers to the attendant dilemma of figuring out how to adapt a business model that once worked well for print publications to a digital-first marketplace. In its latest salvo in the war for clicks, eyeballs, and engagement, Glamour appears to have skipped pivoting to video and invented a new tactic: pivoting to performance art. Now that longtime editor Cindi Leive is out the door, why aspire to be a fashion magazine when you can be a Marina Ambramović installation instead?
The magazine posted a video to its website on Wednesday of Gigi Hadid staring into the camera for four minutes. If you’re thinking that surely there’s more to the video than that, let me stop you right there: There’s not. It is just Gigi, looking straight ahead, sometimes blinking and smiling, for a full four minutes. (And if you don’t know who Gigi Hadid is, in brief: She’s a model, member of Taylor Swift’s #squad, older sister to Bella “If Homeboy Comes Through in These …” Hadid, and a member of the Extended Kardashian Universe.)
Glamour touted the video as “weirdly mesmerizing,” adding that it slowed it down to heighten the eerie quality. “People should be putting this on their giant TVs during holiday parties instead of fireplace b-roll,” said Lauren Lumsden, executive producer at the magazine, in a statement. While I would love to attend a holiday party where a video of Gigi Hadid, or indeed any member of the Hadid family, plays in the background on an endless loop, I can’t echo the magazine’s contention that the video inspires any relaxing feelings or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. The blog post that accompanies the video calls Gigi Hadid a “staring champ,” but she doesn’t strike me as particularly talented at staring. For one thing, she blinks a bunch, so she’s not going to win any staring contests. There’s not much to read into her blank expression, though the woozy mood music playing over the video fills in some emotion. There’s not even a wind machine to change up how her hair is falling. The most exciting part of the video is a little over halfway through, when you think she’s going to open her mouth. She doesn’t. Classic fake-out. (Spoiler: At three minutes in, she really does open it, though! Nice!) I can name about 50 celebrities I would rather watch stare at the camera for four minutes, and in each of those cases, I would rather still watch the celebrity actually do something. Sorry, hypothetical Oscar Isaac video: We’re going to need some dialogue.
The Gigi video is probably the result of some enterprising video editor pulling the footage out from a photo shoot and turning it into an inside joke among staffers, but it’s just as fun to imagine that the editors at Glamour were so devoid of ideas that they asked Hadid to sit there and do nothing for a while on camera. It’s a good representation of how clueless many magazines are about how to produce good videos for the web and how equally baffled they are by nontraditional stars like Hadid, who, though a model, has become stratospherically famous for “doing nothing,” and therefore need not—and perhaps cannot—entertain audiences with more conventional talents and charms. This is how backward our world is, now: A video of a Hadid doing nothing makes a weird sort of sense. Of course! Brilliant!
So is this a viable video strategy for an online publication? Will we soon see Slate and other places following in Glamour’s footsteps and replacing their video offerings with slow-mo videos of reality television and Instagram stars? Anything’s possible. (Just a little bit to left, hypothetical Oscar Isaac.) There’s a lot of dreck in the online video space, so in comparison with those videos that are really just glorified slideshows, maybe Gigi’s wordless stare is actually a step up.