It was less a fall, more a splat, really. While hurrying to the stage to pick up her Oscar for Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence tripped and hit the floor at the 2013 Academy Awards. Watching it back now, ten years later, you see the actor, then 22, elegantly dash from seat to stage – hair swept into a classic up-do, neck and ears dripping with diamonds, Christian Dior haute couture voluminous in a classic, Old-Hollywood way – and then drop to the ground, like a swatted fly, as she tries to make it up the stairs.
I assume there was a collective gasp at this point. The ceremonial music is playing too loudly for me to know for sure, but, I mean, of course there would have been: the It-girl of the 2013 Oscars season had just hit the ground like me, circa 2006, stacking it up a Vodka Revs’ staircase after too many shots of Corky’s. Hugh Jackman can be seen dashing, at quite an impressive pace, to help The Hunger Games star up. (A nice man!) By the time Lawrence is up on the podium, there’s a standing ovation. “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell,” she begins her speech with an awkward grin. “And that’s really embarrassing.”
She’s not wrong. If I ever fell over in front of more than 40 million viewers as well as the majority of LA’s most famous, I’d find it mortifying if they all clapped me for it too. I’d imagine the sensation akin to getting cheered on by other people’s parents when you’re coming last in the sack race on sports day. (Something I’ve never experienced, I always ranked top 3.) But while the moment might have been embarrassing at this time, it has since become, in many ways, an iconic Oscars moment. A moment you could easily claim had a transformative effect on the nature of celebrity.
What could have ended up as a tabloid-shame story, instead became a celebration of our girl Jen, a relatable queen who, just like the rest of us, sometimes trips over. The top comments under the YouTube clip of it read: “This just shows how normal she is!”, “This only makes her more loveable” and “I appreciate her way to be ‘beyond’ the star scene-system. She appears to be the girl next door.” In the months that followed, a cult of J-Law was born. Meanwhile, it felt like every A-Lister woke up to the idea that what us normals wanted from the famous wasn’t just perfect teeth, unattainable abs and a willingness to take awkward selfies with fans, it was authenticity: a level of imperfection that offset their wealth and beauty and made them seem like they were, perhaps, in some way, a bit of a laugh.
Of course, this had been brewing before The Fall. The early days of the 2010s were ruled by personable YouTube vloggers talking us through their Mac hauls. And J-Law had already built a reputation for being the quirky, chill, cool girl of Hollywood. But it was 2013 that was the turning point. By the end of the year, distinctly relatable Cara Delevingne, then scruffy and 20, with an understandable love of McDonald’s burgers and sticking her tongue out, had become the model of the moment. By the following spring we’d reached the apex of celebrity red carpet photobombing: J-Law creeping up on pal Taylor Swift like Gollum (cute), Jared Leto looking like the Scream mask behind Anne Hathaway (fun, I guess), Benedict Cumberbatch leaping through the air like a goalkeeper behind U2 (please make it stop). As summer came, celebrities were dumping freezing water over themselves for the Ice Bucket Challenge, shrieking on their social channels. And we all lapped it up – suckers for a taste of realness. In fact, by 2016, websites had started doing round ups of “stars’ most relatable quotes” that included things like Blake Lively saying: “When I have bad days, I just eat lots of chocolate ice cream and dance to the Lion King soundtrack. It’s really odd, but it’s true.” Hard relate, eh?!
Now, kooky imperfections come as standard for celebrities – whether they’re authentic or not. And while attempts to be “just like one of us” seem less frenzied since the pandemic – that heinous cover of “Imagine” made it very clear that vast swathes of stars are not at all like us – we’re still very much in the grip of Big Relatability. Not a day goes by without a star sharing an embarrassing story on a talk show or posting a carefully curated but deliberately clumsy-looking photo dump on Instagram. (Although, I’d argue we’re all doing that last one now.)
I know we’re supposed to hate it. We’re supposed to think celebrities crying on Instagram Live are faking it. Or when they share a glimpse of a messy apartment, it’s try-hard and cringe. And, yeah sure, maybe that’s all true. But you know what, I’ll happily take swathes of fake authenticity to sometimes get a glimpse of a star’s real personality – to discover that they’re clumsy or really bad at eyeliner. It’s fun! And actually interesting! And, on a personal level, as someone who’s so accident-prone that I sometimes feel suspiciously like a tragic best friend in a chick flick, it’s nice to know that, despite the fact that I often miss my office chair when I try to sit on it and nearly always have a stain down my top, stardom isn’t out of reach; that if I was just significantly more beautiful and much better at acting, I too could one day become a famous actor, despite my flaws; and that I too could get a deeply embarrassing standing ovation at the Oscars for tripping up the stairs.