Last week, Drew Barrymore took to Instagram to defend the reboot of her talk show amid a bitter writers’ strike, a move her critics said amounted to picket crossing.
Facing the camera, slightly off-center, in a room with so much wallpaper that not even the ceiling was spared, she asked her 17 million followers for their understanding. “I know there’s nothing I can do to make this okay for those it’s not okay with,” she said, a wall of macrame hanging behind her.
The home environment was familiar. It’s a staple of the celebrity apology video genre.
These videos look out of the blue — disheveled hair, faces without unusual makeup, strange lighting — but they’re probably chosen to evoke empathy, down to the cozy, intimate locations, every hint of a much more opulent environment outside the frame, according to public relations experts.
“They wanted to show authenticity and relatability,” said Molly McPherson, crisis communications strategist. “By offering them a glimpse into their private spaces, it not only shows a sense of vulnerability, but tries to establish trust.”
September was a particularly busy month for celebrity damage control. On September 9, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis posted an apology video on Instagram. Dressed in crumpled T-shirts and against a weathered wooden wall, they explained why they wrote the signature letters in support of their friend and former ’70s Show co-star Danny Masterson, who was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison for raping two women.
And on the same day Ms Barrymore posted her video, comedian and actor Russell Brand took to his YouTube channel to challenge a pre-emptive news investigation into allegations he sexually assaulted several women by appearing in a room , which he’s used for his other videos with a set that’s a cross between a HomeGoods showroom and a Zoom virtual backdrop.
“It’s supposed to be fake authentic,” said Seema Rao, an art historian who has analyzed celebrity apology videos on her TikTok account, of Mr. Brand’s chosen location. “Maybe he really splurged and went global.”
Instead of finding sympathy, the stars turned out to be TikTok fodder. On September 15, Mr. Kutcher resigned as chairman of Thorn, the organization he co-founded to combat child sexual abuse. A few hours after posting her video, Ms Barrymore took it down. By Sunday, she had reversed her decision to resume her show. And on Tuesday, YouTube banned Mr. Brand, whose channel has 6.6 million followers, from monetizing his site.
Ms. Barrymore declined to comment through a spokeswoman. 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 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 to 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 this video on Instagram a day before the apology video.
Ms Barrymore’s stars and stripes wallpaper took off on TikTok when the actress, who sells a line of peel-and-stick wallpaper at Walmart, posted a video of herself cleaning up her messy bedroom. So why wouldn’t it work this time? “I think she thought we were going to look at the macramé on the back wall and the striped wallpaper and relate to her as if she were one of the girls,” Ms. Rao said.
Mr. Kutcher and Ms. Kunis may have made a similar calculation by choosing a rural backdrop. “They were definitely looking for something that didn’t look expensive,” Ms. Rao said. Instead, it “looked like ‘American Gothic’.”
The Kunis-Kutcher weathered wall has made the rounds before. The couple stood before him in 2022, singing “Imagine All People” in an episode of The Boys that poked fun at the widely criticized “Imagine” video actress Gal Gadot made to lift spirits at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
This time, however, they were the taunts. Many astute viewers on social media noted what was not visible: The wall is the exterior of a poolside guest house on the six-acre estate the couple calls KuKu Farms. It’s there for all to see in Architectural Digest’s stunning 2021 issue.