Brow Beat

Us Weekly’s “25 Things” May Be the Best Magazine Feature in All of Media

“25 Things” is a triumph in celebrity journalism.

US Weekly

Rand Paul loves Twilight Zone reruns, composting, and a country duo called “Sundy Best” [sic]. His Thanksgiving turkey recipe involves covering the bird in cheesecloth and then basting it in Madeira wine and butter. His parents didn’t enforce a curfew when he was growing up because “they believed excessive rules can have unintended consequences.”

These are just 20 percent of the facts Paul revealed this week to Us Weekly as part of its ongoing series “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me.” The feature, which first appeared months after a similar Facebook craze for lists of “25 random things” took off in 2009, is exactly what it sounds like. “25 Things” should be polished and anodyne: It’s a glossy tabloid feature written by stars themselves (or at least written by assistants and approved by stars). In reality, it is often gloriously weird. And overall, it is one of the best magazine features around.

A few celebrity facts from “25 Things” over the years:

Bill Maher jumps on a trampoline every day, loves fireproof fire cabinets, and has listened to all 5,000 songs in his iPod in alphabetical order twice.

Meghan McCain loves taxidermy.

Darius Rucker was inspired to go to the University of South Carolina by Erma Bombeck.

Gavin Rossdale calls Christopher Hitchens “my guide.”

Felicity Huffman once thought Miami was a state, and doesn’t know how to read a map.

Blake Shelton often finds himself wondering, “What kind of tree is that?”

Certain categories recur, including favorite drinks, fragrances, charities, and sports teams. Recently, Game of Thrones fandom has become a running theme. But after blowing through those, subjects start reaching for strange memories, regrets, predilections, and aspirations, possibly out of sheer desperation. (25 things is a lot of things!) Credit should also presumably go to the unknown editors who push for the good stuff.

Of course, some “25 Things” subjects don’t seem to need a lot of pushing. Take Cher’s 2013 entry, a masterpiece of the form. These are just the first three entries:

1. Stephen Hawking invited me to lunch one day, and we got into a heated discussion with his students about history vs. math. Stephen said, “Cher, when time travel is perfected, history will be obsolete.”

2. Meryl Streep and I saved a girl from a large mugger in New York City.

3. The day I moved out of my home in Holmby Hills, I found a room I never knew existed.

Even famous people who, like recent Bachelor Chris “Prince Farming” Soules, seem a dull as an Iowa cornfield in February, can become a bit more interesting when they submit to “25 Things.” Soules named his childhood Barbie (!) doll Shaulin! (He’s also a Chicago Bears fan, zzzzz.) Swedish DJ Avicii is 24 but feels 35. (What does that mean?) Joey Lawrence is fluent in Latin. (Really?!) And politicians like Paul, the ultimate on-topic automatons, use the space to get mildly personal, if always in the most self-flattering way. In his admittedly blah 2012 entry, President Obama said he’s never missed a parent-teacher conference. Aww.

The real magic of the feature is that few entries are longer than a sentence, so the subjects have no chance to explain themselves. Why does Mike Tyson like reading about the Hellenstic period, and in what form does he consume a pound of blueberries a day? Why did Donnie Wahlberg think it was a good idea to personally pierce his 16-year-old son’s ears? We’ll probably never get the answers. In a time in which it’s easy to imagine we already know everything about the lives of the rich and famous, there’s something magical about that.