In late March, actress and singer Jessica Lowndes made headlines by claiming to be in a relationshipwith the much older Jon Lovitz, only to reveal that the affair had been a stunt to promote a music video. If that story leaves you wondering why you should care, or even who Jessica Lowndes is, you’re not alone. But you’re also probably not listening to the terrific podcast Who? Weekly, which discussed the early inklings of the affair in a recent episode.
Who? Weekly, hosted by Jezebel’s Bobby Finger and former Vulture staffer and current MEL deputy editor Lindsey Weber, focuses on a peculiar species of D-listers, one that the show refers to simply aswhos.* Their opposites, in Weber and Finger’s lexicon, are the thems—the Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolies of the world—those we simply know. Whos, meanwhile, are the personalities Us and People use to fill up all the pages they can’t stick with thems, figures, as Finger puts it, whose faces you recognize “even if you can’t call up their résumés.” Who? Weekly features stories of Julianne Hough and Eva Amurri, Sage the Gemini and Jordin Sparks, stories that are ridiculous primarily because we treat them as stories.
For all that, it can be hard to pin down the essential features of a true who. When they began their podcast, which was spun out of a delightful but infrequent newsletter, Weber and Finger sometimes suggested that the mere desire to be a them defines a who. But Weber and Finger’s understanding of the term they invented has grown broader over the course of their 12 episodes. Today, they rightly acknowledge that whos are ad hoc creations, products of individual experiences and communal curiosities rather than of some objective fame quotient—such that your whos are probably different from mine.
For Weber and Finger, however, one constant has remained. They end each episode by asking after Rita Ora, a British singer who makes regular appearances in the tabloids. “The thing about a Who is that they’re truly unrecognizable,” Weber said. Famous as Ora is abroad, she remains mostly anonymous in the United States. (You know her best as the singer about whom, when she appeared on the Oscars in 2015, you said, “Who?”) Finger suggested that it’s this disparity that makes her so charming. “She’s a perfect who for us because she’s famous on another continent and she wants to be famous here. She’s got a thirst, a taste for it … and I think it’s because she’s been so close to being famous for so long,” he explained.
Who? Weekly’s fascination with Ora captures something essential about the show: It’s not merely celebrity criticism, it’s media criticism. It’s not mocking its who-lebrities so much as it is the culture that feeds them to us. (On Jezebel, Finger sometimes posts inscrutable celebrity coverage that doesn’t even name the whos about whom he is writing.) “We are so happy that whos exist. We have no hard feelings against any whos,” Finger told me. This commitment lends the proceedings a genial, self-aware quality that keeps it from ever devolving into mean-spirited sniping.
To some extent, this is possible because whos—in Weber and Finger’s understanding of the term—are “painfully inoffensive,” more interested in conveying the mere fact of their presence than in doing anything to warrant our attention. And because they’re just sort of around, we sometimes get to know who-lebrities much better than we do their more famous counterparts. “George Clooney won’t get coverage of him going grocery shopping, like a photo of him buying Tropicana. That’s only something that a who will get coverage for,” Finger told me.
There’s nothing especially memorable about the things whos do and therefore nothing especially memorable about the whos themselves. When I asked the hosts about what they thought Rita Ora might be up to the coming week, Weber guessed that she had worn “pants, not just normal pants, but crazy pants … to a bar in West Hollywood.” This turned out to be close to the truth, insofar as Ora somehow made news for going to a restaurant while wearing clothes, something most of us manage to do without causing a fuss.
Podcasting may be the ideal platform for Weber and Finger’s explorations of the intimate resonances of the whoniverse, if only because the medium conveys a similar feeling of careless familiarity so well. This may be even truer for Who? Weekly than it is for many other podcasts. Who? feels smart and funbecause it’s sometimes messy, not in spite of its messiness. Much as the whos they discuss have, in Finger’s phrase, “the luxury of being more real” than thems, the relatively low stakes of podcasting set Weber and Finger free, allowing them the space to play. As with all the best chatty podcasts, you have the feeling that you’re listening in on a conversation between two of your friends, party to their unfeigned delight in their subject matter and one another. If they’re intimate with their whos, we get the chance to cozy up with them.
In other words, Who? Weekly works in part because Weber and Finger never seem to be working that hard. They suggest that they’d like to clean up their act as they move ahead: They once got a complaint about audio quality from an iTunes reviewer, and Finger claims he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since. (“It was probably from Bella Thorne’s aunt or something,” Weber jokes.) It’s possible that the series will lose some of its intimate grain if they succeed. Indeed, as the show’s official Twitter account recently joked, they may already be on their way to becoming podcast thems. But so long as Weber and Finger remain charmed by their charmless who-lebrities, their podcast will remain appointment listening.
*Update, April 15, 2016: This post has been updated to add Weber’s current title.