When it comes to the Met Gala, the commentary has always been one of the most anticipated parts of the night, from Darth Maul memes about Sarah Jessica Parker’s 2015 headpiece to the standalone hilarity of Karlie Kloss’ now-iconic “looking camp right in the eye” tweet to endless dunks on any of the Kardashian-Jenner clan’s bizarre outfits. But have the jokes begun to overtake the fashion, the very purpose of the night itself?
The Met Gala has been the event of the year for the rich and famous, especially since the introduction of themes in 1973. (Because who doesn’t love a costume party? Stars, they’re just like us!) The gala was first held in 1948 as a run-of-the-mill fundraising event to benefit the Met’s Costume Institute. While it was always a space for New York’s elite to rub elbows, it wasn’t until almost 25 years later that the gala began to take shape as the hyper-glam affair we’ve come to know. It’s since turned into a star-studded soirée dubbed “the Super Bowl of fashion,” and for good reason. Each year, culture’s hottest figures step out in glamorous on-theme (or off-theme, if they’re striving for the bare minimum) getups to walk the famed Met Gala stairs, while everyone else gets to LARP as Tim Gunn for a night as the looks are unveiled.
While the goal has remained the same — the 2022 gala raised a record-breaking $17.4 million for the Costume Institute — the vibe is… different, to say the least. What began as a night of reverent appreciation for fashion as an art form has seemingly morphed into a contest of who can out-weird each other for the sake of the internet. And when stars seem to be dressing for the jokes and the red carpet pics are just fodder for quote tweets, the Met Gala starts to feel more like a comedy show than “fashion’s biggest night.” That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, because it’s not. Who could ever complain about Doja Cat meowing her way through a red carpet interview? Still, it’s a democratizing shift in the tone of an event that’s historically been considered a serious pillar of high culture.
As with any high-profile event, attendees outfits’ were always privy to jokes from gossip blogs and fashion magazines. Social media, however, is a very different creature now than it was in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Meme accounts have now inched ahead of cover-star supermodels and Instagram’s once endemic aspirational darlings. The sheer amount of content posted to Instagram and TikTok reaches new highs daily. In turn, the battle for celebrities to do — or in the case of celebrities at the Met Gala, wear — something that goes viral is paramount to the art they’re meant to appreciate, especially when their livelihoods rely on relevance over talent.
Think back to Kim K’s floral maternity dress at the 2013 “Punk: Chaos to Couture” Met Gala, her very first Met Gala invitation as a guest of Kanye West. The Riccardo Risci look, crowned by the internet as the “couch dress,” was one of the first to set Twitter aflame, inspiring hundreds of jokes across the web. Honestly, I feel for the poor girl. It was her first Met Gala and she was so pregnant at the time that North could’ve made her own red carpet debut that night. But it’s important to consider the ripple effects, like the fact that the Met Gala was part of the social conversation for longer, or that Kardashian has secured an invitation to the event every year after that — a signal that even the gala and Vogue could afford to sacrifice the event’s ethos at least a little bit if it meant staying relevant on the internet.
Social media’s slippery slope has proved unrelenting, and in turn, the gala has strayed further and further from its historic, albeit insufferable (at times), roots. For example, nothing launched the Met Gala squarely into the arena of social media discourse like the Solange and Jay Z elevator fight. For better or for worse, few people beyond the fashion obsessed are likely to recall any of the looks themselves from the 2014 event, but odds are, they remember the elevator footage.
The 2015 Met Gala was arguably the unofficial inauguration of the event as a joke goldmine and meme generator. Internet culture was solidifying into a more “respected” phenomenon, and memes were a key part of that. Knowing this, all eyes were on the Met Gala, and thumbs were ready to pounce. Once someone photoshopped pizza toppings onto Rihanna’s yellow Guo Pei gown, we were off to the races. The singer’s gown opened up the event as fertile joke terrain and marked a shift in the gala’s subsequent coverage; the memes were a part of the event now, as worthy of attention as any designer gown.
And that brings us to last night’s Met Gala. Was everyone appreciating Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy in fashion and admiring the gorgeous outfits? That’s debatable. But what generated the most buzz and ignited the most conversation were the hilarious clips and tweets poking fun at weird magician Pete Davidson or “yassified tin man” Lil Nas X’s glitter-covered butt and more celebrities who chose the shock factor over anything else. It’s not just the hoi polloi, though; publications like Harper’s Bazaar, W Magazine and even Vogue were all quick to post their best meme roundups for the event. Forbes’ most comprehensive coverage was about the cockroach on the red carpet (who slayed, if we’re being honest). The hottest outfit of the night that no one can stop talking about isn’t a vintage Chanel gown or custom Valentino — it’s Jared Leto’s Choupette costume. Posting Jason Derulo falling down the stairs is now a beloved Met Gala tradition, and the best arrivals are the ones that never happened.
The flood of content on Instagram, TikTok, and more — and the current-events shitstorm from which everyone is craving reprieve in meme form — is stronger than all of us, even Anna Wintour, Vogue, and the fashion industry at large. So sorry, Anna. The biggest comedy event of the year isn’t John Mulaney’s Netflix special premiere or a comedy festival. It’s the
Meme Met Gala.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.