Covering “everything you need to know about the celebrities you don’t”, Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger’s podcast Who? Weekly demystifies the evolution of celebrity, the nature of fame and contemporary fandom – here, they tell AnOther all about it
“I couldn’t think of anywhere else to come talk about this,” reads a post in the 17k member-strong Facebook group for Who? Weekly, the podcast covering “everything you need to know about the celebrities you don’t”. “This” refers to early 00s musician Ryan Cabrera’s engagement announcement to Alexa Bliss, a professional wrestler. In the Who? Weekly universe, Cabrera and Bliss are considered ‘Whos’, D-list celebrities with limited name recognition beyond their niche fandom, for whom no income stream is off limits and all press is good press. The news of the couple’s engagement made Bliss a marquee subject on this week’s episode.
Who? Weekly delivers insightful and hilarious critique of small-time celebrities and the gossip media that report on them. “Our thesis when we started still holds true, if not more,” says Lindsey Weber, a freelance writer who launched the podcast with her close friend, fellow writer and co-host Bobby Finger. “When we started, we were like, ‘Wow, celebrity culture is splintered. There are too many [celebrities]. How do you keep track? Who are all these people?’” With the show nearing its fifth anniversary and 500 episodes in January, Finger and Weber record four episodes per week between the main podcast and the Patreon, which they edit themselves and release independently.
Finger and Weber are intrepid journalists, demystifying the evolution of celebrity, the nature of fame and contemporary fandom. “We take this stuff seriously, but we treat it seriously so that other people can treat it not seriously,” says Weber. The podcast fills the void left by gossip blogs like D-Listed and Oh No They Didn’t: “As tabloids dwindle and there aren’t that many celebrity gossip websites, or big ones at least, you lose some of the commentary,” says Weber. “So, I think people seek out things like us and we seek out things like us, so we kind of created our own.”
Today’s fragmented media environment has given rise to an equally fractured celebrity culture. People become famous on different platforms attracting different audiences. In turn, these nebulous origins of fame also spawn niche fandoms in a vacuum: Your Whos may not be my Whos, but both can amass loyal fanbases that never intersect with each other or the broader culture. When an ex-reality star launches a podcast, for example, “it’s like one of those things where it further creates these bubbles of fandom, where if you’re a fan of something, you can just engage in all of that content, and then never actually see within the context of how much that thing is actually relevant,” says Weber. Finger puts it more succinctly: “If you build it, they will come.”
The show’s tone is lighthearted, fun and delightfully snarky – never cruel or mocking. And Weber and Finger are quick to note that being a Who is not a value judgement. Rather, it’s a classification of celebrities based on name recognition. They refer to A-listers – the Beyoncés, Brad Pitts and Prince Harrys of the world – as ‘Thems’, celebrities that don’t prompt a Wikipedia search. While Thems are certainly more famous than Whos, they’re simply less fun to talk about by virtue of the fact that they’re not being photographed regularly “cutting a cool figure in an edgy ensemble” on grocery runs, in Daily Mail parlance.
Finger and Weber’s incisive cultural commentary has also earned the podcast a cult following of Wholigans, a group of culture obsessives and media insiders who understand the absurdity of contemporary celebrity and the culture surrounding it. In July, when news broke of Jada Pinkett Smith’s affair with singer August Alsina, Who? Weekly helped cut through the noise. “It’s like, ‘Who is this considerably less famous person who's all over my phone and all over every website that I look at?’” says Finger. “People are constantly inundated with news these days, and I think you’re just more likely than not going to encounter a name that you’ve never heard of.” After initially denying the claims, Pinkett Smith was forced to cop to the affair with Alsina on her own talk show, Red Table Talk. “I don’t know that the general public understands the delicious irony in that, and there’s a group of people who do, people that can understand how deep down silly these things are when you get to the bottom of it.”
For Wholigans, the podcast has carved out a treasured space to share the latest celebrity news, gossip and the results of internet deep dives. When Grimes and Elon Musk announced their baby name, Æ A-12, the podcast received more calls than they had about any other story. “It was just a perfect storm of this tech movie villain combined with the ultimate cool girl,” says Finger. “You expect the Who to name their baby something weird, but you don’t expect it to just be a keyboard smash.”
Whos are hard to define, but easy to identify. In other words, you know one when you see one. Broadly, Thems like Rihanna, Justin Bieber or Reese Witherspoon tend to establish themselves as a brand first before extending it, meaning they build an empire based on their widespread recognition as actors or artists first. Whos, however, are famous for doing everything, not one thing. For Who? Weekly, Rita Ora is the prototypical Who, a celebrity whose notoriety is built from a patchwork of projects including singing, acting, television hosting and design collaborations, whose image requires constant (and shameless) self-promotion. By Finger and Weber’s account, Ora, who has a dedicated weekly segment called What’s Rita Up To?, has gone nearly two weeks press-free since they launched the podcast. “We picked the right horse,” says Weber of Ora, lovingly. “She’s spent five years proving us right; we chose the winner. She is still making headlines, without a doubt.”
Historically, celebrities have constituted a rarefied group of people with tightly controlled public images and personas. Today, however, the pool of A-Listers is shrinking as fame becomes democratised. True to the Warholian notion of fame, anyone can be famous, and everyone is. Luckily, Who? Weekly can tell us who they are. “It’s hard to create these overarching definitions of what is a celebrity and who is one,” says Weber. “But for our purposes, there are so many of them that we’ll never run out.”