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This year’s Met Gala shows how the celebrity pecking order has changed

After a two-year hiatus, the Met Gala has officially returned. The event is typically held at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on the first Monday in May, though it was postponed to second Monday night in September because of Covid concerns. Those included on the exclusive celebrity guest list, presided over by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, turn out in over-the-top thematic fashion statements to raise money for the museum’s Costume Institute.

The names and attire of those in attendance are always the focus of attendance, and this year’s gala has stayed true to form. What has been different, however, is the type of celebrities who made the cut — and the backlash they’ve triggered.

All of the co-hosts at this year’s event are Gen Z for the first time in the gala’s history: pop star Billie Eilish, actor Timothée Chalamet, tennis player Naomi Osaka and poet Amanda Gorman. While this generational shake-up was widely welcomed, as the cohosts are all respected in their fields, some of the other Gen Z invitees were greeted with scorn. Particularly the social media influencers whose names cropped up along with the traditional A-List movie stars and musicians rumored to be guests on video app TikTok. (Tradition has it that no one’s attendance is confirmed ahead of the big event.)

The critics questioned whether the invitations to influencers like Addison Rae, who gained prominence through dancing and reality TV appearances, deserved a spot given the perception that she and others like her have created bland and borrowed content to gain success. One viral tweet imagined a conversation for when perennial gala guest Lady Gaga runs into Rae at the event. “Waitress can you get me champagne?” Gaga asks. Rae responds, ”I’m Addison Rae.” To which Gaga says, “Okay Addison Rae get me some champagne.” But Rae shook off the hate, tweeting back, “I would do anything for you @ladygaga.”

Her witty response shows that Rae can roll with the best of them and is a sign she has earned her seat at the gala table. But more importantly, she is emblematic of how new forms of celebrity wield enormous amounts of influence over their respective generations and should be respected and honored for that.

Rae has a following of 84.3 million people on TikTok alone, which helped catapult her into a starring role in the Netflix reboot of “He’s All That” that came out in August. Another guest, YouTuber Emma Chamberlain, is a 20-year-old known for her unique jumpcut editing style that earned her a business partnership with Louis Vuitton for a sneaker campaign in July. The deal proves Chamberlain is working hard for a spot in the fashion spotlight — some of the actors in attendance, in contrast, might not have worked in years.

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The pushback at incorporating viral influencers into the big night seems to stem from people, particularly noncelebrities, worrying about the deterioration of the Met Gala’s glamour and exclusivity. Having social media stars like Rae and Chamberlain sitting next to Beyoncé, as purported versions of the seating chart circulating before the event did, can make it seem like everyone’s been taken down a peg.

But inviting stars that are more versed in internet culture elevates the event in the eyes of a younger crowd now drawn to the fanfare of the Met Gala. Talking about the event across social media platforms, they have translated its legacy for the internet age instead of shutting an entire generation out by inviting celebrities they don’t know or care about.

At the same time, the potential invitees also continue a stereotype about current youth culture that isn’t helpful: that Gen Z’s success is purely online. That idea can invalidate young creators as lazy and incapable of a “real” career path — perhaps part of why those invited to the gala are being looked down on for it.

The invitations also send the message that only white influencers are welcome. While the gala theme this year, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” strives to represent the inclusiveness of American fashion, it was not lost on people that the internet stars getting buzz before the event were white viral content creators.

Wintour owned up to some past mistakes on this front in an email last year, according to reporting in The New York Times. “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes,” she wrote.

Although Vogue is a different entity from the Met Gala, Wintour is still the public face of both. The invitation list is telling for which young personalities are perceived as powerful enough to sit alongside older generations of stars at one of the world’s most prestigious fashion events. At the same time, older generations need to be respectful as the Met Gala — which began back in 1948 — adapts to the changing times. It is up to all of us to grow with the gala.

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