Celebrities Falling Is the Best Genre of Viral Video

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

The thing about objects on pedestals is that they’re far more interesting when they’re toppling down. What’s more exciting: staring at a statue on display at a museum, or being there the moment someone accidentally knocks it over, shattering it and making global news? I’m just saying: I would be thrilled to one day go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa. But I’m gonna be a helluva lot more excited if, when I’m there, I spot out of the corner of my eye some granola-looking people with cans of soup in their pockets.

I’m not, of course, promoting vandalism or rooting for the destruction of art. Just as I’m not, as will hopefully become clear, rooting for the injury of famous people. But I do think that celebrities falling down is the greatest genre of viral video. That so many people have camera phones now to capture the (harm-free only!) carnage is one of the only great things to come from today’s “film every goddamn thing” culture.

I was reminded of my love for this canon this week when footage went viral of one of Madonna’s dancers dropping the chair that was carrying Madonna, sending Madge crashing to the ground. Specifically, I was reminded of this love when I watched this particular video roughly 87 times.

On Monday night, Madonna was performing a concert in Seattle when, during “Open Your Heart,” her dancer tipped back a chair she was sitting on and dragged it across stage, with her in it, as part of the choreography. The chair, unfortunately, slipped out of the dancer’s hand, plummeting to the ground—and taking the icon with it. Madonna quickly made it clear she was OK, laughing it off and shaking her head in good-natured disbelief to several other dancers.

Her reaction is a huge piece of why I find these videos to be so rewarding. Even at live events like concerts, the entire act of being a celebrity is the performance of polish and perfection. It’s to the point now where, at some major concerts, “Hello, [insert city name here]!” is the only moment that differs from night to night.

But it turns out that having your life flash in front of your eyes is a humanizing moment. The guard is let down. Authenticity comes out. Something new from the pre-programmed, manicured plan emerges. These are astonishing moments because there is so much effort put into ensuring every celebrity moment—be it a red carpet appearance or musical performance—goes off flawlessly. When there is a mistake, it’s shocking.

That, and these are the rich, famous, and glamorous—there’s a bit of ghoulish delight in the schadenfreude of seeing them fall down.

Last week at a concert in Tokyo, Taylor Swift wobbled. She didn’t fall. But she almost did!

“I almost fell off the Folklore cabin, but I didn’t, and that’s the lesson,” she told the crowd. “My life flashed before my eyes. It’s all good, everything’s fine, everything’s great. I’m just so happy that I didn’t fall off the Folklore cabin—you know what I mean.”

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Two days before, she almost fell off a chair. Swift was very charming in response to both of these close calls. But close calls aren’t cutting it. You’re edging me, Taylor! I need to see celebs fully eat dirt!

Madonna has been historically generous in this regard. Before this week’s chairpocalypse, she starred in what ranks among the most viewed “Ah! That Celebrity Just Fell!” videos of all time. This one only qualifies for this innocent, fun genre because we know that Madonna didn’t get seriously hurt; otherwise the drama and the violence of the incident would be too upsetting to include.

At the 2015 BRIT Awards, Madonna’s matador-themed performance was interrupted by audience gasps when her dramatically long cape, which was supposed to tear away when yanked by dancers, got stuck. Instead of flying off, it clung around her neck, sending Madonna careening backwards off a platform and down a flight of stairs. The sheer distance she traveled was almost cartoonish. It’s mesmerizing. I watched it seven more times (adding to my tally of hundreds over the years) while writing this paragraph.

But is that the most famous falling clip?

Every person has film or television moments that are formative, that change how they look at the medium, the world, and even themselves. For me, it’s the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz, Ryan Phillippe’s butt in Cruel Intentions, and Michelle Williams falling during a Destiny’s Child performance on BET in 2004, while Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland don’t even deign to glance at her and keep dancing like nothing ever happened.

This Destiny’s Child clip is foundational to me. Falling is inherently funny—the whole “slipping on a banana peel” thing is one comedy’s classic bits—but there is something so dark about two of Destiny’s Children completely ignoring their prone sibling that strips the moment of all humor and transforms it into a psychological study. I have thought about this video incessantly over the years. It is my Roman Empire.

(When Beyoncé teetered for milliseconds, on the verge of a mishap, during the 2016 Halftime Show, I imagined Williams dressed all in a black in a dark tunnel off the field, cackling to herself with a can of grease in her hand.)

What are some other famous examples? Jennifer Lawrence tripping up the staircase on the way to accept her Oscar in 2013 became such a sensation that our cynicism-poisoned brains began conspiracy theorizing that it was staged to make Lawrence seem more endearing. Katy Perry swan-diving into a giant cake and then slipping on the icing trying to leave the stage is a classic. Jennifer Lopez ass-planted during a 2009 American Music Awards performance of “Louboutins,” but played it off flawlessly. Nick Jonas falling in a hole on stage earlier this year had delightful Mr. Magoo vibes. (Because he’s OK!)

There’s a treasure trove of these, folks. The internet has entire listicles dedicated to them. (Bless those curators.)

The genre has subsets, too. If you catch me staring at my phone, wheezing with silent laughter, it is likely because I have just watched a TikTok of a model falling on the runway during Fashion Week.

On America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks used to, like, put models in eight-inch stilettos made out of toothpicks and have them walk down vibrating runways suspended 10 feet in the air while firehoses blasted at them, and then would act aghast if they ever stumbled. But genius-menace that she was, Tyra knew what she was doing. Each time a model fell, I’d hoot, holler, and wail, like I was drunk at a cage fighting match and not a teenager seven hours deep into a Top Model marathon on the basement couch. Models falling! Models!

(While fictional, Carrie Bradshaw becoming “fashion roadkill” while walking a runway on Sex and the City is a chef’s kiss version of this.)

I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these falling videos. What are your favorites that I’m missing? Email them to me. Send them to me on social media. Times are tough. I need some lightness in my life. I need to see famous people eat shit.

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