This interview completely floored me. And not because I really care to read a couple thousand words about Rihanna. In fact, it’s the most amazing interview with Rihanna precisely because it’s not about Rihanna. Which, when you think about it, would be a hard thing to do if you were actually interviewing the actual Rihanna.
OK, let me back up and try again. This interview of Rihanna was conducted by a performance artist, actor and author named Miranda July. It appears in T, which is a style magazine produced by The New York Times.
I mention it here because I think it utilizes a technique that modern journalists have eschewed for more boring blogging or other forms of normal narcissism. It used to be called New Journalism, when dinosaurs like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson walked the earth like they owned it.
But wait, you say. Weren’t those guys – and Miranda here – just as narcissistic as anything you find on the Internet today? Yes. And no. …
The difference between writing about me, me, me and what July has done here is that she found a way of including herself in a story that tells us something about all of us. She suggests what happens when regular people are confronted by celebrity. She takes us on a ride through celebrity-soaked L.A. She gets a star that we know talking about things we don’t know.
I can’t stop thinking about it. And that doesn’t happen too often after I read a magazine piece.
So how do you do that?
- The cab driver is key. He sets the stage and shows us that this star we are about to meet is an international sensation. He is a juxtaposition to the tony Malibu restaurant.
- The video is compelling. The video that shows more from the photo shoot is really art. And the short video of July and her Play-Doh is … is … awesome. Just watch it. It accompanies the story.
- The writing just works. It begins with the cabbie and ends with him too. This wasn’t thrown together. July knows what she is doing with the written form. It’s a classic writing device with a kicker.
The next time you have someone interesting to interview – a single-source profile – think about how you might make it different. Think about how to make a reader think about it. July showed us the way.