Gigi Hadid’s original motive for moving to New York was slightly darker than to become the pre-eminent model of the moment: she arrived ready to pursue a degree in criminal psychology at the New School. Luckily for the many brands she now represents, Hadid put her studies on hiatus, and her stint analyzing the minds of criminals is now merely an anecdote that ripples through profiles and interviews several years later, buoyed by her love for chatting about crime shows. See Live with Kelly and Michael or this AdWeek cover story from 2015 or a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: Secrets Revealed clip. “[O]ne day I hope I can use my studies to be on Law & Order: S.V.U.,” Hadid told Harper’s Bazaar just this September.
Hadid isn’t the only star who readily admits to a gripping interest in crime and the shows that tell those stories. Gwyneth Paltrow, Mindy Kaling, and Kim Kardashian West have all spoken at length about their passion for the grimmer side of television programming. The current entertainment climate cultivates the obsession, in part. Try flipping through your channel guide right now without hitting some sort of JonBenét Ramsey content, 20 years after her death transfixed the American public for the first time. But also, true-crime programming’s golden age and celebrities’ personal-brand development go together like Matlock and hot dogs. When a celebrity is asked what he or she is watching during an interview, shows involving gruesome murders (either fictional or real) seem to be the go-to answer, and somehow, this macabre response makes the star in question more relatable.
Mindy Kaling caught the early wave of the most recent true-crime boom. She tried to explain her proclivity to Rolling Stone back in 2012. The writer/director/actress said, “I love true crime—I think a lot of writers are into the specificity of the details of grisly crimes. It’s so different from the world I know, which is a very comfortable, safe writer’s room.” She was offering context to a tweet that reads, “If I ever meet a murderer hiding in my house, I can say truthfully: ‘I’ve been expecting you.’ That will scare the hell out of him I bet.”
In a 2013 interview between Kaling, Roseanne Barr, and New York Times writer Philip Galanes, Kaling and Barr bonded over a shared love of watching horror tales that really happened:
Mindy Kaling: I love murder shows.
Philip Galanes: Like C.S.I.?
Roseanne Barr: No, I like true crime, the [Investigative Discover] channel. I’m a complete
ID addict. They’ve got a new show called Elder Skelter. It’s about
old grandmas that kill their families. And the one before that was
Wives with Knives. That was unbelievable.
MK: I also go to TruTV.com because I love reading about true crime.
There must be some connection between women in comedy and true crime.
MK: For me, it’s a little narcissistic. All I do is work, so I have
this narcissistic idea that somebody is thinking about me and wants to
Kaling’s escape from the an ordinary life exempt from gruesome tragedy is a relatable impulse, one the lucky among us can share. True crime has long captured the attention of millions and thus the attention of researchers interested in their brains. The joy of solving a whodunit is fairly universal, especially for women, who are reportedly the largest consumers of crime fiction and, as of last year, watch the Investigation Discovery channel, which is dedicated to true crime, the most.
An unfortunate test case for Kaling’s theory—that the allure of true crime is born out of distance from personal crime—has emerged in Kim Kardashian West. One week before the robbery in Paris, Kardashian West dedicated two tweets to CBS’s The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, [exclaiming], “This documentary is fascinating!” followed by the more concerned, “I hope this documentary gets this cold case solved or even reopened. I pray JonBenét gets justice.”
It isn’t a surprising fascination to anyone familiar with the Kardashian canon. Whenever an interviewer poses the question, “What would you do for a living if you weren’t famous?,” Kardashian West’s answer has always been—without fail or variation—a forensic investigator. She’s mentioned it in interviews a minimum of six times in the last three years, and it’s provided entire plotlines in the Kardashian television universe. Kardashian West has also said, “I’ve always been into the most morbid things. I was really nosey when my dad was working on the O.J. Simpson trial, and I would look through all his stuff, and I just wish I was in that field. It’s the only type of TV I really like to watch.” Lower down on the totem pole of the “What will Kim do now?” line of questioning in the wake of the robbery is whether or not her draw toward true crime will persist.
At a dinner in New York City this past summer, Gwyneth Paltrow listed a few of the shows she was watching at the time, like Marcella and The Night Of to VF.com, explaining, “I love a murder show. Murder. Murder’s my thing. I don’t know why! It’s so creepy.” Cindy Crawford’s daughter and up-and-coming model Kaia Gerber told The New York Times that her “plan B” would be to go into criminal psychology—just like Gigi. Comedian Julie Klausner told Yahoo that true crime is underrated and she’d like to be its champion. Law & Order is mentioned most often in Ina Garten’s Proust Questionnaire—most often after Jeffrey, of course.
These women appear to live glamorous or comedic lives, but they love to watch death and the solving of murders played out over an hour or so for fun. Paltrow is a lifestyle guru known for the incredible things she does with organic zoodles (zucchini noodles), not her occult hobbies. Kaling, whose audience expects her to make them laugh, unwinds to some dramatic retellings of unsolved murders. Kardashian West, who’s “famous for nothing” qualifier often gets extended to her personality, has always dreamed of analyzing blood types at crime scenes in another life. A celebrity saying, “I love murder shows,” lets them level with their fans with a wink.
The hilarity of the “Stars! They’re just like us!” magazine cliche is that of course they’re not just like us. We are not getting photographed buying seasonal gourds in the grocery store or what have you; stars are. Because the public gets limited access to its celebrities, especially access that’s not in service to some promotional end, any little breach goes much farther in telling us who they are. Their interest in these shows seems extraordinary, even if the answer might be pre-planned and calculated in some cases. When Paltrow says, “Murder. Murder is my thing,” she opens a window into her inner life and reveals that she, too, wrestles with the macabre. It’s at once edgy, humanizing, plugged-in, and morosely humorous—a quadfecta of desirable traits for someone famous. In an ironic twist, it seems that murder is the safest guilty pleasure to admit to right now.