Drake is the ultimate pop star. The price of his mattress is news and so is his supposed “Hogwarts house”. So on the 26th of November 2018, when UK Instagram account The Shade Borough posted an image of Drake looking dreamily into Stefflon Don’s eyes while at dinner, it made headlines. Within minutes, news sites from Metro to Perez Hilton and Hollywood Live had cited The Shade Borough in their reportage of the flirting celebs.
This was the moment which solidified the page as a credible celebrity gossip news source, following in the footsteps of US site The Shade Room, which also has over 20 million followers on Instagram. UK versions of pages like these – The Shade Borough, IMJUSTBAIT and UK Gossip TV – now dominate many of our feeds. They follow a similar sort of formula: funny memes, videos and recycled tweets relating to celebs, with a focus on Black British culture. These pages have become a one-stop-shop for young Brits wanting to keep up to date with their favourite vloggers, influencers and music artists.
The Shade Borough started in 2016 as something casual; a page collecting trending gossip relevant to a young Black British audience. But soon the founders saw an opportunity to establish something bigger, more like a media company. Speaking over the phone, three members of the team – who asked to remain anonymous – explain the page’s origins: “We took a step back and thought maybe we actually had something going here, maybe this is actually something missing from the media industry and there is a gap to be filled bringing UK urban culture into the mainstream.”
“We realised we were making a difference when we started seeing popular people like Naomi Campbell, influencers and artists like Krept and Konan following our page and started being published in Sky News, The Shade Room and Cosmopolitan,” they say, admitting, “our platform is like The Shade Room, but we wanted something that was more British and urban.”
The platform has grown exponentially in recent months – The Shade Borough just passed 500,000 followers. “Over the last year, celebrities are embracing blogs like ours because they’re realising it’s the best way to promote themselves and stay relevant in people’s minds,” they add.
To understand where pages like this exist in pop culture today, we need to first rewind a little. The 90s and 00s were defined by celebs getting mobbed by paparazzi; camera flashes of pop stars and public figures that ended up on the glossy pages of gossip mags like Heat, Star, Reveal and Look.
By the 10s, everyone had camera phones and everyone had Instagram. This had an immediate knock-on effect. As culture writer Anne Helen Petersen explained in Buzzfeed News in 2019: “Celebrities simply became their own paparazzi, posting all manner of details and footage of their daily lives on social media and effectively put real paparazzi out of business.”
Once pics could be posted in real time, traditional gossip mags simply weren’t immediate enough. “We are in the era of news served raw,” Jeff Jarvis, a lecturer and journalist told The Guardian back in 2012. “Witnesses to any event can now capture and share what they see not just with acquaintances but with the world, and without the filter and delay of news media.”
In other words, it wasn’t just the celebs themselves who could post the minutiae of their lives, but anyone surrounding the celebs, which could then be shared by anyone interested in the space of minutes. Enter Instagram gossip pages, where some of this info could be collated in fun, light and humorous ways.
In 2020, when traditional news is full of doom and gloom, the appeal of gossip pages has only amped up. “I get my information from The Shade Borough, UKGOSSIPTV and IMJUSTBAIT because I feel like the news is very depressing,” Renee, a 17 year-old college student, tells me.
“Same!” Rachel, another 17-year-old student chimes in on our group chat. “I never check BBC News. Instagram news is better for younger viewers like us – it is simple and straightforward to understand. They also post news that the BBC don’t cover, the stuff that is more interesting to us.”
This viewpoint is echoed among others their age. A 2019 entertainment survey conducted by youth research and insights organisation YPulse found that 51 percent of 13 to 37 year-olds say they go to social media feeds when they want to get the latest and celebrity news. And though many magazines are still circulating, their numbers are dwindling. OK! Magazine for instance, which used to dominate gossip mag shelves, has seen readership fall by 80 percent.
But the appeal of gossip pages such as The Shade Borough and IMJUSTBAIT isn’t just a case of ease and immediacy. A lot of young Black Brits didn’t see themselves represented in traditional gossip mags anyway. When the mainstream media failed to recognise the overwhelming influence of Black creators, Instagram pages welcomed them with open arms. You won’t find news about Oloni’s new OnlyFans account, the latest update on YouTuber Lani Love’s drama with Tion Wayne or the new Section Boyz mixtape in Heat or OK!.
The impact of these platforms are so substantial that they now are a part of PR strategies. “We've had [gossip pages] at a couple of red carpet events because we just felt like it is so important to have a platform that really embodies the bad and good of young Black British culture,” Ruby-Jade Aryiku, the co-founder of social marketing agency VAMP UK, tells me over the phone.
For PRs and writers, these pages can be essential. As Complex UK music writer Minou Itseli explains: “They’re on the ball when it comes to music news, they will have behind the scenes posts about upcoming music videos and you also just see your favourite rappers in the comments section as well.”
Even within the British landscape of gossip pages, there are strong variations. “I feel like The Shade Borough seems to be more engaged with important conversations around race more recently, rather than constantly posting petty nonsense that BKChat London are doing,” Kamariah, a Birmingham-based makeup artist, tells me. “I've become very engaged recently because of their posts about Black Lives Matter movement.”
This doesn’t mean they always get it right: gossip pages often still fall into the same traps as traditional mags, sharing incriminating stories of people’s most vulnerable moments and putting them up for discussion. Unlike mags, however, the celebs themselves can actually reply on these pages. Funny comments can amass thousands of likes within hours, with many celebs jumping in to defend themselves against slander or take part in the jokes.
Still, things can turn ugly quickly. “We post to be neutral and let people voice their own opinion,” The Shade Borough team tells me. “We do put certain things into consideration but there are also things we can’t control. We do try to filter stuff as much as possible, but if we get 70,000 comments how do we scroll down to delete? You’d be surprised at the amount of stuff we get sent that we can’t post. It’s a community in The Shade Borough; we all have a say and we have a group chat to approve content.”
Gossip pages will thrive for as long as people love gossip and being online. And with The Shade Borough having now amassed half a million followers, it feels like these pages are slowly replacing the glossy celeb mags that dominated for decades prior.
It can feel refreshing to have a space for young Black Brits to engage in content that speaks directly to them. That said, it’s hard to say whether gossip pages in general are a “good thing.” Sure, they can be instrumental in launching careers. But as with the celeb mags of before, they also have the capacity to ruin them.