For a time during the boom years, that rarest of celebrity species, the power couple, flocked to New York City. They were almost ostentatiously famous: Hillary and Bill Clinton. Brangelina. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. They were so famous that you never actually saw them—partly because of the cameras and lights and cars and heavy-duty bouncers, and partly because, despite the expensive real estate they occupied, they didn’t really live in New York. People that famous don’t really live anywhere.
By 2008, TMZ had established a bureau here, Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson and their phalanx of photographers were at Bar Pitti every other week, and Jennifer Aniston was talking about buying a place, probably to be closer to John Mayer. We were on a dark path, culturally, attracting the wrong kind of celebrities, en route to becoming like Los Angeles, with everyone shooting around in pneumatic black SUVs, snarling traffic on the FDR.
But then, miraculously, some kind of correction occurred. Whether the economic meltdown had anything to do with the exodus of world-famous megawatt celebrity couples is unclear, but by late 2008, they were gone. Sure, they still dropped in for an occasional premiere or club opening, but mostly they stayed on the left coast, where they belong. And then, suddenly, from the abandoned celebrity landscape, young love began to blossom. There was sunny Mandy Moore’s abrupt marriage to shaggy rocker Ryan Adams, and Scarlett Johansson’s equally curious wedding to Ryan Reynolds, and then the unexpectedly delightful pairing of Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss.
It felt right to them, and it felt right to us. These are the celebrity couples that New York deserves, reflecting our vision of our best selves: ambitious but creative. Totally cute but a little bit nerdy. Actually talented. Best of all, they’re unafraid of rubbing up against common New Yorkers. (Although, if you rub up against them, you’ll probably get arrested.) These celebrities don’t just fly in for vodka promotions, talk about how great New York is, and then fly out. They live here, in our very own neighborhoods, and you see them all the time, doing normal stuff.
There’s Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard using the ATM at a bodega in Fort Greene; M.I.A. and her partner, guitarist and Seagram’s heir Benjamin Bronfman, cooing over their baby, Ikhyd, at Bread Stuy; Chelsea Clinton and her fiancé, hedge-funder Marc Mezvinsky, laboring on their laptops at Starbucks; model and TV presenter Alexa Chung and her boyfriend, Arctic Monkeys front man Alex Turner, drinking too much at Marlow and Sons; Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy at modest East Village eatery Tree.
Their casual attitude about their own celebrity seems to have had an effect, even on those New York celebrities whose behavior, in the past, has tended toward the grandiose. Witness Jay-Z and Beyoncé, who took a break from cruising around the south of France to eat at Frankies in Carroll Gardens this summer. Or real-estate scions Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, spotted lugging gigantic bags out of Kmart just two weeks after their million-dollar-plus wedding. Just like the rest of us.