In the high school of life, Gwyneth Paltrow is head cheerleader. She has it all: A-list genes; a successful, multifaceted career; a formidably toned body; hair that, if not natural, has been blonde so long it feels natural; and, as if all this were not enough, two beautiful children and a rock-star husband who definitely rubs her feet when they’re pinched by her $800 heels. The good news is that no one has had to feel too bad about any of this, because Gwyneth is also kind of a jerk. Her perfection is judgment on the rest of us, and she makes this known in interviews and on her lifestyle website, Goop, the tone of which suggests a domestic personality just one degree shy of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. The launch of Goop helped focus our annoyance, because it was genuinely obnoxious. Who was she telling to buy $60 olive oil? Other movie stars? Hating Gwyneth became a sport we could all enjoy: Her videos are parodied on Funny or Die, and Videogum regularly catalogues her doings alongside a photo of the actress superimposed with the words “I am the worst.”
But this year, all at once, Gwyneth broke from character. In November, she performed the single from her new movie, Country Strong, at the Country Music Awards, and those who nestled into the couch hoping to see her tank in front of an audience that doesn’t give a hoot about a yoga-bodied Manhattan movie star were disappointed: Both her guitar-playing and her singing were actually pretty great. The following week, Gwyneth appeared on Glee, and her virtuoso performance of Cee Lo’s network-friendly version of “Fuck You,” complete with dorky facial expressions and robot dancing, not only drew raves but also suggested that Gwyneth might have developed a sense of humor about herself. A sense of humor, period. A Washington Post writer declared the episode a watershed moment. “The era of hating on Gwyneth Paltrow,” she wrote, “might be over.”
This was distressing, not least because it smelled like a likability campaign, and one of Gwyneth’s most appealing unappealing eccentricities is that she doesn’t give a balsamic-glazed fig if other people think she’s a pretentious show-off. Engaging in a concentrated effort to change her image would make her just like any Hollywood actress—vulnerable to public demands. Isn’t that beneath her? If not, can we still dislike her? As it turns out, we didn’t have a thing to worry about. A few days after Paltrow’s Glee appearance, Goop sent out a list of holiday-gift recommendations that included a $372 iPhone pocket case and a $53 flyswatter. Thank God. We like Gwyneth just the way she is. We mean hate her. You know what we mean.