Rob Pollard v British Sea Power: "We need a Chavez"

<em>British Sea Power</em>'s Yan speaks to the <em>New Statesman</em> about music, politics and Grand Designs Australia.

British Sea Power remain on the outskirts of British popular culture, despite being one of the most interesting bands of the last decade. Their brand of music defies definite categorisation, and as a result, they've never managed the sales that their artistry deserves. They have an obsessive fan base who monitor their every move; desperate to soak up each release and live performance. They're an enigma that remain as compelling today as when they first thrust their music on us in 2001.

Machineries of Joy, released this week on the Rough Trade label, is British Sea Power's sixth album, and it's right up there with their best. Ten years after the release of their debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, the band are still going strong, producing music that continues to surprise and challenge us. To celebrate the release of their latest record, the New Statesman spoke to guitarist and vocalist Yan about the making of the album and the inner-workings of BSP.

Your new album is excellent, I've really enjoyed listening to it. How excited are you about its release and how happy are you with how it sounds?

I'm very happy with it and I don't always say that. It's hard to get a grip of it sometimes. It can take up to a year after finishing it before you realise whether it's gone that well or not. I think it reflects what the band's like nowadays. We recorded like a band, in a room, very quickly, and old-fashioned without messing around. I think some of our albums have been quite challenging, or even slightly naggy, like they almost want to turn you off or something, whereas this one's a bit more comforting, maybe.

How long did it take from the beginning of the writing process to finishing the record?

The whole thing was a year, pretty much dead on. We started last January, and for six months we were doing a club night in Brighton which we called "Krankenhaus", and every month we released a small, limited edition EP with five tracks on it which we just made and recorded and produced ourselves. So at the end of that we'd done about 30 tracks which were put into the public arena, which weren't all perfect, they were sort of enhanced demos, but they had to be finished in a way that someone could listen to them, with lyrics and a tune or whatever. So that was a big step; we'd never done anything like that before. Normally you'd work and then finish the final version and unveil it.

After that we had a few months off and then we all got together and started playing songs in Wales in the mountains for two weeks and that's when it all came together. And then the final bit was just a two week recording process in November. So it's a year, but it wasn't like working every day through the year. The biggest bit was all the writing we were doing in the first six months because doing that amount of songs each month that you wouldn't be embarrassed about was really hard work.

So just explain to me how that works then. You've released tracks on your own label, and then released some of them again on the new album through Rough Trade, is that right?

Yeah, Rough Trade have a fairly easy going approach with us compared to what a lot of record labels might be like. I suppose we've been with them a long time – I think we're actually their longest running band – so maybe they trust us a bit more, and if they think it's what we need to do, they think it'll turn out the best for them. It's a fairly sort of economical and practical approach in some ways, it's just a little bit back to front.

We didn't make a big deal out of it. It was only our more ardent fans who got hold of the demos – the people who went to the club night. And they were only available on our website and we never tried to advertise, and we limited how many we could sell. But people would talk about them, and then you would have to listen to them and then think about them in a different way, so you almost have like a second go. It's just like a second edit. Plus the first stage was just people working on songs in ones and twos, like my brother and Abi who live up on the Isle of Skye would just send songs down ready for the CD. But then when we did the album we're all playing them together, so that's like the second stage.

You mentioned some of the band living on the Isle of Skye whilst the rest are still in Brighton. How's that changed the dynamic of the band?

Theoretically you'd assume it would have a negative effect because I have this vision of bands living nearby, just playing for fun, or rehearsing every week or whatever, but I guess we're quite adaptable really, and we're willing to compromise with each other, so we just have to plan a bit more. We just do our rehearsal in a set time, two weeks this time in Wales, and we just have to make the most of it, and really condense the work.

The biggest difference is the mood of the songs that people write because obviously they're living in a very different kind of atmosphere up there, it's one step off Lord of the Rings, with the odd nuclear submarine going past! We're not exactly in the metropolis down in Brighton but, you know, it's quite different and you can tell that. We had to work quite hard at times to get the different moods to fit together. Id' say that's the hardest bit of it.

British Sea Power have always been a band who have eschewed lyrical cliches of love and relationships. What's the inspiration lyrically on the new record?

Yeah, it's true that in a way. If there are elements of love songs they're always done in a slightly odd way. We've always tried to include a lot of ideas in our albums and songs but we didn't really try and do that this time. Not because of a lack of them, we just didn't feel the need for it and wanted to do something a bit different, let something else take the forefront. Without it being about love, I think it's a more emotional, warmer record. It's not trying to push a manifesto or anything, and the lyrics kind of sit together because they seem to, rather than an intellectual rule binding them. I keep being drawn back to Ray Bradbury no matter how much I try and get away, and that's where the name of the album comes from. He's a very interesting fella, and he had a funny way of working as well: it was quite subconscious and things would come up and he wouldn't realise why until a lot later when it would make a lot of sense in a less factual kind of way.

You've been around for such a long time now, outliving so many of your contemporaries. Why do you think British Sea Power have managed to remain strong over a long period of time?

Cumbrian endurance I think. Getting used to walking up the fells as a kid [laughs]. No, I think it's about being relaxed about life. Most bands seem to fall apart for personal difficulties and disagreements, really, or maybe greed, drugs, or sex, whereas we're kind of moderate. We don't mind taking in some far out ideas and doing weird things, but in terms of getting on with each other we're pretty thoughtful, as far as bands go anyway, which isn't a high level to set yourself by. It's always been enjoyable. That's a bit of a boring answer but it's true.

Where do you think you fit into things on the musical map? I read The Brighton Source and you were described as 'Brighton's elder statesman'.

I know, that's horrible isn't it? We had that on Steve Lamacq's Round Table. It's all said with an element of positivity, and even love, though. We've been described as 'national treasures' a few times, which is a bit weird. I think we just sit slightly outside everything, and we're quite enduring. I originally always thought we'd be over and done with in about three years, or one or two albums. It just makes me feel kind of old, and I don't actually feel old except for when people start saying it's unusual for a band to last this long [laughs]. Bands are pretty weird things. If it were a painter it wouldn't be unusual. In fact, people might assume you could even get better, even a filmmaker. It's just music, and I think it's to do with marketing, it's just obsessed with youth...physical youth.

I read somewhere that you plan to open up your next set of shows with an acoustic set, which I think is a great idea. Is that still going ahead?

It is, yeah. It looked doubtful but it's mostly gonna happen, except the odd night when regulations prevent it. We did it once before and it worked well, so we're gonna try and do it better this time. We go on shortly after the doors open, people turn up early, so it's more of an evening. It's kind of hard working out a set these days because we have a lot of songs, and you start thinking about what you're missing out as much as what you're including. You can play some odder songs in a more relaxed mood - you're not really trying to impress anyone, you're just playing some B-sides, and things you wouldn't normally be able to fit in a set.

The merchandise you sell at your shows is absolutely exquisite. What's the story behind all that?

We always just assumed that if you're a good band then the things that are associated with you would be as good as they can be. Some of it's somewhere between Frankie Howerd sense of humour and Ian Hamilton Finlay. So some of it's quite stupid, like my favourite was the "Heron Addict" t-shirt. It was at a time when there was a lot of musical heroin stories in the newspapers, not to do with us but in general. That was quite funny because we were sort of swapping nature or birds for drugs. And then one thing led to another and we've had mint cake teabags, and a first aid kit. We thought music is something which can make life better, even improve a person's mind, so in a way it's like a first aid kit.

How tough is it to make a living out of music?

People don't normally like talking about money but I don't care, really. We're sort of in a middle range, which is almost the hardest because it is a full-time job but we don't sell millions of records. We do alright, I'm quite happy with what we do. It's also quite a big band, so just touring can be quite expensive. So it's quite hard I'd say. I couldn't have a Ferrari, put it that way. But then again more interesting things happen. We get invited to do weird things. I'm doing the sound installation for Kurt Schwitters' Tate evening at the moment, and you don't get much money for that either but I get to do a sound installation in a room full of Turners about Kurt Schwitters, who I like, and I imagine that's better than earning loads of money but always being so stressed and the only way you can get any joy is by buying a nicer car, or having two weeks holiday somewhere ultimate and then going back to just feeling horrible everyday. So to answer the question, it's doable but I don't live an extravagant life.

A fascinating element of BSP is your fervent following. You have a really obsessive core group of fans. That must be a brilliant feeling.

You sometimes get DIY discounts, or random favours, a bit like the Masons [laughs]. I do appreciate it. I used to not take it seriously, and even think they were weird, but I think I was just getting used to it. But the more people you meet who are big fans, they're normally quite diverse and interesting people. Generally quite good natured and interested in the world. I find it hard to believe that they make such an effort, especially to see five gigs out of ten on a UK tour or go around Europe and watch us.

So you're still based in Brighton, which, of course, is Caroline Lucas' constituency. How's that worked out for the area?

I think the difference is subtle but it's an improvement. I can't think of anyone who'd be better, or any party that would be better. At least they're trying and it's a difficult time to do anything positive in. I think it's definitely a good thing. If it was up to me I'd take things up to another level but that would be impossible in today's world. I'd like to see less waste and a bit more cooperation between people on things like the environment. It's at its lowest level in decades in terms of how much people care about it. It's hard times but that doesn't mean you should stop thinking about anything else. I think a bit more of a hippie philosophy would be good [laughs]. If people could just help people without it having to be a rule, that would be good. But Brighton's a nice city. It's very friendly and you get all kinds of people.

Will the Conservatives still be in power after the next election?

I think it's possible but it'd be a shame. I think all the parties are failing to some degree at the moment. They're just very shortsighted and they don't have much faith in people. They don't put out any longterm thinking, they just want to follow what they think the quickest trend to get back into power is and then fail to implement anything useful or longterm. That's partly the system, I guess, and partly just culture. We need a Chavez: someone with a bit of life in them. They might not be perfect, but they want to help people in general.

Would you consider yourself a socialist then?

Well, if I had to go for any of the main categories that are available then, yeah. We were once asked to be Ministers of Culture for the Monster Raving Loony Party and I said no. I think they were serious, it's hard to tell, but now I wish I'd taken them up on it. So somewhere between Monster Raving Loony Party and socialist. But I don't really believe most systems which say they are these things, and they're often very similar when they're extremely one way or the other. I just think people are weird and it's all a bit of a mess, and I wish it was all shifted to a more friendly society.

I was watching Grand Designs Australia a minute ago and they've got no building regulations or anything, and he's building this amazing house with the help of welders who happen to randomly be passing by, and it's amazing the difference in attitude between that and the English Grand Designs [laughs].

What's you view of Europe and our relationship with the rest of the continent?

In general I'm into Europe; I like it. And I think in the time when we have become more integrated with it, our culture has been improved aesthetically and in all kinds of ways. Obviously, we've been around Europe a lot and you meet a lot of people, and I think there's a lot to learn. There are problems but imagining that we're gonna be better off on our own with English people in charge, I don't think that's gonna work very well.

I'd say get involved in it and try and make Europe something really good. And I hate all this anti-immigration stuff because they focus on such narrow things and they blow it out of all proportion, and it's not even true a lot of it but it's just like a scapegoat, almost for blaming the economic climate on these new people, and that's just an old story that's gone on forever, and it's always slightly evil as far as I can see. I mean, we get all our nurses and doctors from other countries. We get all kinds of good workers, good builders, good manners, even. Good lots of things, really, so I like the idea of Europe and I don't want to be separated off from it. I don't want to have to apply for a Visa when I go on tour to Germany!

Machineries of Joy is out now on Rough Trade

Yan, aka Scott Wilkinson. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

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How Gossip Girl changed the way we talk about television

Recappers Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler reminisce about the Best. Show. Ever.

If you watched Gossip Girl from 2007-2012, then you’ll know it was The Greatest Show of Our Time. Silly, ridiculous, insider-y, and deeply New York, Gossip Girl was a show that lived and died on its in jokes. For so many of the show’s viewers, talking about this ridiculous Rich Kids of The Upper East Side drama was as important as watching it. But, premiering in 2007, Gossip Girl aired at a time just before social media dominated television conversations. Now, every viewer has a channel to make memes about their favourite show as soon as it hits screens. Gossip Girl was a show about bitchy teenagers mocking each other that cried out for audiences to tease them, too. They just needed a space to do it in.

Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler caught on to that fact early. TV recaps were still a fledgling genre when the Gossip Girl pilot emerged, but the New York Magazine writers could tell that this was a show that needed in-depth, ironic analysis, week on week. The most popular Gossip Girl recaps were born. These included the Reality Index (points awarded for, to take one episode, being “More Real Than Serena Sleeping With a Teacher After Less Than One Semester”), the cleavage rhombus (in tribute to Serena’s fashion choices), and the Most Obnoxious Real-Estate Conundrum of Our Time. If this is all second nature, you might even know what I mean when I say “No points, just saying.” It is these kinds of inside jokes that made New York Magazine’s Vulture recaps of the show so irresistible, and so influential. Each week, Rovzar and Pressler would run down the most absurd and the most spot-on New York moments of the episodes, and soon developed a cult following with a very devoted audience. Their recaps were became so popular that the creators responded to their burning questions, and the two were given a cameo on the show itself. They even also wrote recaps of the recaps, to include the best observations from hundreds of commenters.

Now the show is over, their work has spawned a thousand similarly tongue-in-cheek TV blogs: from ever-popular Game of Thrones power rankings to new versions of the Reality Index for other shows. A decade after Gossip Girl first aired, I reminisced with Rovzar and Pressler about their contributions to the Best. Show. Ever.

How did you come across Gossip Girl? Was it love at first watch?

Jessica: I had just moved to New York. Chris and I were thrown together at New York Magazine vertical Daily Intelligencer. He was much more of a seasoned New York person who knew what things were cool, and I was this yahoo from a different city. I was basically Dan Humphrey, and he was Serena. He got the pilot from a publicist, and he said there was a lot of a hype. The O.C. had been a huge show. So the fact the creators [were] coming to New York, doing all these real location shoots, and it was going to be a New York-y show was exciting, especially to us, because we were in charge of covering local New York news at that point. And it was really boring in 2007! Everything exciting happened the following year, like the Eliot Spitzer scandal, but in 2007 there was nothing going on. And Sex in the City had just ended, so there was a void in that aspirational, glamorous, TV space. So we were like, we’re going to hype this up, and then we’ll have something really fun to write about. And it was fun!

Chris: The CW needed a new hit, and it was the show that they were hoping would define the programming they would make going forward, so they really hyped it up before it aired. They sent us a screener. We watched it and realised that because they filmed it in New York, they were going to really use the city. It checked the boxes of Sex in the City and The O.C., with a young beautiful cast out in real world situations.

Jessica and I decided that this show was going to be a show that we wanted to write about, because it was so New York-y. I don’t think our bosses cared either way. Our bosses were grown-ups! They didn’t watch Gossip Girl! But from the very beginning, we called it The Greatest Show of Our Time, because we knew it was going to be a really iconic New York show. And it was very good at making these running jokes or gags, like Blair with her headbands, or Serena with her super tight dresses.

And the cleavage rhombus?

Chris: And the cleavage rhombus! We eventually got to know the costume designer and the producers and the writers. Once they recognised the things that we were writing about in the show, they would adopt them. The cleavage rhombus came up a few more times because they knew the audience knew about the cleavage rhombus.

Do you have an all-time favourite character or plot line or episode?

Chris: Our favourite character was Dorota. She was very funny and the actress, Zuzanna Szadkowski, was very well used. I think we were all rooting for Chuck and Blair. Sometimes with shows like Friends, by the end, when Ross and Rachel finally get together, you think, “Hm, I’m not sure I wanted Ross and Rachel to get together.” But the show was good at making Chuck and Blair the central romance, and you were psyched about how that ended up.

Jessica: Well, now, of course you look back and the Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka [Trump] cameo was, like, the best thing ever. It’s so nice to remember a time when those two were extras in our lives, instead of central characters. And then Nate, of course, went and bought that newspaper, which I believe was called The Spectator, which was a thinly veiled Observer. There was this succession of blonde temptresses brought in to tempt Nate. I don’t even know what he was supposed to be doing! I don’t know why they were there, or what their purpose was! But that was an ongoing theme, and that was kind of amazing. One was a schoolgirl, one was a mom. Catherine, and Juliet – and yes, I do remember all their names.

But for us, it was the real stuff that was really fun. They put in cameos of people only we would know – like Jonathan Karp, the publisher at Simon & Schuster. Or the couple who run The Oracle Club [a members’ club in New York] – I saw them recently and we talked about how we still receive $45 royalty cheques from our cameos because an episode aired in Malaysia. And Armie Hammer! They really went out of their way to involve real New Yorkers.

How did it work each week? Did you have screeners and write it leisurely in advance?

Jessica: No, no, we had to do it live! We had a screener for the pilot. We got them probably three times in the whole course of the show. We would normally be up till three in the morning.

Chris: My husband eventually stopped watching it with me because I was constantly pausing and rewinding it, asking: “What did they say? What was that? Did you see that street sign? Do you think that dress is Balenciaga?” It becomes very annoying to watch the show with someone who’s doing that. Each of us would do our own points and we would email them to each other and mix them up. That way you could cover a lot more stuff.

What made you decide to do the Reality Index? Did you ever really disagree on points?

Chris: It always more about wanting to say something funny than about the actual points. Very occasionally we would disagree over whether something was realistic or not. We were both adults, and there was a lot of trying to figure out what kids would do. Like in the first episode, they sent out paper invites for a party, and we said, “Oh, no, kids would use Evite!” And then a lot of readers were like “Are you kidding me? Kids would use Facebook cause this is 2007.” And we were like, “Oh yes, we’re not actually kids. We don’t know.”

Jessica: We came from different places of expertise. He had been in New York so much longer than me. In a cotillion scene, he knew the name of the band that was playing, because he knew which bands people had come to play at cotillion. I was more like, “This is realisitic in terms of the emotional lives of teenagers.” But the Reality Index stopped being about reality early on, and we had to just had to comment on the cleavage rhombus instead.

The comments were really important – how did you feel about all these people who seemed to have as intense feelings about the minute details of this show as you did?

Chris: We definitely weren’t expecting it, more so because internet commenters on the whole are awful. They’re mean and they’re angry and they have an axe to grind. Our commenters were very funny and wanted to impress each other and wanted to make each other laugh. They were really talking to each other more than they were talking to us. We decided, a couple of years in, to start rounding up their comments and do a recap of the recap. This was one of the most rewarding parts about it, because they were just so smart and on top of it. And they definitely disagreed with us. A lot!

Jessica: It did feel like people liked the Reality Index because of the participatory aspect of it. We became more like the moderators of this little world within a world. We couldn’t believe it - we thought it was amazing and bizarre. There would be hundreds of comments as soon as you put it up, it was like people were waiting. And sometimes people would email us, if one of us had overslept or been out to dinner the night before so couldn’t watch the show until the morning. And you got to know people through that – actual humans. I know some of the commenters now!

You wrote the “Best Show Ever” cover story on Gossip Girl for New York Magazine, which reads like it was incredible fun to write, and is now immortalised as a key moment in the show’s history. Every fan of the show remembers that cover image. What’s your favourite memory from working on that piece?

Jessica: Oh my God! It was so fun! We split them up – I interviewed Chace Crawford and Jessica Szohr and Blake Lively. Those kids were in New York living this vaguely Gossip Girl-esque lifestyle at the same time as the show was on, being photographed as themselves, but often in character during filming. So the overlap was fun. Ed Westwick and Chace Crawford lived together in a dude apartment! I think Sebastian Stan moved in. And Penn Badgley would hate me saying this, but he was and is Dan. He just never wasn’t Dan. He lived in Brooklyn and dated Blake Lively and girls who looked like Vanessa. It was so fun to have this show within a show going on in New York.

Chris: The fun thing about the kids, is that they were all really excited. For almost all of them, it was their first brush with fame. Blake Lively was the only one who had an acting background. So they were really excited to be in the city. It was very fun to hang out with them, and they all liked each other. It was fun to be out in the world with them. Leighton Meester is very funny, and a really fun person to be around, and after we did the story someone sent in a sighting to Page Six of us, where we had lunch. And when I went out for lunch with Chace Crawford, who’s also very nice, it was the first time I’d been in a situation where somebody tries to subtly take a cellphone photo of you. I was like: “Wow, I have done this, as a New Yorker, and it is so obvious.” You think you’re being slick and it’s very, very plain to see. And Chace was very gracious with everybody. I wasn’t there for the photoshoot but Taylor Momsen’s mom had to be there, because I think she was 16. And I remember when the photos came back, thinking, “Errr... we have some very young people in underwear on the cover!” But I guess everyone was OK with it! It was a really striking cover, and a really great choice with the white virginal clothes and the implication of the opposite. I love how it came out.

Can you talk about your cameo on the show? How did that work, what was it like?

Chris: That was really fun. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so interesting and fun. They wanted someone from New York [Magazine], they wanted someone from Vanity Fair, and they wanted someone from another magazine, and I think they’d asked a lot of magazines if they would send an editor. I was at Vanity Fair, and they asked Graydon Carter, the editor-in-chief, if he would do it – and he said no. One of my friends from college was by that point a writer on the show, and she said to the producer: “You know, if you want a Vanity Fair editor, I know one guy who will definitely do it!” And then they asked me and I had to ask the publicist for Vanity Fair if I could do it. And she laughed! And I said, “No, I’m serious, can I do this?” And she said “Oh! Uhh… Yeah, OK.”

It was me, Jessica, and Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation. Katrina was the only one working the whole time: tweeting and writing stuff. Jessica and I were like kids in a candy store. We were running around checking out the set, opening drawers! They had us wear our own clothes, which was stressful.

Jessica: They put fun clothes on me! It was so nice, I got to wear a really good outfit! Which I wish I had stolen, actually. But we got to the set and they had made up our offices. We sent them pictures of what they looked like and they recreated it.

Chris: They completely recreated it, right down to the Post-It notes that I had all along my bookshelves. Some of the books that I had on my desk were there. It was really surreal. Sitting there with Michelle Trachtenberg and Penn Badgley was completely surreal. They were funny, we joked around, it took probably 15 minutes.

Jessica: My scene was with Penn, and I had a line that made absolutely no sense. And we were all like, “That line makes no sense!” And they were like, “Oh it’s fine, just say it anyway.” And I thought: “Ok, well they’ll cut it out later.” But no, it just… went in.

Chris: But so many cool people had done cameos already, like Jared and Ivanka and Tory Burch, and just a million New Yorkers you’d heard of. So it was cool to join that crew.

You had this cameo, and plenty of people who worked on and starred in the show confessed to having read your recaps religiously. Stephanie Savage even emailed in over the exact location of Dan’s loft – whether it was Dumbo or Williamsburg. What was it about these recaps that allowed them to enter the world of the show in a way that TV writing normally doesn’t?

Chris: It was a very early recap. There wasn’t the endless recapping that there is now, of every show. It was kind of a silly show to recap – it wasn’t like Game of Thrones, where there’s all this politics to analyse. So it was an unusually devoted account of the show, with a ton of attention to detail – and then all the commenters also had a ton of attention to detail. So it was a great way for the show to get a sense of what the audience was thinking. And I think it was just funny for them. When they made a joke, we would catch the joke and laugh at it and make a joke back. It became a fun game for them too.

Jessica: The creators were definitely trying to foster the same atmosphere that we picked up on. They said early on that their goal for the show was “cultural permeation”. So they did what they could to encourage us, in some ways, and responded to us when we had questions.

Do you think your recaps changed television writing? Have you seen anything by other writers in recent years that has made you think, “Oh, we influenced that!”? For me, the Reality Index was very influential, and I feel like it was instrumental in this tone that was, yes, snarky and mocking, but the kind of mocking that can only come out of genuinely, truly loving something – now, that’s how most TV writing sounds.

Chris: I think we definitely were early on the trend of having the audience feel like they had the right to have their opinion on the show known, that they could voice an opinion – and maybe at some point the creators of the show would hear it. I think also having a very specific structure to a recap was new. Over the past ten years you’ve seen a lot of people do Power Rankings or try different ways of doing recaps other than just repeating what happened. I’d like to think that the recaps helped break the mould and create a new format.

Jessica: I definitely see things that are called Reality Indexes, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing before us, because it doesn’t even totally make sense as a concept. As far as tone, I think that came both from the combination of Chris’s and my personalities – Chris was more of the fan, and I was more of the snark. But also that was Vulture’s thing – I think the site’s tagline was “heart of a fan, mind of a critic”. It came after the early 2000s era of pure snark and sarcasm. But I just met Rebecca Serle, who wrote the series Famous in Love, and she said the Gossip Girl recaps helped inspire her career. I was like: “That’s amazing!”

Looking back, why do you think Gossip Girl and the conversation around captured the zeitgeist?

Chris: It had a lot of elements of the great shows. It had a core ensemble cast like Friends. It had a very soapy way of running the plots, that just meant that a lot happened in every episode, and not all of it was believable! And that’s really fun to watch. But unlike Ugly Betty, which was making fun of telenovelas, it took itself seriously, which let the audience take it seriously too, while at the same time laughing about it and appreciating how over the top it was. And I also think the cast was very key to it. They were so young and attractive and good, and you could tell they were all going to go on to bigger and better things. You were watching them at the very start of their careers. And they all stayed through the whole thing, and that was great. You knew the show was going to end the way the creators wanted, which made it feel like a great, rare moment in TV.

Jessica: That show captures that era of socialites in New York City, when it was like Olivia Palermo and Tinsley Mortimer and everyone was running around going to parties and being photographed. It was like an education about New York as I was arriving there. And they did an amazing job, especially now, when you look back at it. All those location shots! I don’t think people can afford those any more, they just aren’t happening. And the costumes! All of that was so enjoyable and fun. I’m not sure I fully appreciated how fun it was, like I do now, when everything is much more drab and Brooklyn-centric. But I felt a real kinship with Penn Badgley because we talked a lot over the course of things, occasionally about how we didn’t expect the show to go on this long! He wanted to go and play other roles and I wanted to do… other things, and we were both stuck with Gossip Girl.

And finally: looking back, how do you feel about Dan being Gossip Girl?

Chris: I was talking to someone about this the other day! I still don’t know if in the books, Dan was Gossip Girl. At the time, we didn’t really devote a lot of time to thinking about who Gossip Girl would be. It felt like they were just going to pick somebody in the last season – which they did. But I thought they did a good job of backing up that decision.

Jessica: Oh my God, I was just talking about this! I feel like, you know… It’s just a total disappointment, there’s no getting around it. They tried to play it like they had been planning for it to be Dan all along, and that was clearly false. So it was annoying that they postured in that way. But I remember maybe even just the season before, a character said “Gossip Girl is all of you! Look at you all, on your phones!” That should have been the ending, that Gossip Girl was everyone. That would have been the cleverer ending, in a way. But Dan as Gossip Girl gets a minus from me in the Reality Index. -100

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.