Part of my job as a television presenter is to interview celebrities – and for those of us in this profession, no matter what it is, be it news, or entertainment, or sports, we all have lazy fallbacks. A good example is the “how” question. You hear it ALL THE TIME. The “how” question works like this:
“How X was it/were you to XYZ?”
Now you can plug in the variables. Like this:
"How important was it for you to get that first goal in the second period?”
The answer is never going to be “oh well it wasn’t important at all” or “it was only a little bit important”. Right? Of course it was important to score first in the second period. So the question is useless.
Let’s try it with another scenario:
“How excited were you to collaborate with Cardi B on your new song?”
Well, duh. There is no world in which someone is going to answer “I wasn’t excited at all” or “I was medium excited, but definitely not super excited”. One hundred percent of the time, you’re going to hear “OH MY GOD I WAS SO EXCITED”.
Those of us who’ve held a microphone up to someone to ask questions, we have all done it. It’s like a tic at this point. So over the last few years, I’ve tried to stop going there and for the most part, I’ve been successful, but it can slip out from time to time when …to be honest… I’m not bringing my A game that day.
That’s the Show Your Work behind the “how” question. If you’re asking the “how” question, you’re not working very hard. Because the “how” question is a question you already know the answer to. Which means there’s no curiosity. And a good interview – a good anything, really – always begins with curiosity.
So now let’s get to Jimmy Kimmel’s interview last night with BLACKPINK. It’s not that I want to dump on Jimmy, because it’s hard enough being a talk show host and having to do it remotely these days, when you can’t really develop the in-person chemistry required for a good interview and also there are four members, Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa, and Rosé and most people you’ll talk to who do this job would prefer a one-on-one situation. Or a two-on-one situation, in some cases. Four people at once is a lot. That said…
I have some doubts about Jimmy’s level of curiosity. Because I feel like most of the work that went into this was about him learning the one Korean phrase that he repeats over and over again during the interview and turns it into a punchline. And that too is lazy comedy.
The first time he does it? Right off the top to greet them? I can get behind that. It’s polite, it shows that he cared enough to speak to them in their mother tongue. But when he does it and over again, he’s turning their language and his pronunciation and his use of it into a joke. Sure, he’s making himself the joke, but is it funny for an American to learn another language? Or is it soft xenophobia?
Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa, and Rosé react to it with appreciation initially but by the time Jimmy does it for the third time, well, they’re too professional and well-mannered to ever show if they’re exasperated, but if it’s getting tired for the audience, it’s getting tired for them.
Maybe the “joke” of him speaking Korean would have landed more successfully though if Jimmy and his team showed their work in the other parts of the conversation. But his question about the time the band members spent as trainees totally misrepresents the culture of the Korean music scene. Yes, young people are recruited into idol academies to learn singing and dancing and the labels then work with the strongest performers to establish pop groups. Just like… One Direction on X-Factor. And frankly not unlike Disney. Talking about these talent academies in South Korea like they’re total novelties and sort of kind of implying that it deprives the artists, when Hollywood basically invented the child star, and talent farming, and the boy and girl band phenomenon, is kind of insulting. There was a different way to ask this question where one of the possible takeaways wasn’t whether or not Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa, and Rosé are academically stupid because they spent all their years training to be superstars. And had the Kimmel team done more research, or had a more respectful curiosity, it wouldn’t have come across that way.
Not that I think they intended for the questions to be so flat and insulting, but it’s more a case of approach. What’s the approach that’s best suited for each guest in order to deliver the best TV experience possible for the viewer? I’m not convinced that the producers really tailored it to BLACKPINK.