Every year, Victoria’s Secret gathers up almost everything that is wrong with modern Western culture – certainly everything from which you would want to shield a girlchild – and crams it into one unrelenting abominationfest of a TV show, studded with the twin pretenses that 1) underwear is fashion and 2) fashion is important in a world-events sense.
And every year this show sends me into a howling spiral of horror and despair. But every year my editor talks me into recapping it again, because every year I somehow manage to convince myself that, even though I seem to have blocked out every second from my conscious memory, it can’t really have been all that bad.
But this year, like a Westworld host, I have an inchoate sense of foreboding – disturbing flickers of recollection. Fragmented visions of plumed butts and terrible editing.
What I’m saying is that this is going to hurt, people. It will hurt our hearts and brains, and possibly our deepest senses of right and wrong. We’ll make it through together because this life has meaning. I’m almost sure of it.
OK! We’re in Paris! With musical guests! How do they get Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga and The Weeknd for this dumbfest? We start off with a fake French accent welcoming us to the city and reminding us of the years of art and beauty and profound thought that we are about to desecrate. “For models,” the voice tells us, “Paris is a rite of passage.” This is true. New Parisian models have to paint their faces, go on a vision quest, and then kill and gut a junior fashion designer with their bare hands before they are allowed into the fold.
And now, the fake French voice says, “The Greatest Fashion Show on Earth” is here. I would like some documentation for that claim. Also, I wonder if Ringling Brothers takes umbrage.
Like every year, we still do the backstage chatter like this is URGENT and VITAL. If anything, they have doubled down on showing us the backstage flurry. I think they do this because it absolves them of having to present a coherent picture of what happens onstage.
TIME FOR TERRIBLY IMPORTANT UNDERPANTS!
A model walks out wearing an extremely embarrassed Chinese dragon and turquoise panties.
And now a Carol Burnett Scarlet O’Hara model with the curtain rod still in her outfit. OH GOD OH GOD I THINK THE THEME IS CHINA. THIS WILL HURT. BRACE YOURSELF FOR CULTURAL APPROPRIATION AND LITE RACISM.
Feather bondage model!
Are there cartoon airplanes on that next model’s back? No, I think they are dragonflies and lily pads. I feel comfortable stating that no one on the design team at any point so much as glanced at a book about China.
God, I had forgotten about the conceit that these are angels and they all have wings except for the part where the design team got bored with that last year so half the time they don’t. Or instead of wings, it’s like kitchen skewers or dryer lint popping out of their upper backs. It is maddening. You have ONE unifying design concept (OK, one other than women in undergarments), so fucking make some fucking wings and put them on your fucking angels. (Personal note: The end of that last sentence also appears in the climactic moment of my popular children’s Christmas book.)
Ooh, but now we’re all distracted because here comes the magnificent Shiny Peacock Rainbow Circle Gongbutt Angel! We salute you, Ma’am!
Paper flower and gay rainbow leggings angel! Red thigh-highs and robe angel!
Vulva tassel angel! Just keep walking! Power through this! Act like you totally want to have that outfit on!
Once again, the designers have decided that just cramming a bunch of black and brown pheasant feathers onto the models’ shoulders will count instead of wings. NO, THEY WILL NOT. FUCKING COMMIT.
Ooh, Vulva Tassel Angel has a cape! Maybe that will distract from—no, no it will not. Important fashion accessory rule: Nothing will compete with a vulva tassel.
Bolero jacket and buckskin pants angel!
Cross cuts! Lightning-fast shots! SHOW ONE MODEL LONG ENOUGH TO SEE WHERE SHE IS AND WHAT IS GOING ON.
Hey, there is an angel with jaggedy black-and-white lines on her thigh-high boots that make her legs look like a broken television!
Transparent Skirt Angel! Always check an outfit under the lights before heading out to the party!
And finally, an angel with random wings made of something abstract! Whoof, that hurt! Only like seventeen more segments to go!
We learn that Paris has architecture, food, and love. Poor other cities. Paris got some serious dibs. Omaha, for example, got stuck with popsicle-stick bridges, gravel, and ennui.
We hear Alessandra and someone else who I am not rewinding for talking about being models in Paris at 17. Martha says Paris is cutthroat and they love you and then suddenly they don’t. That sounds horrifying, Martha. Like if your friend was dating someone like that, wouldn’t you tell her to leave?
Poor Sara talks about being The Shortest Model in Paris. (Also one of my children’s books! For some reason sales are dismal.) But Sara had her moment! And now she wears underpants-based costumes on TV! So pretty much the same as Hillary Clinton, in terms of her power to inspire.
Lady Gaga bullshits about the meeting of music and fashion. She feels welcomed into the Angel family as a more unique and rebel form of angel. OK, fine. You do you, Madame Gaga.
Mountain Romance is the next theme. Jesus H. Christ on a snow cat. Lady Gaga, at a minimum you had better get yourself a nice summer home out of this, you hear?
Lady Gaga does some intro singing!
She has a lovely voice, but I kind of miss her stomping around in a mask chanting Hooh-Hah Oh Fa La! Sha Nah Whoops Ta Ta!
You can tell Lady Gaga is a big star because she briefly gets to sing with no one striding around in underpants behind her.
OK, we have a woman in ski rescue thigh-highs and purple shoulder flowers and her butt hanging out. The butt hanging out part is a key aspect of the ski rescue gear. It gives you a wide range of motion and encourages you to ski briskly.
The next angel is essentially Heidi of the Swiss Alps, but with an exposed bra.
I don’t know why they didn’t think of that for the movie. The next angel has panties and a top and Death wings. Beerhall angel! Dark Alpine angel!
OK, it’s official: These mountain underpants ensembles are fucking terrible.
Just make some cuckoo clock panties and then give another angel Saint Bernard ears and a keg around her neck and be done with it.
Another angel with alpine flowers and wrist cuffs and thigh highs! Ugh.
GODDAMMIT, GOLDEN THISTLES ARE NOT WINGS. A PHEASANT BUTT IS NOT WINGS.
I want to boycott this whole theme. Also, I think fetishes are a totally acceptable thing to have, but it behooves the haver to not make them too obvious to the public at large. I bring this up because someone at Victoria’s Secret has a lederhosen fetish and it is not pretty.
In these dark and uncertain times, we all have to choose the focus of our activism, and I have just found mine: FLOWERS ARE NOT FUCKING WINGS. Stop it!
Thigh highs and beige flowers! What did I just say?
And now here is an angel in pink panties and two tablecloths. Did she steal them?
More goddamned thigh highs and lederhosen and pheasant butts. If I were from the Alps I would be so mad right now. Also: Not ONE singing nun in panties and thigh-highs? Y’all at Victoria’s Secret are chickenshits.
That segment is finally over, and not a nanosecond too soon. I would say that was the worst Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show theme I’ve ever seen, but then the Pink ones are always pandering cotton-candy vomit on ice. So it’s like the fifth-worst.
One model is joy-crying into the camera over the magic of getting to wear skivvies in such a magical place on such a magical night at the most important fashion show in the world.
And then, when there is finally a break from the show, there is a fucking Victoria’s Secret commercial. WERE YOU AWARE THAT THEY HAD BRAS AND UNDERPANTS? At least the angels in the commercial have real goddamned wings. Every underpants ensemble should have to undergo a real-world flight test with the designer wearing it.
And we’re back! How are the commercial breaks so mercilessly short?
Bruno Mars, you don’t need this, but you’re doing it anyway.
I don’t understand. You could just release a new “Uptown Funk” once a year for the next decade and then retire to a sky yacht, but still you are doing this. Has anyone explained to Bruno that he doesn’t have to do this? Who even watches this show? Straight guys who don’t know that they could just type “underpants” into the search bar? Because I don’t think that’s a big segment of Bruno’s demographic.
FINALLY SOME MOTHERFUCKING WINGS.
God, was that so hard? And, oh, lord, they’re on a Pink model. At first they look like big pink chicken wire homecoming float wings, but it turns out that they’re bows. Because pink!
And here come the least practical sweatpants in the world. They are see-through with big cut-outs in them. OK, this isn’t as bad as the Pink year when they made the models wear emojis, but it is still aggressively terrible. THIS IS NEITHER LINGERIE NOR CLOTHING. IT’S JUST SCRAPS OF ANYTHING PINK OR SHINY ATTACHED TO THE MODELS WITH PACKING TAPE.
One girl just did moose horns at the end of the runway. Will it make or break her career?
A pink furry jacket! A giant bow! WHY ALL THE THIGH-HIGHS? See-through hoodies! Terrible panties with the waistband up above the navel! Are these really going to be a thing? I feel like if we all work together, this doesn’t have to be a thing.
And now angel who seems to have been TPed! You will recover from this prank, ma’am! An angel with flowing bannerhands who hates her costume so much. So, so much.
One angel, I swear to god, is wearing a toilet paper cozy. Another angel has pink dogs strapped all over her.
It’s over! That was stupid and insane. But, I promise you, the lederhosen were worse.
Josephine is a new angel this year! She’s so happy! She went to bed a regular model and woke up an angel. (Josephine! That sounds like maybe you died! Definitely check!) She says putting on her wings for the first time was like putting on a fairy-tale princess crown. She says becoming an underpants angel was her biggest dream since she was a tiny girl. Jesus, I am so sad now.
But what a year for Josephine! She was on red carpets! And got magazine covers! And she was in a music video! She feels like she has 13 Angel sisters now! (I have three sisters. At no time have we spent an evening swanning around in impractical undergarments.)
I catch myself paying a lot of attention to the commercials again, still trying to figure out who watches this show. Men? The old? YOU CAN GET ACTUAL PORN. Just type “boobs.” Clear your search history. It’ll be fine.
Gigi tells us she has watched the show as a kid then she became an angel and now her sister Bella is in there. She is crying at the honor of them both being Underthing Angels. “Hmm,” I think to myself, “The world certainly does have some very different parenting philosophies.”
The Weeknd prepares for the show by putting on a cross. OMG are the angels undead? That would explain so much. Personal to The Weeknd. Please consider putting that missing e back in your name. You are a fine musician. That missing e makes you look like a multinational corporation trying to relate to teenagers.
You can tell that The Weeknd is a less big star than Lady Gaga because he has panties onstage behind him right away.
Keep striving, The Weeknd!
Oh, dear. The first angel is wearing plastic coffee filters on her hips. That’s impractical even if you try to use the coffee filters later.
More plastic! And vinyl! Have I not explained my position on making one’s fetishes too visible to politely ignore, Victoria’s Secret?
Greysilk Capebutt Angel is royalty – but clearly only royalty by marriage, as this upstart has no wings. Is her capebutt supposed to be her wings? YOU HAVE ONE UNITING THEME. MAKE AN EFFORT.
Here is Office Dominatrix Angel with ghost wings. And Tight Lace Angel. Why do these all seem vaguely officey? I have never worked in an office with such a dress code.
Old Cassette Tapes Angel is here in a see-through raincoat. What the hell is this theme?
Poison Gift Bow Angel! Flasher Angel in a raincoat with an extremely impractical cutout across the back!
Turquoise Jacket Angel hates this theme too!
Packing Heat Redpanty Spy Angel! Armored Fish Angel! Majestic Kurosawa Army Flag Angel!
WHO THE FUCK IS ONSTAGE? Why do we keep talking about how famous the angels are and how freaking vital Victoria’s Secret is to the fashion world when we never get to see five full seconds of a given outfit?
Backstage, models scream in triumph. FILTERPANTS!
We talk about how Adriana has her own style and is outrageous and amazing. To the sounds of The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” (WHO IS THIS SHOW FOR?!), she talks about how special the moment is when you walk out in your skivvies. The other models imitate her and talk admiringly about how she knows all her angles.
Still to come: The largest wings ever worn on the runway!
Oh, it’s time for the absolute sandsucking worst part of the show, where we pretend that the models are super fit and in no way pressured to live up to unhealthy standards. Go fuck yourself, Victoria’s Secret, and everyone involved with this segment. It’s there to make you not think about the 64% of models who have been pressured to lose weight, the 48% who do fasts or cleanses for rapid weight loss, and the more than 30% who self-report eating disorders. Seriously, go fuck yourselves, show producers and everyone at Victoria’s Secret who pushes this segment. You’ll wear Alpine Lederhosen panties in Hell.
In the middle of all the boxing and power yoga shots to make the models look you-go-girl tough, one model says she works out twice a day, seven days a week. You know how many fitness trainers recommend that? NONE OF THEM. BECAUSE IT IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU.
There is so much strong woman imagery being thrown at us, but the sadness leaks out around the sides. They’re supposed to sound like driven go-getters, so we hear the models say they do all this because if they don’t, someone else will take their spots. Girl power! Either someone on edit finds this sad and creepy too, or everyone involved really is that numbed out.
OK! Gaga and some backup dancers! Lady Gaga, you seem like an intelligent woman who considers her actions carefully. I would very much like your thoughts on why you’re doing this.
Whatever it is, they’re giving Lady Gaga the huge star treatment – she gets to sing a whole song with no one walking around in just their underwear behind her. Now Gaga switches to a Western-themed outfit.
The first angel is Sexy Death, with panties and black wings.
Then there is a lot of string bondage and lace and more black wings.
One model is an Old West saloon gal based on her collar, but then we drop the theme as quickly as we picked it up.
Unless string panties and tumbleweed wings count! And now a Dead Coral Wings angel!
And now one angel has dead, tarred butterflies for wings. I thought this was black and white theme, but no: Here is some random teal.
Now it’s the Unbalanced Angel, with a ton of elaborate gear on top and the teeniest string panties in the world below. Do not push her! She’s top-heavy! And here is Obsidian Wings Angel!
And there is Fishing Screen Angel and there is Evil Rooster Angel! Here is We Forgot To put on Her Feathers Angel! Brazen it out! You can do it!
And here is Giant Wings Angel. The biggest wings ever! BUT THEY CAN’T FLY. They don’t even look vaguely flappy!
Designers, for the love of all that is sane, take a year off and look at some birds. Even some bats. Or fish. Anything with workable floaty appendages.
Lady Gaga has fake wings on! She’s correct: They’re Rebel Flowing Lucid Dream wings. Lady Gaga is now Angry-strutting offstage. I think she’s working through some things. Let her be.
The next commercial says “All she wants for Christmas is Victoria’s Secret.” LIE.1
Nine minutes left. We can do this.
Many Victoria’s Secret executives want you to know how popular and famous and iconic the Angels are. They’re crossing over into all aspects of fashion! There are no rules anymore! They’re high fashion! The VS girls are all over social media! If you add them all up, they have 250 million followers! “That’s world domination!” It’s also shady math that assumes that none of the models or accounts have overlapping followers, but OK! Oh, were you aware that Maxim thinks the Angels are hot?
This is extremely weird. Why is Victoria’s Secret using valuable air time to preen and self-pleasure like this? It goes on exactly long enough to let you see the gnawing, shrieking insecurity under it all. They are huge in fashion, huge! Their models are succeeding bigly!
WHO WATCHES THIS SHOW? WHO WANTED TO SEE THIS? Are they recruiting for a cult? It makes so much more sense if they’re recruiting for a cult.
Bruno Mars and fellas yell “Victoria’s Secret!” and the Fantasy Bra comes out! Try not to think about the number of elementary school libraries that could have been funded instead of making the fantasy bra! There it is! That is a bra!
Fake Harem Mermaid Angel! With NO FUCKING WINGS! Put your backs into it, designers!
Here is Waist Mustaches Angel with shoulder plumes.
Before we know whether to feel pity or admiration, it’s Tin Armor Angel. Her wings were tragically cut short in what looks like a weed-whacking incident. Pink Flame Wings Angel looks like she has a spectacular outfit, but we didn’t see a fucking thing because someone in editing took another bump of meth.
Bright Red Fringe Angel is here and HOLY FUCKING SERAPHIM, PICK A THING TO LET US LOOK AT. Diamond Tree Wings Angel! Crystal Cowgirl Fringe Angel!
You look good, but Dolly Parton did it first! Frosty Mess Angel! Oh, no. The next angel brought her purse onstage. Give her a locker, you jerks.
Goldwings Duchess HighPanties Angel! Flapper Angel! Is it over? Or have I finally had a seizure from all the cuts? That was some terrible editing. Editing that indicates either no one willing to make a decision or just a complete lack of faith in humanity. No, you’re right: Both.
Some asshole backstage yells GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO at the models for the finale.
The angels dance in confetti! The outfits are still stupid!
Lady Gaga wiggles in an entirely new outfit! She’s up to something, I’m certain of it. OK, fine, we’ll just have to wonder and let it play out. Bruno Mars shouts that it’s party time!
They take a picture! Class of 2016! Woooo!
And with that, at least 2016 is that much closer to done.
Unless my editor wipes my persona and deactivates me, I’ll see you next year.
Editor’s note: when you watch this later on the Victoria’s Secret website, you only get Viagra commercials. Make of that what you will. ↩