A Running List of Thoughts I Have About W Magazine's Best Performances Issue

Some of the, uh, eclectic portraits from this year's W magazine "Best Performances" issue, captured by German photographer Juergen Teller

Written by Lindsey Cook

Every year around award season the glossy fashion and culture magazines go overboard trying to highlight rising stars and A-list icons alike for their Hollywood issues. Vanity Fair took us as far away as possible from the dreariness of pandemic living with a technicolor fantasy dreamed up by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. Variety hosted their classic "Actors on Actors" series, creating interesting combinations for dialogues, including Pete Davidson and Glenn Close in conversation with one another.

And then...there's W. 

I typically look forward to W's Best Performances issue, their annual showcase of Hollywood's hottest talents. 2019's is a standout, featuring artful portraits from my favorite surrealist fashion photographer Tim Walker. In 2017 they paired dynamic duos together in beautiful photographs from Craig McDean, all with the winking tagline "Come Together". Peter Lindberg captured his subjects in dramatic black and white for the 2016 issue. Juergen Teller brought his signature verité style to the 2020 and 2018 issues, before returning to capture this year's talents. Usually, I quite enjoy Teller's knack for finding playfulness in his subjects, whether it's making certified giant Adam Driver appear at once out-of-proportion and comically small in a nondescript hotel room, or showing Andrew Garfield in my standard quarantine ensemble 3 years before it was cool.

This year, however, the feeling of effortlessness sank to new lows with a completely stripped-down version of Teller's typical in-the-moment flair. In fact, most of the portfolio appears to be captured on the corner of Romaine and Martel in West Hollywood, just around the corner from where I used to take tennis lessons. Features of this intersection include a construction site, a tree, confusing no-parking signs, and plenty of random cars. I know we're amidst a pandemic and photoshoots are hard to coordinate logistically these days, but this felt completely uninspired and quite dull. In this moment of dourness, the last thing we need is Steven Yeun looking every bit as mopey as we all feel. Where's the glamour? The Escapism? Just as we don't want COVID storylines in future TV shows and movies, we look to art, film, and photography for a respite from the world, not a reminder of it. If Tracee Ellis Ross looks bummed out about the world, imagine how I'm doing.

Anyway, needless to say, the Internet has had a lot to say about the photographs. And I...well, I have questions:

  • I need an oral history of how this photoshoot came about. W worked with Juergen Teller last year, and obviously, the pandemic caused some constraints, but I need more. Is this just like, outside someone's house?
  • If this location is not literally 3 steps outside Teller's front door, why this? Why this tree? This construction site?
  • Did W want to challenge itself to a $0 location fee?
Robin Wright is the only person happy to be here.
  • Why does George Clooney get to chill at his house for his portrait instead of having to schlep out to the 1000 block of Martel?
  • Or Gal Gadot get to remain in Calabasas or wherever she is?
  • Come to think of it...take a look at the 9 cover stars and see who gets to pose at their house or at least a nicer location and who gets stuck in a janky tree, because an uncomfortable trend emerges.
  • Or is it just that Clooney's manager is better at saying "No way is my guy going beyond his driveway for this" than Riz Ahmed's manager?
  • Who is this tree's manager, that's what I want to know. Maybe she flew the W editorial team out to the Peninsula Paris or something to get this gig.
  • Do you think Juergen Teller & Co. made Majors just climb up into this tree in his Louis Vuitton 'fit or did they use a stool?
  • Maybe they just used the community center folding chair they sat Riz Ahmed on?
  • Like...they didn't even blur the license plates on the cars in the background. I do that on my Instagram photos and I just have a thousand followers
  • Do we think this is a crew member's car? Or is Mrs. Maisel just leaning against some rando's vehicle?
  • Again, I'd be kind of annoyed if this were my car and I drive a Ford.
  • Also, how is this a real question:
Please tell me they cleaned this random shopping cart beforehand
  • What about this random pole? If I were Tessa Thompson, I'd be asking for gloves, and that's before a global pandemic hit.
  • I'm like 99% sure they took this photo at the exact moment Steven Yuen realized that this was not just the prep spot and was indeed the actual set location.
  • Leslie Odom Jr. is definitely the best embodiment of how we all feel looking at these photos.
Leslie Odom Jr. is making the same face every time I realize that I've been mostly sitting in my room for the past 365 days, trying to pretend the world is normal

  • Did Michelle Pfieffer see the same TikTok videos from Instagram influencers that I did saying that parking garages are the new hot photo spots?
  • Jacob Elordi looks like he's been living in this tree since COVID started.
  • Okay, logistically, how long could these have taken? 20 minutes per actor? 10? Who wants to do an over-under bet?
  • And how many photos did they take? Or was this a one-and-done kind of deal? Like, I get that they're going for effortlessness, but when I'm going for an effortless hairstyle it still takes roughly an hour to achieve.
  • Why is this sooo much worse than last year's series, which had a similar caught-in-the-moment vibe? Like, at least those had some artful choices and lighting.
  • It's also so crazy to see this juxtaposed against Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, which took the exact opposite approach and placed its stars in a whimsical fantasy wonderland.
  • Let's be real, W's Best Performances feature peaked with Tim Walker.
  • They have to be trolling us with this, right? Like, how many articles are being written about how bad the photos are? How many hits has W racked up while messing with us?
  • Yeah, they're definitely trolling.
  • I still hate it.