Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt were so universally disliked in the mid-aughts that Chelsea Handler referred to them as "Herpes 1 and 2" on her late-night talk show. The platinum blond villains of Lauren Conrad's The Hills were the poster children, of sorts, for society's overall perception of reality TV back then: that it was shallow, unintelligent, and stacked with fame-hungry ego-maniacs who didn't have talent so much as they had tenacity.
With their penchant for attracting the paparazzi, stars like Montag, Pratt, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian spun straw into gold—earning checks by appearing in nightclubs, pushing products, and releasing heavily Auto-Tuned music. They were, quite frankly, our culture's first major reality TV stars, and they paved the way for the shows of the 2010s. But their pursuits, no matter how successful, were mocked. Reality TV, and the players who inhabited it, were labeled "guilty pleasures"—not something to be taken seriously or discussed without some level of embarrassment. Please see: The time Pink released a whole song in 2006 dedicated to dissing stars like Hilton and Jessica Simpson. Its name? "Stupid Girls."
The tides turned in the 2010s, though, especially in the latter half. After the 2016 election, and all the feelings of apocalyptic dread that came with it, entertainment became less focused on prestige and more about finding joy wherever you could. The romantic comedy experienced a resurgence on Netflix. Holiday movies on Hallmark and Lifetime were consumed in mass quantities. People took off work to stay home and watch Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding. Deflection and distraction was suddenly the name of the game.
In almost every interview I've done with rom-com or holiday movie actors over the years, they've mentioned politics as a main reason why the genres are booming again. "I feel like the country is more divided than ever, and the extremists on both sides are not making things very pleasant for anyone," Danica McKellar, a Hallmark Chrismas movie veteran, told me in 2018. "People are looking for a break, they’re looking for an escape from all the noise created by this political climate that we’re in."
That escape is also present in reality TV. Shows like The Bachelor and Keeping Up With the Kardashians provide the same dopamine rush a cheesy rom-com does, so they became book-ends to this era of Must Decompress TV. The world is falling apart, so why not watch Vanderpump Rules at full blast and tell everyone about it?
A-list stars like Jennifer Lawrence started doing exactly that. A second factor to reality TV's glow-up this decade was the fact that so many quote-unquote "serious" celebrities revealed themselves to be fans of the genre. Lawrence, who won an Oscar in 2012 for Silver Linings Playbook, was one of the first to do this—and it's become a big part of her brand. When she guest hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live in November 2017, she insisted Kim Kardashian join her on the show. A mutual love-fest ensued.
And while promoting her avant-garde Darren Aronofsky movie mother!, one of her frequent talking points was that she had a "Kardashian tent" to help cope with filming uncomfortable scenes. "It was a computer that was playing [Keeping Up With the Kardashians on a loop], and [the tent also] had head shots," Lawrence said in 2017.
Sarah Paulson, Mila Kunis, and even Michelle Obama have all come out as massive Bravo fans. I'd argue that these stamps of approval helped open the floodgates of reality TV fandom. After all, if the former First Lady of the United States can talk about her love of the Real Housewives franchise, the rest of us surely can too. These stars made loving the antics of Bethenny Frankel and Kylie Jenner not just OK, but cool.
Speaking of Kylie Jenner, she as an entity is also a major component to the reality renaissance. She isn't the first reality star to venture out with a fashion or beauty line, but the billion-dollar success of Kylie Cosmetics has certainly made hers the most legitimate. (Kim follows closely behind with her own companies.) Both of these women have detractors, obviously, but at large they're viewed as marketing innovators. Just look at their coverage in Forbes and The New York Times as proof. Because reality TV isn't viewed in the same condescending lens anymore, there's space—finally—to see these women's pursuits as respectable. Frankel fits nicely in this mix, as well, with her Skinnygirl empire.
It's a cyclical effect, really. Our jovial relationship with reality TV makes it OK to unabashedly love Countess Luann's music or follow a Bachelor star on Instagram—and when a pursuit is successful, like Kylie Cosmetics, it diminishes any idea that reality TV isn't smart. With so many examples of how reality shows can be clever and entertaining, there's no reason to be embarrassed that you watch.
It's frustrating all of this had to happen in order for people to wholeheartedly embrace reality TV. I've always been in the camp of owning your music, TV, and movie choices unapologetically—but maybe others need the right environment. If anything good came out of this decade, it's that—because nowadays no one has to preface their pop-culture preferences with apologies or explanations. They're free to watch and scream about Love Island until their vocal chords max out. That is the energy we've always deserved. Hopefully, we'll keep it going in the new decade. I'm not through stanning The Real Housewives of New York City just yet.
Christopher Rosa is the staff entertainment writer at Glamour. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrosa92.
Originally Appeared on Glamour