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awards lip reading

How lip-reading became the glue of Hollywood’s award season

Selena will never want to gossip with her girls again

There’s nothing better at a party than gossip, which is why when Selena Gomez rushed over to spill her secrets to Taylor Swift in front of a room full of cameras at the Golden Globes this January the world collectively craned its neck and asked: “What was that now?”

A barrage of lip readers – both professional and amateur – took to their keyboard to publish a guess at what the girlies had been saying. Experts claimed Selena had been refused a photo with Timothée Chalamet by Kylie Jenner. Selena herself said she’d been spilling the details of two close friends of her who were hooking up (“Not that that’s anyone business!”).

This wasn’t the first, second, third, or last instance of lip reading joy that stemmed from the evening. The practise of watching celebrities mouths – even when they aren’t mic’d up – has become as addictive as ranking the red carpet. Taylor Swift allegedly called the host Jo Koy a “piece of shit” while taking a picture of him. Kylie and Timmy were non-stop gushing at each other between snogs at the adjacent table (“I love you. I only care about you”). Emily Blunt and John Krasinski even sparked “divorce” rumours from the way their mouths moved.

Despite the boom in TikTok lip readers hazarding a guess at what’s going on at celebs’ award-ceremony tables, there aren’t actually many professionals who do the job properly. “I don’t think there are more than five or 10 [in the world],” says forensic expert witness lipreader, Jeremy Freeman. “I treat every lip reading project that I’m given as if it was a murder case…It’s my professional reputation.” 

Jeremy has specialist equipment which slows down video footage and allows him to analyse a subject’s every move. But, even then, he’s not prepared to bet his career on saying his reading is 100 per cent accurate. “Sometimes I’m 80% sure I could be 70% sure,” he says. “But it’s the culture we live in, celebrity culture, people want to know what’s been said. They love it.”