The celebrity news website and its wildly popular Instagram page (currently at over 20 million followers and counting) have, since its founding by Nigerian American entrepreneur Angelica Nwandu in 2014, become an institution in the world of Black gossip. It is a part of the Black lexicon and the Black zeitgeist, mentioned in rap songs and TV shows. With a hodgepodge of posts including celebrity news, memes, politics, and inspirational messages, The Shade Room has cemented itself as a constantly evolving archive of Black pop culture.
That’s what makes The Shade Room so intensely intriguing and addictive. It is relentless with content generation, adept at locking onto stories as they develop (a running joke is that The Shade Room seems to repost celebrity Instagram posts before the celebrities have even posted them). And it is powerful enough to not only follow the gossip but also to become the catalyst for it. On any given day, you’ll see Black celebrities, influencers, and reality television stars like Teyana Taylor, B. Simone, and Nene Leakes “step into The Shade Room” to refute, clap back or cut up in the comments with thousands of other followers. These comments from celebs usually get screencapped and made into their own posts, forming a never-ending, self-referential loop of tea.
In a March 2019 profile for Marie Claire, Nwandu contended that she doesn’t think of The Shade Room as purely a gossip site but more of a cultural archive. “I think our site is about the culture,” she said, “All the things that make black culture beautiful.” To some extent, Nwandu is correct in that The Shade Room does provide a kind of snapshot of Blackness that, while not definitive, is most definitely key. But with the beauty, obviously, comes some of the ugliness.
When rapper Tory Lanez released a 17-song album with several songs largely refuting accusations around him shooting Megan Thee Stallion this summer, The Shade Room made dozens of posts platforming and breaking down each song, line for line. In the comments on these posts, there were those who came to Megan’s defense, but there were also those who eagerly took the opportunity to bash her, question her and praise Lanez for sharing his “side of the story.”
There have, apparently, been efforts made to mitigate and challenge some of the rhetoric in the comments section in response to these kinds of stories, with Nwandu telling Marie Claire that around 2015 she and her team decided to create a more balanced, positive atmosphere on the site and on Instagram. “There was a time when I would go on the Shade Room and I would just feel, like, ugh. I remember thinking, If I feel like this, what am I putting out to the people who are reading this? They may be feeling like this too if they come on here every day and consume what we’re giving.”
So, it seems as if there is an awareness. But what else is being done? What else should be done when it comes to this kind of content? The potential for breeding toxicity is not isolated to The Shade Room, of course. It is a problem that comes up constantly in the world of gossip, especially internet gossip, on sites and Instagram pages like Baller Alert, Bossip, and World Star Hip Hop. And it’s definitely not just a Black gossip thing either.