Stardom is like revolution. It seems unlikely until it happens, and then it seems inevitable. When a single personality captures America’s love the way Jonathan Van Ness has, it’s fun to dissect exactly how we all became obsessed at once.
Sure, he’s beautiful and young and authentically into himself, but his brand voice is really what put him over the top. We love people who walk the walk, and also talk the talk. From Muhammad Ali, to Rachel Zoe, to Cardi B, when a public figure comes with a well-defined voice, they are a culture unto themself, a total package. We can not only jack their style, we can lift their lingo, and make it a part of our everyday life. They become a collection of buzzwords, an in-joke. It makes it very easy to celebrate someone when you can sound like them.
When Jonathan emerged from Netflix’s Queer Eye to take his rightful place as America’s Sweetheart, eyes and Jesus hair sparkling, it was suddenly hard to remember a time when everything wasn’t gorge. This “one-man meme machine” (Chicago Tribune) is a shiny ball of love, and his lexicon is legendary. Here are some of our favorite JVN-isms.
GORGEOUS… “I can always find something I’m obsessed about in everyone,” JVN told Florence Welch at Outside Lands Music Festival, where he also referred lovingly to the singer’s “gorgeous solar plexus.” Which makes you wonder, does this man have special contact lenses that make the whole world look beautiful? To him, everything is gorgeous, not just red carpet looks and fancy interiors, but also the dirty beards and flakey skin of the small-town Georgia residents he’s rehabbing on Queer Eye. And he has many ways of saying it: gorgeous, gorge, gor-GEOUS. This man’s appreciation of beauty in all its forms is thoroughly expressed.
HUNNY… With major apologies to drag culture and black women, JVN begins most sentences with this term of endearment. It’s not original to him, of course, but he’s made it his own. It’s not the forceful “honey!” of Samantha Jones. No, this is a cute, fuzzy little “henny” that makes you feel like he’s talking directly to you when he’s reading ads on his podcast Getting Curious.
CUTE… Anything good, he means with this. Not even necessarily visually or emotionally. Like, it could be anything from a facial hair configuration to a bipartisan human rights initiative. If JVN approves, he’ll often squeal, “Cayuuuute!” in sing-song inflection. Literally anything can be cute. A career change, a styling product, a nation-state. When fellow Queer Eye cast member Antoni Porowski guested on Getting Curious and talked about living in Belgium as a child, JVN provided a mini geography lesson. “Belgium is a cute little country tucked between France and the Netherlands,” he said for the benefit of the listeners. “She’s a baby!”
SHE… This one takes some getting used to, only because it’s so versatile, you need to pay close attention to context to understand what it’s referring to. In gay parlance, “she” can be so many things. It is a first, second and third person pronoun. It is all the pronouns. She is me. She is you. She is him. She is her. She is it, whether it is an app, a movie, a political movement or a skin care product. On the first ep of Queer Eye, JVN read the list of harsh ingredients on a bottle of body wash that claims to be moisturizing and famously noted, “She’s a liar.”
WHO GAVE YOU PERMISSION?! / CAN YOU BELIEVE?!… JVN really loves these two rhetorical questions for their dramatic effect. They’re also very disarming when asked forcefully. He once said “can you believe?” is like Windex because it just wipes the slate clean. Because really, what do you say back to that? You sound silly if you try to answer. Like, no I cannot believe. Or if you try to think of an authority figure who said it was okay for you to go ahead and be so gorgeous/amazing. These are statements disguised as questions. Don’t answer them.
GET YOUR LIFE… Not only does JVN say this, he’s showing us how to do it all the time. It’s about just living with total joy and jubilance at all times, giving zero fucks what anyone might think. It’s also about leveling up and living your best life. He mentions this a lot in ads on Getting Curious, when anything from designing a Squarespace site to eating low-calorie ice cream is “getting your life.”
LIVE YOUR TRUTH… Related to “get your life,” but nuanced as a higher virtue or spiritual pursuit, it’s another maxim JVN is spreading by example. Living your truth is doing your own thing, and being too fabulously joyful to worry about what others think about it. It doesn’t really matter what that is, as long as you’re doing it authentically, all the way. Like the time he defended episode subject Sean’s vintage music and fashion taste in Season 2 of Queer Eye. “Sean is like this baby relic from, like, this other time,” JVN commented about the singer’s corny, vaguely Elton John-esque jackets. “I don’t know where that time is, but he’s living his truth and it’s cute.”