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Here at the Met Gala, Reporting to You From the Top of the Stairs

The air is rarified on the uppermost step on the left side of the 2016 Met Gala red carpet. Across from where I stand, Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley is doing his version of warm up scales (delightfully shouting "Where'd you get your fashion?" several times). I can see the entire breadth of the stairs from my designated corner, and the only thing keeping me from floating away is the weight of my Mugler wristlet, stuffed with two phones, a portable charger, a tape recorder, and a personal hotspot. This year's theme is Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology; the week prior, I'm assigned to cover it from the red carpet.


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When you're on the Met Gala red carpet for the first time, like I am, your brain is thinking in all-caps, but none of it's useful. Don't think about your poor choice in shoes. Don't think about what your hair is doing. Don't think about how just yesterday you were standing in cut-off jorts, sweating over Ikea instructions, trying to assemble some drawers. Don't think about the other half of the lamb gyro in your fridge.

Think about your body language. Are you standing in a way that's inviting to the most sought-after celebrities of this very specific moment? Think about your voice, the one you use to shout these gorgeous alien goddess' names. Is it purposeful enough to steer Sarah Jessica Parker, currently wearing Industrial Revolution-esque Monse, towards you for just one question, please? No, it turns out. She won't stop because you're holding your arms awkwardly and yelping like a lunatic. Don't think about whether or not you are, in fact, a lunatic.

Don't think about Lemonade. Or do. At least one victim of the "Becky" witch hunt is in attendance (hey, Rita! Later in the night Rita will snap a selfie with Beyoncé, and millions will cross her name off that tired list). This is the scene where, two years ago tonight, the public first learned that something was way, way, way up in casa de Bey-Jay. But Beyoncé isn't coming until the end, per tradition, and there's so much to do before she gets here.

Taylor Swift doing her duty as this year's co-chair. Photo: FilmMagic/Getty Images

Besides the arrival of Taylor Swift, this year's co-chair and local Apple rep, Saoirse Ronan is one of the first somebodies to show up. You hear whispers of "shhhhhhhh" and "ssssserrrr" and "soooooor" flutter up the press line as journalist after journalist confirms how exactly to pronounce the actress's name before shouting it in her general direction. It's a wave of confusion in the key of panic. This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a "shhhhhhherrrr?"

Then a medley of the first string faces spills forth. I can't be sure in what order they come. Lupita, Nicki, Mindy, Gaga, Lena, Kerry, Claire Danes, Zoe Saldana, Jessica Chastain, Cindy Crawford, Emma Watson, the sisters Hadid, the sisters Jenner, and the sisters Haim. Willow Smith and Hailey Baldwin exchange gleeful hugs while Jaden hangs back. Amandla Stenberg spots a friend in a Teen Vogue staffer and hustles over to say hello and twirl for an iPhone. Model Jessica Hart and Moda Operandi's Lauren Santo Domingo take a smoke break directly behind the press tent and watch the mayhem from a safe vantage.

Emma Stone slips by because she's dyed her hair dark. The New York Times doesn't recognize her either. It's an easy mistake when you're also trying to watch Lorde on the top of the stairs interacting with Lily Collins like real human people do while Amy Schumer comes from the bottom graciously avoiding questions the whole way.

The red carpet goes eerily quiet for a moment — maybe just in your head, but also possibly for real. The Olsen twins glide up the steps together in perfect synchronicity and parallel stoicism. No one is wasting their time trying to speak to them. Seeing little obvious evidence of "Machina" in their clothes, you wonder if cosplaying robots is their contribution to the theme.

The Olsen spell is broken by a butt shrouded in lace directly across the red carpet. "Whose butt am I looking at?" is a thing you wonder. It's Madonna's butt. You're looking at Madonna's butt.

(L) Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images; (R) Photo: Venturelli/Getty Images

The thing is, when you're perched on top of the Met Gala like me, the view is great, but you're still in a corner. A few people stop and speak. Wendi Deng offers the hot exclusive that she's "learning to be more tech-saavy for my children. Like Snapchat and how to use everything." She should speak to Miranda Kerr who says she's "quite good on Snapchat, but that's because I get all the inside information" — as in, she dates its founder. On a separate note, Deng suggests "magic" for next year's theme. (I'm later admonished by a coworker for not asking her about her rumored lover Vladimir Putin, which I'll be sorry about for a very long time.)

Uma Thurman won't own up to any technical expertise: "I barely know how to hit return." La La Anthony owns up to it all: "I'm very good. Too good. I have all the apps to make me look great." The incredibly nice Kerr won't stop talking about her favorite alkalizing water filter as Kim and Kanye make their way toward Talley. I can't remember how we got on the subject.

The men of Public School, who dressed Halsey in a Blade Runner-inspired androgynous sheath, think a Met Gala theme "should be black T-shirt. Black T-shirt tie." Designer Wes Gordon tells me that he hopes "that there's still an emphasis on quality and special[ness]" in the future of fashion. I tell him he has a button undone.

Wearing full robot regalia, Julie Macklowe, socialite in the beauty business, imagines a future gala where "we'll probably be flying in on our hoverboards. Where is my drone?" Yes, where are our drones? You wanted at least one drone on which Taylor rides, hand-in-hand with Apple chief design officer Jony Ive, and you wanted it to look like a chariot. That would be something to talk about.

Photo: Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images

From my perch, I come to appreciate the drive-by shouters. It's efficient and democratic in this den of luxury and exclusivity. Mindy Kaling looks to the left side, and declines every outlet at once, saying, "I'm sorry! I have to use the restroom!" Jared Leto hollers that he can't speak because he "has a gag order." Blake Lively hears a man fire off, "How long did it take you get ready today?" and sing-songs back, "You can ask better questions than that!" A hurried Orlando Bloom points to the Tamagotchi where his pocket square might go and says, "Look, I have a Tamagotchi." Later, Katy Perry holds up the same Tamagotchi model "from 1996. That's my tech contribution."

And then Beyoncé is here and she comes flooded in light. She glows even when backlit by a million flashes. I'm not totally sure if I'm seeing her or an amalgam of all the photos and videos and rumors and think pieces in motion, twice filtered again through my own couple of cameras. I'm not sure I saw her at all. Later, I realize that I captured her on Snapchat laughing that this year's dress "was a lot easier than last year," when she made everyone wait for an eternity.

"Fashion in the age of technology" is sort of a stretch for the actual clothing on the red carpet. Most of the gown choices vaguely nodded to the theme at best. This annual practice, though, is perfect theater for fame in the age of technology. From my isolated corner, I have a good view, and with hit after hit of celebrity, each one more famous than the next, I glean the smallest sample of their lives. It has the same overwhelming pace, attention jockeying, bitesized fare, and I-can-see-you-but-I-can't-talk-to-you nature that I get simply by having a phone and a WiFi connection. But it still feels special when you're in the room. You, by some stroke of luck or fate or questionable decision made by your superiors that you're not going to argue with, get to see them first.

When somebody yells from across the red carpet, "Beyoncé did you have a glass of lemonade before you came today?," I know it's time to go.

Back at the office, I trade my Mugler dress and heels for mom jeans and New Balances, and take the subway home. I look at every single person I encounter on the way and wonder if they can detect my secret. "Look into my eyes," I tacitly will a car of strangers. "You might still see the things I've seen."

In the final stretch to my apartment, when all those shiny and shellacked people were probably on their second or third glass of champagne, I pass the liquor store on my block. There's a kid — well under 21 — calling out to me from its doorway. He asks me to buy him something because he "forgot his ID." I smile at him; I'm ready to share my truth.

"I saw Beyoncé tonight."

"You saw Beyoncé?"

I nodded. "She was wearing Givenchy I think. It was latex."

"Oh wow," he permitted me. "But can you buy me something? I have cash."

No, I can't, polite young ruffian, who is maybe a little afraid of me and definitely can not care less about my last three hours in a fame cloud. I have to go commit everything I've seen to memory. I want to always recall it as I saw it with my own eyes from a corner at the top of the stairs.

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