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This Is the Best Met Gala Red Carpet in Years — Here’s Why

It’s not just because Rihanna dressed like the pope.

Cardi B wears a huge butter-yellow gown and a jeweled headpiece.
Cardi B arrives at the 2018 Met Gala.
Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

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When Rihanna arrived on the Met Gala red carpet in a pearl-encrusted minidress, robe, and matching mitre, Twitter completely melted down because, totally out of the blue, there was a new pope in town!

That should have been the end of anything worthwhile on the red carpet because how could anyone outdo Rihanna? In a pope hat?

Yet somehow the Met Gala kept raging. In past years, Rihanna has been one of the few celebrities who fully committed to the Met Gala theme, but for once, pretty much everyone ran wild with the (admittedly loose) conceit: “Sunday best,” to match the Costume Institute’s Catholic fashion exhibit, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” which opens to the public later this week.

Zendaya showed up in a choppy bob wearing a silver gown and armor, looking for all the world like a glammed-up Joan of Arc. Cardi B, swanning up the Met’s stairs on designer Jeremy Scott’s arm, looked like a queen in an Elizabethan headdress and a poofy butter-yellow gown.

Rihanna ascends the stairs wearing a silvery dress, cape, and pope hat.
Rihanna ascends the Met’s stairs.
Photo: Hector Retamal/Getty Images
Zendaya wears a silver dress and armor.
Zendaya channels Joan of Arc.
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

I’ve written before that the Met Gala is the one night when fashion lives up to its potential, and tonight it exceeded all expectations. Katy Perry, bless her try-hard soul, put on a gold minidress and strapped herself into a gigantic pair of angel wings. Lana Del Rey, wearing a halo decorated with six blue bird wings, formed a holy trinity with Gucci designer Alessandro Michele (father) and Jared Leto (son), both of whom wore gold crowns. Ariana Grande wore a billowing gown printed with Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, and when an E! correspondent complimented her on it, she replied, “Thank you, it’s the Last Judgment.” Amazing.

Michele and Leto wear gold crowns, and del Rey wears a halo with blue feathers.
Gucci designer Alessandro Michele, Lana del Rey, and Jared Leto arrive at the Met Gala.
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Katy Perry kneels, wearing a gold dress, gold thigh-high boots, and a huge white pair of angel wings.
Katy Perry, wearing a giant pair of angel wings, sits down on the red carpet.
Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

In all its aesthetic exuberance, tonight’s Met Gala underscored what’s good about the event: It’s about the clothes. Unlike red-carpet events like the Oscars or the Golden Globes, where attendees need to take the night seriously for professional reasons and therefore play it safe style-wise, the Met Gala is a true celebration of fashion. (To be clear, that doesn’t absolve anyone of a problematic getup.) It’s a reminder that there’s enormous richness, humor, and possibility to be found in clothing, so often dismissed as superficial and vapid.

Flying in the face of the Catholic church’s stance on the LGBTQ community, Lena Waithe wore a show-stopping rainbow cape on the red carpet — “an epic moment of defiance,” as she described it on Instagram, that nonetheless telegraphed a real sense of joy.

Lena Waithe poses on the red carpet.
Lena Waithe wears a rainbow cape to the Met Gala.
Photo: Hector Retamal/Getty Images

At the same time, the religious theme of this year’s Met Gala provided onlookers with the language to turn celebrity worship into, well, actual worship. Of course it did. Entertainers whom we already idolize go all out dressing like Catholic figures or swaddling themselves in religious symbols; in so doing, icons and iconography collapse into a single unit, and we sweep all subtlety off the table. Call it unexamined idolatry, or call it raw enthusiasm, but it’s potent stuff.

To quote one Twitter user: