What did Selena Gomez say to Taylor Swift at the Golden Globes and what might be whispered at the Oscars? Call in the lip-readers

The latest trend on TikTok is for content creators to ‘reveal’ through lip-reading what celebrities are whispering to their friends. But is it fair, ethical or even remotely accurate?

One of the most popular moments from the recent Golden Globes ceremony didn’t happen on stage.

It was a smaller scene that sparked intense public speculation, when singer Selena Gomez was filmed speaking urgently into the ear of her friend Taylor Swift, even as Swift screwed up her face into expressions of shock and bemusement. What were they discussing? On the social media site TikTok, lip-readers speculated that Gomez was gossiping about the actor Timothée Chalamet and his girlfriend Kylie Jenner.

Gomez denied the rumours – not that it mattered. Lip-reading celebrities’ supposedly private conversations with their fellow elites is a new way for the public to engage with them, and it is rapidly turning once low-key TikTokers into influencers of note.

Jackie Gonzalez (@tismejackieg), from Texas, is a creator with 119,600 followers on TikTok. She began making these kinds of videos when her sister showed her a lip-reading video and, as a deaf person, she “immediately knew it was wrong and stemmed off rumours instead of truth”.


When it comes to finding videos to read, Gonzalez says they come from all over – her sister, her followers and her “For You” page on TikTok. “All the videos I lip-read have to be interesting to me personally,” she notes. “I’m 100 per cent going to attempt to lip-read Taylor Swift because I’m a fan, whereas a basketball player I don’t really know isn’t really going to be something I want to lip-read.”

Another popular creator on TikTok is Nina Dellinger (@ninacelested), who is known as the “lip-reading girl”. Dellinger realised as a teenager that she could read people’s lips well, but it wasn’t something she pursued until the pandemic, when she downloaded TikTok. She now has 1.3 million followers. “It’s very strange,” she says. “I feel like it is something I was born with, because I never practised it prior to that.

“It’s given me an opportunity to bring awareness to the fact that so many hard-of-hearing people and people in the deaf community rely on lip-reading every day.”

When asked if it was harder to read an Irish accent – that of Cillian Murphy, for example, who has an Oscars ceremony to attend soon – Gonzalez says she generally tends to stay away from people who are not from her country of birth.

“I’m American so I know what that looks like on the mouth, but if you throw in any accent other than that, it makes things much more challenging.” For Dellinger, it can be hit or miss. “I either immediately recognise it’s an accent or I’m just completely lost. There have been times where I’ve spent a good 20 to 30 minutes looking at a video and I’m just getting different reads that make no sense.”

In terms of the appeal of these videos, both creators say that some of their followers are interested in the act of lip-reading itself. For others, however, it’s about getting one step closer to their favourite celebrities and how they interact with others.

“It’s like being a fly on the wall,” says Gonzalez. “We’ve all wanted to be that at one point or another.” And there can be a kind of power that comes with the videos. “People, especially younger viewers, want the drama of it,” Dellinger says. “They want to put something in the celebrity’s mouth that makes them feel a certain way.”

At this year’s Grammy Awards, the ever-savvy Taylor Swift appeared to react to the lip-reading trend by bringing a black fan with her to hide her mouth when she spoke. Both creators said they understood the reason behind her decision, although Gonzalez admits that she was “a little bummed”.

The action raises another question, however: even if lip readers can successfully and accurately make out what celebrities are saying, should the public be given access to their conversations in this way?

Dellinger is careful about what she posts, particularly when she feels that more sensitive information may be being communicated. “I’ve had several times where I do a lip read and I find content to be a bit too personal or sensitive or defamatory [to use]. I can’t say that what I’m saying is 100 per cent true. That’s not just me, that’s just professional [lip] reading in general.”

For Gonzalez’s part, she believes that celebrities understand the deal they’ve struck with the media – and if they want to be observed at award ceremonies like the Oscars or the Golden Globes, then they should be prepared for that kind of attention.

“Celebrities are some of the most privileged people in the world, because they get to live out their dreams,” she says. “If the worst part of the job is that people are speculating about what you’re saying, then that is a small price to pay for your dream. And if you feel that it’s not a small price to pay then maybe you’re in the wrong profession.”

Rebecca Daly

Rebecca Daly

Rebecca Daly is an Irish Times journalist