Nothing is ever as it seems in the elusive and ever-changing world of the Upper East Side – and “Gossip Girl” is there for every dramatic second of it. With her identity a perpetual mystery and motives totally unknown, Gossip Girl not only serves as the plot device that draws viewers into the narrative but acts as our window into every private moment throughout the series. She’s not just a narrator, but a writer and the way she narrates every gritty detail and seems to be everywhere all at once is reflective of that – like any good writer, she controls the narrative and characters alike. Performed by Kristen Bell, the voice we hear as an audience is an interpretation of Gossip Girl’s words and persona; a voiceover that is quite possibly the biggest misdirect of the entire series.
Our Narrator is Virtually Omniscient
Our narrator seems to be virtually omniscient and everywhere all at once; nowhere on the Upper East Side is beyond her reach and she lets us know exactly that. Whenever there’s a potential scandal or drama in the works, Gossip Girl is right there in the middle, somehow both invisible yet centerstage. Much in the same way any writer weaves worlds together and ties every thread into neat little knots, Gossip Girl isn’t just telling a story, but pulling the strings only she can see. Throughout the series, Gossip Girl acts like our eyes and ears, and opens a window between us and the main characters. Through her narrative, she binds us to the story along with the different characters and creates a shared sense of intrigue between us; a craving for knowledge that only she can fill. Without Gossip Girl, there simply wouldn’t be a story to tell; only the hidden secrets of a world outside our grasp.
In a world where everybody wants to be on top, “Gossip Girl” is both the means and the ends.
“Gossip Girl” Controls the Narrative
Control is a massive theme throughout the series; everyone wants it. Whether it’s the constant power struggle between Blaire and Serena, or the all-too-real game of human monopoly played amongst the older characters, control is the name of the game. As rich and powerful as each of the heirs and heiresses may be, nobody is safe from the all-seeing eyes of Gossip Girl. Nothing is out of her reach, and while the main characters are more or less royalty, as far as they’re concerned, Gossip Girl is a god – and nothing escapes her. Her ears aren’t just to the wall, they’re the entire room. She treats the whole upper east side like her personal game board and every character in the series is an unwitting player. For all Chuck Bass or Blaire Waldorf might be able to accomplish, manipulate and instigate with their bottomless trust funds, Gossip Girl is always a step ahead, and above them. As powerful as money may be, when everyone is rich, nobody is, and knowledge stands above it all.
A Narrator Without Loyalty to Any Character
True to the series’ namesake, Gossip Girl gossips. She holds no loyalty to any one character and doesn’t discriminate over who her next target might be – gossip is gossip and it’s her self-indulged duty to report it. Her only loyalty is to the game only she knows the rules to.
She holds all the cards and plays them at her own leisure, stacking convoluted houses from them around different characters and knocking them down as she sees fit. Her self-ordained role is to shake things up, and she uses her narration to keep all the pawns scrambling long enough to fight among themselves instead of working together to unmask her. On the one hand, the journalistic integrity is almost admirable – everybody is fair game and she covers her tracks well. On the other hand, it’s downright insidious – friends and family mean nothing – love means nothing. It’s all just a game and our narrator is writing the rules.
Every line she utters may be a trap or misdirect; every update pulls the characters deeper into her clutches and nobody is out of reach.
The Narrator is a Misdirect
While viewers spent years speculating and guessing who might be behind the screen and xoxo’s, Gossip Girl’s identity was always in question.
With the late series, identity reveals coming as an earth-shattering divulge to fans, in hindsight, the signs were always there. In the world of New York royalty, being seen is all that matters, and it should have been obvious that the one character who’s never really been noticed by anybody leading up to the first episode, turned out to be Gossip Girl.
Spoiler alert: With the awkward revelation that Dan Humphrey is in fact Gossip Girl,, events of the series take a confusing turn for viewers that they could have never possibly expected. Historically, her motives were impossible to understand and nobody ever tried, she was just a staple to the lifestyle – an integral part of the infrastructure that makes up their world. But upon rewatching the series with that knowledge in mind, Humphrey was always on the outside looking in, ever-resentful of the rich and popular who take that world for granted. The entire narrative takes on a whole new meaning when the audience understands that lonely boy Dan was really Gossip Girl all along. Where characters like Nate Archibald and Serena Van Der Woudsen were handed the world on a silver platter from the moment they were born, Dan’s family had to pinch every penny and sacrifice whatever they could to send him and his sister to the same school as the uber elite.
The Narrator has a Grudge Against the Cast
Where the wealthy characters take their lifestyles for granted, Dan has to claw his way into the inner circles and upper echelons of society. The main characters are all born with more power and money than they could possibly know what to do with – Dan, on the other hand, has to become smart and manipulative enough to seize it for himself.
Through his use of Gossip Girl, he makes himself essential to their world using words alone – another clue that viewers might have noticed, but most probably didn’t. Gossip Girl isn’t just a narrative perspective and purveyor of secrets, but a writer – and a good one. If not a little self-indulgent at times, she’s highly intelligent and well-read; so much so to the point that she makes witty literary puns throughout most of her posts.
Combing through the series after the reveal, every pun that the narrator makes is so blatantly over the top and obvious that it could be no one else but Dan – but that’s just a testament to Kristen Bell’s flawless narration of his words.
Kristen Bell’s Narration
Hearing the story through the voice of a female narrator whose mannerisms and expressions are perfectly in sync with the source material isn’t just a stroke of creative genius, but the ultimate plot device that kept viewers guessing for years and multiple seasons.
The power of Kristen Bell’s narration is so intoxicating that her voiceover takes on a life all its own – it’s the perfect misdirect. As viewers, we assume that Gossip Girl was a girl all along simply because we’re told that she is. Because of Bell’s spritely and whimsical narration, and the handle used, we take it at face value. In fact, Kristen Bell does so well as a narrator for the series that she was deemed essential to the HBOMax reboot and reprised her role as the ever-elusive Gossip Girl.
However, the sobering reality of it all is that the voice of a female narrator is used for our benefit alone; the characters never actually hear her voice. They only read words on a screen – which might beg the question, just how gullible are Manhattan’s so-called elite?
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist and coach. Talent on over 20K projects, her narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.