The W Stands for 'Why': What Is Going on With This Shoot for W Magazine—and What's With the Trees?

Images pursuant to fair use.
Images pursuant to fair use.
Photo: Juergen Teller for W Magazine

“Defund W Magazine!” exclaimed The Root’s contributing entertainment writer Shanelle Genai on Thursday, after seeing the most recent images released from W’s annual “Best Performances” issue—which we should note is a bevy of Black excellence. In truth, we’ve been clowning the cover story for days, a side-eye turned full-on facepalm as more images emerged featuring some of our faves photographed by Juergen Teller in perhaps the most lo-fi pandemic production we’ve seen yet...and yet, many of them managed to be upstaged by...a tree?


Shaq got a tree. (Or the tree got him? See above.) Tessa got a tree. Lakeith got a tree. Leslie Odom Jr. awkwardly got two—as did Jonathan Majors, one of which seemed...phallic, to say the least (see above).

“I do not like this W Magazine shoot. I do not like it one bit or one boot. All of these celebs look bored in a tree, where oh where, is the creativity?” asked Shanelle, clearly feeling Dr. Seuss vibes from the sheer absurdity of some of these juxtapositions, which she’s since nicknamed “The Tree Agenda.”

Granted, we’ve all had to get creative in a pandemic—and to be fair, not only the Black celebs got the tree treatment (otherwise, we’d be having a whole other conversation). But have we run out of ideas along with a sense of time? Case in point: whose idea was it to put our beloved Nicole Beharie in a shopping cart (and in front of a damned tree)?

“Nicole is serving faaaaace thank goodness, but WTF W mag?” Tonja Stidhum, The Root’s staff entertainment writer, wanted to know. “They just wasting all this Black beautiful energy with this shit.”


Word—and while we’re at it, what’s with the mid-level sedans featured in almost every shot (i.e. this one, with our homegirl-in-our-heads Tracee Ellis Ross parked next to a Pattern Beauty-yellow whip)? Like, what is the “celebs, they’re just like us” message W is trying to communicate here?

“You get a Hyundai! You get a Hyundai! Everybody gets a Hyundai!” answers Shanelle.


Real talk? We know experimental, edgy and outright bizarre has long been your thing, W—and we’ve largely been here for it. But this ain’t it. After a friggin’ year of being indoors, we want to escape, not dip downstairs for a couple of quick street shots on our iPhones before we change our windshield wiper fluid. Until we get this herd immunity poppin’, we need glamour, excitement, something to look forward to. After all, isn’t that entertainment?

In other news, Tonja hears the trees are now repped by CAA, so there’s that. “Best performances,” indeed.


Updated: Thursday, February 25 at 7:10 p.m., ET: Taylour Paige got a tree. Dominique Fishback got this ground cover and the optical illusion of a palm tree growing out of her head (and a midsized sedan for texture). Andra Day got this kinda elegant, kinda scary cactus/aloe-looking situation that we’re pretty sure is still a tree. And in perhaps the hottest iteration of this unfortunate motif (okay, we’re biased), Yahya Abdul-Mateen got a tree, too.

How do you get into tree casting? And did the sedans get paid?

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



Not just any shopping cart. I know a 99cent store shopping cart when I see one lol. I am also very confused why all the pictures looked like they were driving around LA, found a neighborhood with trees said yup everybody meet here. Like its apartment buildings and parked cars like whose idea was this? All these parks in LA and other places and they choose a random east of the 10 neighborhood. Poor people who live there. Street probably got shut down while they tree’d it up smh