Kris Bernal Loves Being a Celebrity and There’s Absolutely Nothing Wrong with That
by SOFIA DE AROS
Kris Bernal is such a profoundly busy person that the term “multi-hyphenate” falls a bit flat. Her endeavors—two businesses, a YouTube channel, a seemingly restless Instagram page, and her current path as a freelance actress under a brand new management—are somehow interwoven and completely symbiotic with one another. They all motor onwards simultaneously and function as multiple branches that ultimately serve one purpose. On top of all that, she’s been fighting to make her wedding happen for over a year.
"Ang dami ko talagang ginawa, kaya nase -stress ako. Pwede naman siyang onti eh,” she said, being the trooper that she is. Some things you have to know about Kris are that she’s self-aware, smart, and terribly, terribly industrious. Other fun facts about her: She is now 32; she has an enviable, naturally contoured face that makes her makeup artist’s job way too easy, plus a default expression that gives off a serene vibe. Given her chipper cheerleader persona, I was surprised at the fact that she was comfortable with unusually long pauses during conversation. But once she hops on a particularly exhilarating train of thought, her speech can hurtle so fast that it proved challenging to transcribe (read: she churned out whole paragraphs in what seemed like one breath). She also has a penchant for alliteration, is inadvertently poetic at times, and expresses herself so freely, which made her good company.
Kris Bernal for Preview.ph September 2021
Right now, one of her most visible efforts is her two-year-old YouTube channel, which currently boasts of nearly half a million subscribers. In addition to being the star of her channel, she is also its production designer, editor, promoter, and strategist. Her channel describes itself as “not your typical celebrity vlog,” which is true, if only for the fact that it’s proudly run by a one-woman team.
Next, as previously mentioned, she has her two businesses from discordant industries: meat and makeup. In 2017, she started House of Gogi, an open-for-delivery samgyupsal restaurant, and it has since made significant appearances in her vlogs. At no fault of Kris’ own, the restaurant was one of the thousands of businesses nationwide that were maimed by the pandemic. However, thanks to her and her fiancé Perry Choi’s efforts, it’s still chugging along well. Interestingly, this wasn’t her first foray into meat-centric restaurants: In 2016, roughly a year after she completed her stint as Starstruck Season 6’s co-host and “Social Media Bae,” she had launched Meat Kris, a burger stall with a short-lived but hugely successful run. At one point, she was selling over 300 burgers a day, and she immortalized this triumph on Instagram by posting a photo of herself supervising the stall, wearing an apron that read “CAUTION: Actress at Work.”
Additionally, Kris is the CEO and founder of SHE Cosmetics, described by its official website as “a make-up brand by Celebrity Kris Bernal.” It also says that all products were made in Korea, and that Kris “personally oversees the operations of the brand—from finding a manufacturer to packaging and to customer feedback.” Naturally, she also serves as the face of the brand and graces the bulk of its campaigns.
The point is, these projects all share the same nervous system because they are all powered by Kris, the megaventure and mother brand of which they are all offshoots. She isn’t just a local artista who’s exceptionally good at sustaining side hustles—you get the sense that they’re sub-brands of the umbrella brand that is ultimately Kris Bernal. For better or for worse, this unspoken requirement of kaleidoscopic hyper-productivity comes with being a celebrity on social media today, in a time where online social networks are vital to the world in the same way that blood is vital to a body. To be seen, appreciated, and “make it” as an internet celebrity, you need to be a self-generating content machine. You are the brand, you are the product, you are your capital–and you are also somehow expected to never run out of the said capital.
This is why Kris’ channel doesn’t feel like a succession of shameless plugs. Her straightforward House of Gogi restaurant tours and GRWMs using exclusively SHE Cosmetics rarely come off as cloying or self-promoting. Rather, in the context of her brand, they’re regular old vlogs—just Stuff Kris Does. After talking to her, it was clear to me that she’s stripped of pretense, and is a practical, headstrong, endlessly-optimizing businessperson with a talent for exhausting all plausible tangents. Kris is unapologetically unashamed about loving her celebrity status and wanting to be “it”—because truth be told, she doesn’t bother pretending that she dreams of becoming anything else other than a megawatt success.
Kris has plenty of exasperated takes on being a celebrity in the age of the internet—she brought up bashing and body-shaming a number of times during our Q&A proper, and even afterwards when we lingered in the Zoom call for 30 extra minutes to make room for an informal, fashion-centric conversation. As someone who has never held a Birkin, I had jumped at the opportunity to ask her, a certified designer bag aficionado and Hermès owner, what it felt like to lug around one. (Spoiler: She said it just felt like a normal bag.) After expressing that she favored logo-emblazoned things, and that she does not care for Bottega Veneta for this reason, she circled back to the topic of surveilling celebrities on social media, and asked me if I, a non-celebrity, looked at famous people’s Instagrams and wanted to be them. “Hindi ko alam ah, kasi artista ako,” she said. “Pero pag normalna tao ba, anong tingin niyo sa kanya? Gusto niyo ba maging siya?” She asked her question excitedly, eager for a response.
Her comfort zone is analysis, and by extension, so is the practice of seeking ways to benefit from all that analyzing. Her marvelous entrepreneurial spirit, which she claims is innate to her, drives her to treat comments as data to be studied, interpreted, and applied for future strategy plans. The personal nature of her profession, however, means that negative data often comes in the form of vile direct attacks. A serious bulk of our conversation revolved around this, and it was obvious that it diminished and overwhelmed her at times.
As it turns out, bashing can do more than just weaken a person’s morale. Hate comments, she explained, possibly harm her chances of scoring brand deals and endorsements, since companies are inclined to investigate both the quantity and quality of a celebrity’s online engagement. “Bawas points yun kumbaga. Doon ako nahihirapan. Nakakaapekto rin sa trabaho ko yung hate comments,” she said. Because of course, if your comments are full of hate, brands are likely to say pass. And a goal-oriented career woman such as Kris won’t take no for an answer.
Even though her time on social media hardened her into someone who she describes as a “meticulous perfectionist,” someone who overthinks her posts and panics over why other celebrities’ single-emoji captions outperform her thoughtfully-penned mini essays, she still has no qualms with posting what she considers normal: pimples, messy hair, skin discolorations, mosquito bites, and the like. But the body-shaming she endures is insane. Ever since she started her journey as a fitness enthusiast five to six years ago, which further defined her already taut and petite frame, the hate comments had never stopped, and still remain difficult to stomach. She could handle pettier mockeries, like the ones directed at that car selfie in which she unknowingly wore her top inside out (it’s still up on her profile, by the way!)—but it is the bullying that gets out of hand. “Ang hirap na kasi i-explain, girl!” she stressed. “Minsan feel ko paulit-ulit na lang! Hindi ko na alam ‘yung gagawin ko talaga.”
“Sige, ibato niyo sa’kin kasi I know myself better. Kapag sinasabi nilang adik-adik ako mag-work out alam ko namang hindi ako adik-adik mag-work out—alam kong every other day lang or every two days. Pag sinabi nilang ‘buto-buto ka’, well, alam ko namang hindi naman ako buto-buto kasi ang nakikita ko muscles. Pag sinabi nilang ‘hindi ka kumakain’, well, hindi naman nila nakikita yun, pero baka naman mas malakas pa akong kumain sa kanila. ‘Yung ganun! Mas kilala ko naman sarili ko eh,” she said, describing the mind-numbing back and forth.
Ellinor sandals in White, P1,700, SEBASTIAN & SAVANAH
A habit of hers is to punctuate her sentences with the phrase “Tama ba?” as if she can’t proceed without arriving at a consensus. She cares diligently. It’s apparent that she sincerely tries to cultivate conversations with an elusive online crowd whose only interest is to talk at her. “Struggle sa ‘kin kasi hindi ko alam kung gusto ng mga tao ‘yung ginagawa ko ngayon. Like, ‘di ba, hindi nila gusto ‘yung pagwo-work out ko, mas gusto nila ako before. Laging ganun yung comments—na ‘mas gusto kita dati nung cute cuteka lang’, ‘nung chubby cheeks ka pa’, ‘nung di ka pa nagwo-work out’, mga ganun. So hindi ko alam kung mag-a-adjust ba ako. Babalik ba ako sa ganun? Pero kailangan ko na rin mag-mature, eh,” she said.
She ended her sentence with resolve, and stayed quiet for a few seconds. Then she sprang back up, leaned forward, and said, her voice deep with frustration, "Pero grabe, noh? Lahat nalang talaga napapansin nila."
I then asked about what it’s like to be someone whose phone never stops pinging with notifications. For those outside of show biz, this situation can be hard to imagine. According to her, she does not shut off notifications and does not even limit comments. After posting, she watches the comments roll in like an avalanche. “Kasi may mga comments naman na hindi naman hate eh, or bash,” she explained. “May mga comments din na concerned lang naman din sa ’yo, na gusto nilang makinig ka sa kanila. Open ako to that eh. Baka masyado na akong engrossed sa sarili ko na hindi ko na napapansin na nakikita na ng ibang tao, diba? So hindi ako nag o-off ng commentskasi gusto kong makinig sa kanila.”
“Social media is just the highlights of the people you follow,” she shared. “There's so much going on in their lives also, especially sa celebrities. Siguro gusto ko lang din sabihin sa kanila na you're not alone. What you're experiencing, I'm also experiencing that. Don't compare yourself to others, because you can do so much more. Hindi mo lang alam,” she said. Then she paused so long and stayed so still that I thought she’d lagged, but she didn’t—I could still hear dogs barking in her house.
“Tama ba?” she suddenly blurted.
Perhaps people bash Kris because she’s always been transparent about her process. After nearly 14 years with GMA Artist Center, she shared the painful news that her contract had not been renewed after its expiration in March 2020. She persevered as a freelance actress anyway. She would talk about her headache-inducing business hiccups, and promise her followers updates. Sometimes, she would also ask them to help her decide on things. Her companionable, outward-facing personality, the ease at which she discloses the struggles of staying relevant and famous, and the way she humanly reacts to vicious personal attacks in every single comment section across her platforms all demonstrate that being a celebrity is a hard, hard work. Sure, show business is the empire of the talkative, the gung-ho, and the beautiful. Yet, even if you fit this bill, passing the casting call isn’t enough in a performative industry that demands consistency, where every day online is its own audition. Even if you fit the broad strokes but were not born into a socialite clan, and do not possess bulletproof safety nets, you’re going to have to punch in the hours just like anybody else. And now, with her freelancer status, Kris’ situation requires a bit more discipline and grit.
She demystifies celebrity for the passive artista-appreciators—the illusion of the ever-luxuriating VIP life is shattered, and we, her audience, realize that someone has to get their elbows greasy and engineer the sprezzatura. And if you, the celebrity, are not going to pay a team to do it, you have to dive in and do it yourself. As it turns out, being an artista is still a job, and maybe this ruffles some feathers—Kris is a bit too real and too plainly hard-working for an industry that mainly speaks to escapism, and we ought to heavily admire her for it.
The Busy Bride-to-Be
Kris is making the hop from being a daughter to a wife, which is a loaded hop, to say the least. She was raised by an intelligent, caring, frugal, well-spoken mother who gently tells her off for spending a bit too much on bags, and whose end goal is to build a shelter for all the stray dogs and cats victimized by the web of everyday urban violences, like speeding cars and cruel passersby. “Laking mommy talaga ako. ‘Di ko naman sinasabing spoiled, pero talagang nandiyan si Mom for me. When I’d wake up, nandoon siya. Even if we didn't have househelps at home, I never really learned to do household chores–‘yung legit ha! ‘Yung mga simple ones I can, but cooking mgacomplicated dishes, using the washing machine–”
“[Just] the daughter chores?” I offered.
“The daughter chores!” She laughed heartily and nodded.
I told her that I had heard about a celebrity who hadn’t even fried an egg before she became a wife. To this, she shouted, “Hindi naman sa ganoon! My fiancé is a chef, so feel ko siya na magluluto,” she added. “I really want to be with Perry na rin. I want to start a new journey. Kasi parang na-accomplish ko na yung maging artista, na-accomplish ko na yung pagiging successful, responsible daughter. Ano naman kaya yung mga challenges ng pagiging wife? Doon ako nae-excite.”
Once Kris weds, she’ll be leaving mom and her younger brother, with whom she’s lived with all her life, to be with Perry. On this, she is split like a log in the mill–half of her is excited, and the other half heartbroken. “Nahahati yung puso ko,” she shared. “Gusto ko makasama si Perry pero ang sakit iwan family ko.” She has a massive heart for her family and knew Perry was the one she wanted to marry when she saw how he cared for, pampered, and listened to her family. Amid her busy life, putting her phone down and talking to her family is her most reliable form of self-care.
“Pero feel ko when I get married, magma-mature talaga ako. Magiging independent na ako,” she continued. “When I get married, feel ko mas gusto ko pang bumongga sacareer ko. Mas magiging free ako gumalaw. Mas makakapag decide ako ng sarili ko. Because ngayon laging, ‘Mommy, Mommy, ano ang tama? Ano ang mali? Ano ang ano? Anong pipiliin ko?’”
Kris might not think so, but she seems as independent as it gets. For one, she drives herself to all her engagements, and brings along no more than one trusted assistant—the one I met at the cover shoot was a small, kindhearted older woman whom Kris treated like an aunt. And her wedding, which survived two or three devastating postponements, mainly pulled through due to her tireless efforts. She confided that the unbelievable strain of pandemic-era wedding planning deprived her of sleep, because she did not want to give up the fairytale ball she had in mind. In her view, downsizing the guestlist would mean wasting her extravagant Mak Tumang gown, her Gideon Hermosa-helmed sunflower field-themed reception hall, her bejeweled Ariana Grande-inspired updo, her carefully thought-out menu for the catering team, and her arrival via helicopter, which she was pushing for in lieu of the boring bridal car. (“Is the helicopter a non-negotiable?” I asked shyly. I must have looked dumbfounded because she burst out laughing.) The unstoppable Kris Bernal was brewing the spectacle of a lifetime, and she wasn’t going to let anything or anyone get in the way of that.
The Successful Woman
Despite the deluge of repetitive bashing, she’s not at all jaded by her celebrity status, perhaps because she herself hasn’t lost the capacity to be starstruck (pun intended). In a 2019 vlog, she giddily approached Dingdong Dantes, who was a full three heads taller than her, and handed him a boxed Darna Funkopop for Marian Rivera to sign. That vlog was a tour of the GMA Studio, and she took her cameraman around, showing off the bleachers, the dressing rooms, and the stage’s wings. She conducted the tour with the very game, helpful liveliness of a university freshman taking her younger siblings around her campus, motivating them and cheering them on because they were gunning to get accepted one day, too. You get the sense she recognizes what it’s like to not be an artista, which makes her value her status all the more. You get the sense that she wants to welcome you into her world.
And therein lies one of Kris’ most captivating traits. We’re used to the narratives of celebrities formalizing their own stardom by admitting that they don’t like the spotlight, and actually never did—that the fame was just a bonus to the art-making, and that they secretly detested glamour all along. As if to be real star, you had to resist the game. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this—it’s just that Kris offers such a different perspective in unapologetically playing the game and cherishing her fame. “Ayoko mawala sakin yung fame. Hanggang ngayon, naa-appreciate ko pa na nare-recognizeako ng mga tao, na naaalala nila yung mga ginagawa ko before. Gusto ko pa rin ‘yung attention na ‘yun—nae-enjoy ko pa rin siya. Mas nalulungkot nga ako pag hindi nila ako nakikilala. Or parang, ‘Sino yung Kris Bernal?’ Doon ako nalulungkot,” she laughed. ”Oo! Nalulungkot ako pag di sila sure kung ako yun. Kasi ibig sabihin ay, hindi ko pa rin na-reach talaga yung what I want in life. Nandun pa rin ako na gusto ko pa rin sumikat pa.”
Her upcoming newlywed status, she said, will not make her lay low on her quest for even bigger stardom. She already gave Perry the heads up that she’ll be going to tapings, and that she might not come home some nights. When I asked her if she ever dreamt of quitting social media one day, she firmly shook her head before I had finished my sentence: “Madaldal akong tao, gusto ko na shini-share ko ang lahat. At tsaka sabi ko nga, gusto ko yung perks ng fame,” she said smilingly.
To cap it all off, I asked her what being successful meant to her. She thought about it long and hard and struggled with stringing the words together, and slowly volunteered some phrases in uptalk. "Ang lawak kasi!"
“For me siguro...hmmm. Success is being content with what you have already achieved, whether it’s big or small? And it's about appreciating what you already have,” she began.
“Alam mo naman tayo. Gusto natin better, better, better. Gusto natin more, more, more, more. Andaming struggles pag marami kang gusto in life. Pero for me...appreciative ako sa mga dumadating sa'kin. Tama ba?” she laughed nervously. “Parang ganoon. You’re still trying, still pursuing to be your best version.”
Produced and styled by Maura Rodriguez
Photographed by Andrea Beldua
Art Direction by Bacs Arcebal
Beauty Direction by Nicole Arcano
Co-produced by Sofia De Aros
Makeup by Mikka Marcaida
Hair by Mong Amado
Set Design by Aren Dale Santos of ADSET Production
Words by Sofia De Aros
*All shoot attendees were tested and were negative of COVID-19 at the time of the production. Safety protocols and social distancing were implemented during the photo shoot.
*Disclaimer: No animals were hurt in the production of this shoot.
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