Lindsay Lohan’s career is a timeline of reinventions. She was a child actor, a surefire success, a soap star, a sexpot, a pop singer, an addict, a criminal, a joke, a liability, a lost soul. She’s worked in television, movies, and music; she’s had publicly disastrous relationships with several men and one woman; she’s launched (or attempted to launch) a clothing line, a jewelry line, a production company, and a nightclub, and soon, she’ll have her own goddamn island.
Lohan’s latest attempt to reenter the public fray is with Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, now airing on MTV. The reality show follows Lohan and her business partner Panos Spentzos as they open a beachfront club in Mykonos, Greece, along with the nine conventionally hot American people she hires to work there as “VIP hosts.” Lohan isn’t subtle about what she’s trying to achieve now: She wants to be Lisa Vanderpump, at the helm of her own nightlife empire, in a role that largely presents her as operating above the drama, rather than the clear instigator of it.
The show's hosts are not bartenders or servers; the entirety of their job is to lure people into the beach club so they’ll pay for cabanas, shots, and bottle service. (In the first episode, one host makes out with a guest, something that Spentzos applauds, since that guest turned out to be their highest spender of the night.) Lohan plays a stern but kind mother hen to this bunch of twentysomethings who work for her but are also preoccupied with getting wasted on the beach. Lohan, after all, has a long history of being that twentysomething herself, one whose addictions, namely to alcohol, led to a number of attempts at rehab and more than a few readily available mugshots.
Of course, it doesn’t make sense to talk about Lohan and her descent into…whatever you might call it — maybe madness, or drug addiction, or just the recesses of C-list celebdom (which, for her, has involved bewildering accents and an attempted kidnapping) — as if we had nothing to do with it. Anytime you talk about Lohan, you have to talk about the countless reels of footage of her running away from paparazzi into a club, holding an oversized hobo bag aloft to shield her face from a greedy public obsessed with her downfall. Who could be surprised that Lohan has forever been trying to outrun the bad press that started plaguing her when she was barely old enough to vote?
Throughout Lohan’s relatively short life — would you believe she’s only 32? — it feels as if, ever since the initial impact of The Parent Trap, she’s constantly struggled to gain more control: control over her career, her public image, her future, the media coverage around her. For years, Lohan tried to change the narrative about her, and when that didn’t work, she stepped away from Hollywood stardom and the relentless attention that came with it. She recently moved to Dubai, where paparazzi photography is heavily regulated, and where images of her became harder and harder to find. As she told the New York Times in June, “When I chose to change my future, my life, I was like, ‘Where’s the one place I can find silence?’” But total silence seemingly wasn’t satisfying — or profitable — enough to be sustainable.
Lohan, now sober, is trying to reinvent herself once again as a business owner, albeit one who’s more a benevolent celebrity patron saint than a hands-on manager. Beach Club gives Lohan more control than any project of hers has in the past decade. We get a sense that we’re meant to view her the way she might view herself: spiritual, rich, mature, competent, kind. The editing is generous, her appearances are sparing (especially for a show that bears her name), and she’s presented as a firm but generous club mogul who isn’t going to take anyone’s shit because she’s a fucking boss bitch, okay.
Beach Club isn’t just an opportunity to revise Lohan’s existing narrative, but one that could help her become a name with a new, younger audience, one that might not know her the way millennials and Gen Xers do. For MTV’s younger viewers — the premiere gave MTV a 148% ratings boost for women between the ages of 18 and 24 — the series of train wrecks that dotted Lohan’s late teens and early twenties is ancient history, so long ago that they probably weren’t reading celebrity party blogs and then going to school the next day to talk about those photos where she’s holding a knife to Vanessa Minnillo’s throat (but in a sexy way?).
Lohan’s taken a leaf from the Real Housewives playbook — following in the footsteps of women like Kyle and Kim Richards, both child stars who eventually joined the Beverly Hills franchise, or more recent Beverly Hills cast members like Faye Resnick, and soon, Denise Richards, all of whom became reality stars in an attempt to rewrite their own histories. Today, they’re not famous train wrecks, or famous wives to bad men, or child actors with unfulfilled careers. Now they’re famous for being famous, attempting to run clothing brands or restaurants or otherwise attempting to create a #BossBitch brand on TV.
Here’s Lohan’s turn to try to accomplish the same, a decade after her first few falls from grace. “I know the ups and downs of being in the spotlight,” Lohan says in the introduction of the first episode. “Now, I want to do things differently. I want to be my own boss.” She’s taken some time out of the spotlight, away from the American gossip machine, and she’s no longer attempting a comeback as box office star. Maybe she can make this work?
Or maybe Beach Club, like other reinventions she’s attempted, won’t stick either. Not because Lohan isn’t trying, or because she doesn’t deserve it, or because her misdeeds are too grandiose to forget. It might not work because Beach Club isn’t really about Lohan at all.
A full decade after the (first) time Lohan violated the terms of her DUI probation, we’re still trying to understand exactly what went wrong. She teases the idea of being open to the public — of setting the record straight, of finally moving forward, of becoming bigger than the tabloid headlines we all remember about her — but fails to fully commit, whether out of fear or exhaustion or just plain lack of imagination. While Lohan was once the subject of exploitation — by her family, other reality shows, the gossip industry — now, someone else is the butt of the joke. That’s at least a better position to be in, but it’s not necessarily a victory.
You can’t talk about Lindsay Lohan without talking about her parents. Other young famouses from the age of Uggs and flared micro miniskirts — Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus — had previously rich and famous families that helped launch them to stardom (or notoriety). The Lohans, meanwhile, became famous for being awful, intrusive stage parents. Lindsay’s mother, Dina, a momager long before Kris Jenner turned the concept into a career, has long been accused of exploiting Lohan, including by enabling her bad behavior, drinking with her, and claiming she was doing just fine when the public record seemed to tell a very different story.
Lohan’s father, Michael, has been arrested a number of times and went to jail for four years in 1990 for a stock fraud case when Lindsay was only 5, around the time her career as a child model was taking off. In her show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Lindsay — an eight-part docuseries released in 2014 following Lohan’s move from LA to New York as she tried to rebuild her career and maintain her sobriety — she revealed that when her father came to visit her on the set of The Parent Trap, he was promptly arrested for violating his parole. Her parents divorced in 2007, when Lindsay was 21, after years of rumors that Michael had abused Dina, often in front of Lindsay. A year later, Dina and Lindsay’s younger sister, Aliana, debuted their E! reality show, Living Lohan. (It only got one season; Lohan was not a cast member.)
Throughout Lohan’s career, Dina and Michael fought in public over their children, usually over Lindsay, the most high-profile of their aspiring-celebrity brood. (Aliana is a singer whose new single was released around the premiere of Beach Club, surprise surprise, while their younger brother Dakota is a model. Mike Jr. appears to be the normie of the group.) The established narrative about Lohan was written long before she was old enough to start contributing to it herself: Her father was a deadbeat, her mother was fame-hungry, and Lohan was likely keeping the family afloat financially — merely a tool in their ongoing divorce and attempts to become rich and famous.
Despite her family’s issues, Lohan performed a good facsimile of a normal person for a few years: a charming, attractive, and precociously talented young actor who made a short string of successful movies. In hindsight, Lohan’s professional upswing looks shorter than it felt at the time. In reality, she had maybe five or six consecutive successful years after her debut in The Parent Trap, which introduced her as a child star with tremendous moviemaking potential.
Get a Clue (2002) cemented her as Disney teen star, Freaky Friday (2003) proved she could hold a movie on her own, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) gave her an opportunity to do a better Hilary Duff than Hilary Duff, and then, of course, there was Mean Girls, also in 2004. Nothing was as big for Lohan as Mean Girls, a movie of such cultural ubiquity that it’s crossed over from a millennial fixation to a Broadway musical to an Ariana Grande music video. Lohan was a perfect lead — charming and beautiful, but relatable and prototypically “normal,” despite her clearly very not-normal upbringing and home life.
But after Mean Girls, nothing hit in the same way, or even close to it. Not Herbie Fully Loaded (2005), a movie where a car is the protagonist, and not Just My Luck (2006), which earned Lohan a much sought-after Razzie Award. Maybe she started to lose favor with audiences around the time she started being photographed passed out in the back seats of cars. (Or, you know, maybe they were just bad movies.)
Or maybe she was getting distracted. In 2004, Lohan was also trying to take a run at being a pop star — a career move you could potentially read as one big cry for help. “Rumors” from 2005 is a literal and figurative plea for people to leave Lohan alone and let her goddamn dance without the paparazzi getting in her face. “Confessions of a Broken Heart” is a tour through Lohan’s tumultuous childhood; the music video is complete with actors playing both of her parents in a domestic dispute while Aliana plays a young and emotionally scarred Lohan. (At the end of the video, a photo of a younger Lohan and her sister burns in a fire.) If you think Beach Club is tough to watch because it’s disingenuous, go rewatch the video for “Confessions,” which is so uncomfortably sincere that you’ll long for a Lohan Beach Club confessional interview where she, without an ounce of irony, talks about the (woof) “Lohan brand.”
Lohan’s music wasn’t exactly well-reviewed (Slant called it “one giant market researched disaster”), but it certainly revealed an otherwise unmined kind of darkness within her. (The second song on her second album is called “Black Hole.” Kind of a banger, honestly!)
The narrative around Lohan has always been that she squandered a tremendous amount of potential, or that her family fucked her up before she even had a chance. Both assumptions — that her family set her up for failure (and success, credit where credit’s due), and that she had a chance to be great but got in her own way — seem to hold some truth. But there’s also the fact that, since she was a teenager, she’s been under immense public scrutiny, expected to turn a huge profit in that tricky space between Disney teen dream and sex object.
To understand the kind of lens Lohan was under for most of her late teens and twenties, Perez Hilton’s blog archive is a good place to start. The peak of Lohan’s career in the aughts was also the peak of Perez’s wildly popular, ruthlessly cruel celebrity gossip commentary. He drew “Got Drugs?” over her mugshot. “Lindsay Lohan is the queen of the drama — she finds it or creates it wherever she goes!” he wrote in 2008, about her hospitalization after being hit by a motorcycle.
Other bloggers were no kinder: In 2010, Gawker’s Brian Moylan published a photo timeline of Lohan’s “fall from grace,” mostly making fun of her appearance, at one point comparing her to the Crypt Keeper. The same year, outlets like People painted her as a desperate, lonely, serial liar in a downward spiral — perhaps a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Her behavior became more erratic; remember when she called Paris Hilton a "cunt" and then immediately denied it?
If Lohan were publicly living the same “drama” today, it’s easy to imagine that the media reception might be a little different. Take, for example, her relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson, which, when it was acknowledged at all, tended to be the object of derision or salaciousness, or both. Ronson and Lohan were one of the first young, hyper-famous women couples in the public eye, long before women like Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart and Ellen Page followed in their (messy) footsteps. Perez called Ronson “saMAN” and Lohan “LezLo.”
The coverage of Lohan’s body, too — namely her rail-thin frame and her well-documented eating disorder — would likely be different now in an age of Woke Twitter, when celebrities more readily campaign to destigmatize mental health and body image issues on platforms like Instagram, where they have more control over their public image. And while there might have been something uncomfortably thrilling in watching professional club kid/Paris Hilton–hanger-on Brandon Davis call Lohan a “firecrotch” — what kind of media-illiterate rich dumdum would blurt out such a thing today?! — it feels pretty slimy when you think about it in a post-#MeToo world.
Of all the party girls of that particular era who seemed to teeter on the brink of disaster or tumble straight into it, Lohan has had the hardest time recovering her equilibrium. Hilton went to jail, Britney Spears had a public mental health crisis, Nicole Richie was caught with heroin. But Hilton grew up, continued to build a formidable empire of seemingly 700 different fragrances, later appearing in American Meme and recontextualizing her fame and the leak of her sex tape. Spears relaunched her music career in Vegas, got a hot-ass boyfriend, and has been quietly working and continuing to perform her undeniably influential oeuvre. Richie got sober and got into acting and did Vaseline-covered-lens interviews with her husband about taking responsibility for her past and how her pregnancy changed her life.
Lohan, meanwhile, never managed to fashion her own redemption narrative. Instead, outlets wrote stories about how she was difficult and sad and lonely. How she had veered into the deep end and was out of control, personally and professionally.
Lohan’s acting projects from 2006 onward generally tanked, ones where it seemed she was trying to rewrite herself as a more serious actor. She was in the Prairie Home Companion movie (2006), a Bobby Kennedy biopic (2006), a Mark David Chapman biopic (2007), and least likely of all, an Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton biopic (2012). (Little will give you full-body cringe quite like Lohan as Liz Taylor, namely when she huffs and puffs like a teenager and yells, “I’m bored! I’M SO BORED!”) “I want my career back,” she told Vanity Fair in 2010, during one of many attempts at professional rehabilitation. “I want the respect that I had when I was doing great movies. And if that takes not going out to a club at night, then so be it. It’s not fun anyway. I don’t care. It’s the same thing every time.”
In 2013, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story about Lohan on the set of her movie The Canyons, an erotic thriller with porn star James Deen as the male lead, which would go on to become a massive box office failure. She’s presented as flaky, mercurial, distracted, somehow simultaneously too self-aware and not self-aware enough.
She bailed on scheduled shoots. She got fired and texted director Paul Schrader frantically to get her job back. She wept in a hallway for 90 minutes. She refused to film the contractually obligated sex scene. Schrader disrobed to try to make her more “comfortable.” (This did not work.) She ran up a $600 lunch bill for a movie with a $250,000 budget. She went out with Lady Gaga until 5:30 in the morning when she had a call time at 6. When she was complimented on her work in an abuse scene with costar Deen, she replied, “Well, I’ve got a lot of experience with that from my dad.” (Meanwhile, Deen is described in the story as “dependable” and “fastidious.” He would, years later, be accused of sexual assault by a number of women.)
Here, Lohan isn’t just a mess, she’s a financial burden. And that, maybe more than any single challenge she was dealing with — her drug addiction or her eating disorder — was what spelled the end of her career. She had become a liability. “I’ve been given a lot of chances,” she said in 2013. Soon enough, she stopped getting them.
The closest Lohan got to a true redemption narrative was in her other, pre–Beach Club attempt at a reality series. Lindsay, an eight-part series on OWN in 2014, followed Lohan while she moved from Los Angeles into a comparatively modest New York apartment, worked on her sobriety with a life coach, and tried to reboot her career with photo shoots, interviews, and acting work. Spliced between scenes of Lohan getting angry with her assistant, refusing to film, cellphone footage of whatever she’s been doing at 2 in the morning, and conversations with her enabling family, Lohan sits down for interviews with Oprah — seemingly the only person who holds her feet to any sort of fire, but not to any real avail.
If Lohan thought that Lindsay was the way she could be reintroduced to her audience as someone working hard at recovery and putting her life back in order — something more than a lost cause — it didn’t work that way. The docuseries is a tragic portrayal of a lost girl who can’t make it to work on time, fires people when they question whether she’s sober, parents her own parents (who have themselves gotten arrested for drunk driving and domestic disputes), and drives the people around her to quit in utter frustration. It paints the portrait of a woman in denial.
At one point in Lindsay, Lohan meets with a literary agent to talk about the possibility of writing a memoir, before mentioning that her mother’s memoir, My Journey, is about to come out. “I have a different interpretation of my childhood as opposed to whatever she’s going to say,” she says. “That’s kind of why I was like, I think I need to do something because I want to be able to put out there what I know and how I saw everything.” She and the agent talk about her diaries, all rife with detail about her upbringing and her feelings. He asks her if she’s ready to share that much with a global audience. “Yeah,” she says. “I have no problem sharing that.”
If you want to watch a show about Lindsay Lohan — her redemption story, her continued downfall, or something in between — Beach Club is not that show. It’s barely about her at all; it’s more interested in focusing on the hot dummies she’s hired from the US to come to Mykonos and sell bottle service to rich vacationers. The show is built on the premise that Lohan has already effectively rehabilitated herself — she previously bought a club in Athens, so this particular location is merely an expansion of her burgeoning empire. She sometimes mentions the pressure she feels for this venture to be a success, which seems perhaps at odds with her employees’ motivations for participating in the show. “When I have these kids coming in, they’re just partying and having fun,” Lohan says in the first episode. “I don’t want that shit. And I won’t have it.” (She here tries to snap her left fingers before realizing she can’t actually snap with that hand.) This seems both sincere and ridiculous. Lohan is likely getting plenty of money from her deal with MTV, at least. But the stakes are real for her in another way: She can’t afford, emotionally or professionally, another public failure.
The chief criticism of someone like Lisa Vanderpump, namely from her castmates on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, is that she’s controlling. “Bobby Fischer” they call her, so calculating that she’s managed to maintain a kind of supremacy over the other women for nine years, one of the few OG Housewives who hasn’t been completely tarnished by the show’s sometimes ungenerous editing or, say, a drinking problem, a shitty husband, domestic abuse, cheating allegations, or whatever else her castmates have been navigating for the last decade.
Vanderpump has her quirks — namely that she’s always carrying a tiny dog around like a purse — but she has undoubtedly built an image around being the boss. She’s funny and brash, but unlike other women in the Real Housewives universe, Vanderpump never gets too drunk or throws a glass of wine at a soap star or has a mental breakdown in a limo. She is forever controlled, helming her own hospitality empire, insofar as an empire can be tantamount to mediocre restaurants in West Hollywood (and the terrible, addictive reality show about them). Vanderpump earned her position as boss lady in charge, while Lohan certainly hasn’t — at least, not yet. Episode 1 of Beach Club is called “Who’s the Boss,” which sort of makes you wonder…is she?
Maybe Beach Club can convince you that Lohan really is the boss, not only of the resort but of her own narrative — Beach Club is so generous, in fact, that it doesn’t bother to address some rather pressing questions about Lohan’s recent behavior. Who cares about her cumulative weeks in jail for DUIs or drug use — what about four months ago, when she tried to kidnap a woman’s kid in Moscow because she thought the woman was a Syrian refugee involved in child trafficking? Or when she attempted to defend Harvey Weinstein on Instagram with, I guess, an Irish accent?
Lindsay on OWN wasn’t as interested in protecting Lohan; it showed her at some of her lowest moments. Lohan sat down for intense, therapylike conversations with a mentor-like Oprah, who told her, “I believe that you believe that this is your time to turn this around for yourself. If that is the case then, you are not going to be fucking up,” and “You need to cut the bullshit.” It was, like a lot of things in her life, rooted in exploitation, but only slightly less sincere in how it relished in Lohan’s failures — Lindsay was, of course, a docuseries and not a reality show about a once uber-famous woman who couldn’t regain her former glory. Beach Club is exploitative too, of course, but for once, Lohan isn’t the one being exploited.
Lohan isn’t coy about why she wanted to make Mykonos a fun, beautiful, and “safe” place for herself, because a few years ago it was the complete opposite. In 2016, photos and videos were published of Lohan’s then-fiancé Egor Tarabasov grabbing her, seemingly violently, on the beach, holding her arms behind her back while her breast falls out of her dress and she cries in pain. That same year, footage leaked of Lohan crying and screaming for help on the balcony of an apartment in the UK, claiming Tarabasov had strangled her.
In Beach Club, she mentions that, at the time, no one really seemed to care, or at least no one in media or in the public eye came rushing to her defense. “As if most women in America cared about how I was abused by my ex-fiancé...when not one person stood up for me while he was abusing me,” she wrote on Instagram in 2017. And she’s right — it’s hard to argue that it was a different time, and we’re all more enlightened now, when the alleged assault was barely three years ago. It was just another moment of Lohan’s private humiliation going public, after so many others — her attempts at rehab, her parents’ endless scandals, the firecrotch gag — with no one there to come to her defense. Maybe it was apathy, or maybe people were just too tired and frustrated, after years of watching her never get better, to keep paying attention.
In promoting the show, Lohan can’t shake her past. In interviews, she’s been asked about her strange, ever-mutating accent, which she does seem to have largely shed. Andy Cohen pressed her about a now-legendary photo of her in a car with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, which Hilton recently said was the result of Lohan crashing their party. Lohan seems completely unwilling to play along, and gives nonanswers throughout.
“I’m not here to talk about Paris. Maybe she doesn’t remember it. End of story,” she said. (Can you blame her? It’s like being asked about your high school bullies well into your thirties.) The most honest, unflinching answer she’s given yet was telling Cohen that the worst mistake she ever made in her career was drinking and driving, a surprisingly (sorry) sober answer from a woman who isn’t best known for taking responsibility for her actions.
Beach Club isn’t really all that bad, especially compared with MTV’s other offerings — this is the same network that made a show called Date My Mom and added Bristol Palin to their Teen Mom lineup. But it’s getting brutalized in reviews regardless. The Hollywood Reporter called the show “vapid and tedious,” writing that “it’s sad to hear Lohan’s ex abused her, but her tears have little resonance on a show that runs on degrading women.” Variety wrote that “when Lohan is offscreen, her Beach Club is an exercise in reality-TV boredom."
It remains to be seen if her new incarnation as an older, wiser boss lady will stick — my hopes are characteristically low — because it’s still hard to take Lohan seriously. Just last year, she was the face of a few self-deprecating Lawyer.com ads making fun of her many DUIs. Now we’re supposed to identify with her as the show’s voice of reason? Lohan has said that she’s “giving a lot of advice” and “doing a lot of counseling” with the staff on the show, which sounds lovely but feels insane when you think about getting hospitality business advice from a woman who was banned from the Chateau Marmont.
The most recent episode of Beach Club is a play of juxtapositions. Most of Episode 2 is focused on Brent, a brutish, arrogant, shiny-lipped man who gets alarmingly drunk, dry-heaves on what appears to be the side of the road, calls all the girls he’s living and working with in Mykonos ugly, and eventually falls asleep on the floor. (This is a redemption narrative unto itself; the preview for the next episode shows Brent going around trying to make amends so he won’t get fired/murdered by the cabal of hot women he works with.) Meanwhile, the rest of the cast speaks effusively about Lohan as a boss. “What Lindsay’s doing right now is amazing and I want to absorb all the information I can while I’m here,” says VIP host Jules. “I want to learn as much as I can from Lindsay,” says fellow host Jonitta. “I don’t know if me just looking pretty and showing up with good vibes is going to be enough for her.”
In other scenes, Lohan is shown making dinner with a few of her friends, looking fresh-faced and happy. The idiots in her employ are barfing all over the place while their boss is having a grownup dinner party. And here, the rewriting is kind of believable. Maybe Lohan is doing better, maybe she did just need to escape to Greece and build her own empire and leave her cruel family and a callous industry behind in LA.
It’s a neat trick. But the contrast only works — works in the sense of you believing that Lohan totally has it together, is the queen bee, is better than these dumbass kids with their big muscles and exposed butts — if you have no memory of all the times she’s tried to pull herself together before. ●