Creator non-revolutions, non-luxurious queuing for luxury goods, non-songs of the summer, and meta-commentary on meta-celebrities
Each month I review the latest developments in culture within the framework of my book, Status and Culture. I was out of Tokyo for a few weeks on book tour to promote the Ametora 2023 Revised Edition, which explains my tardiness in getting out the newsletter this month.
Ametora Revised Edition Book Tour
Thank you to everyone who came out to the events for the Ametora Revised Edition. The DIRT event on Status and Culture sadly got canceled due to NYC's apocalyptic flooding, but Daisy and I recorded our conversation on video. I was elated to see extremely different crowds at all the events, and remain very grateful to my amazing moderators/conversation partners: Avery Trufelman (Articles of Interest) at The Armoury in NYC, B.J. Novak (Vengeance, Punk'd) at the American Library in Paris, and Jason Jules (Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style) at Clutch Cafe in London.
I hope to make it to the West Coast among other places in 2024, and I’m exploring whether I could do a book event in Tokyo this year.
Book Review: Extremely Online
I reviewed Taylor Lorenz’s new internet history, Extremely Online, for The Washington Post. I was most interested in exploring Lorenz's claim of a creator "revolution": Is that simply a rhetorical flourish or is it a useful way of understanding the status shakeup online? In a political revolution, a lower ranking group overthrows the dominant class. This is not quite what happened with the internet. Instagram influencers and YouTubers successfully lobbied for monetization schemes that provide stable incomes, but they have hardly dislodged the legacy celebrities from cinema, pop music, and fashion as our most aspirational class. If anything, internet creators are a new petit bourgeoisie, while Hollywood stars have further entrenched their position as a celebrity aristocracy. Maybe this will slowly change, but Bernard Arnault is not itching to do an ad campaign using Mr. Beast's soyface. At least in 2023, social media stars seem more like gadfly gatecrashers than a revolutionary force.
Status Ambiguities: Waiting in Line for Luxury Goods
During my travels from NYC to Milan to Paris to Shanghai, I was reminded that luxury goods remain one of the strongest unifying forces in global culture. In all the major fashion capitals, people line up outside stores to buy limited-edition handbags and garments at brands such as Goyard and Gucci.
The Business of Fashion founder Imran Amed recently questioned this now common practice in his editorial: “Queuing Is Not a Luxury Experience.” It’s worth remembering that lining up for luxury goods is a relatively new phenomenon. The luxury conglomerates learned this from the Japanese market, and it became more pronounced once they also borrowed the practice of limited-edition collections from the streetwear world. And once streetwear fans (and resellers) embraced luxury brands as much as Supreme, then everyone started lining up in an identical way.
The lines work well as a commercial strategy, but fundamentally, "luxury" goods take their power from the idea (or more accurately, the fantasy) that somewhere out there, very important, long-established wealthy people are buying these expensive goods as a natural part of their lifestyles. Luxury goods project a world where the rich go to Louis Vuitton to pick up luggage the way that normies go to the supermarket to buy eggs and milk. And since there are relatively few rich people in the world, these stores should, in theory, be sparsely populated and easy to enter.
Queues, therefore, present a clear challenge to luxury brands' foundational illusion. One of the main parts of being rich is not having to wait, and yet these brands force their most passionate customers (and resellers) to uncomfortably re-enact Soviet bread lines. Lines also ruin the idea that the items are only meant for established rich people; they inherently bespeak a mass luxury market of overflowing demand. At some point, queues may erode the presuppositions that uphold these particular goods as more valuable than "normal" handbags.
Meta-celebrity: Addison Rae
Popcast Deluxe: A Shocking No. 1 Hit and Addison Rae’s New EP
ICYMI: Addison Rae is the Newest Pop Princess
Billboard: Pop Stars Aren’t Popping Like They Used To — Do Labels Have a Plan? Gen Zero: Pop Goes the Bubble
Autumn is here, and we didn’t really get a “song of the summer” (SotS). But maybe our culture is so meta now that we're plenty entertained by the debate about whether we had a "song of the summer." CNN and others suggested the not-real, Eurodance parody "Planet of Bass" as a contender. GQ wondered whether the SotS was “World Class Sinner” from the instantly-canceled debacle-spectacle TV show The Idol, which already seems absurd. In terms of actual "hits," there were Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” and Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” but these were ideologically disqualified.
As part of the "absence is the new presence" trend, very serious attention also went to thinking about Addison Rae’s new EP, AR. Jon Caramanica asked about AR on his Popcast, “Why does this exist?” and then quickly countered, “Why not?” This accurately describes pop culture in 2023: “why not.”
For those new to semi-celebrity Addison Rae, she became very big on TikTok thanks to dance routines, and then worked with a team of handlers to attempt more mainstream forms of success. She appeared in a legacy IP reboot Netflix film, and then seemed to peak after a “cringe” appearance on Jimmy Fallon. Songs from this ep leaked, and she disappeared for a bit.
But Rae is a back, not so much as an actual musical artist with fans but as a “meta popstar,” perhaps like Rebecca Black’s “Friday” was a meta pop song. Jon Caramanica noted in the Popcast about the state of pop divas, “Who’s in this space right now in the mainstream? Who’s the Gaga? Who’s the Britney? Who’s the Christina Aguilera? There is no person. Genuinely there is no person.” But since we all must talk about music regardless of whether there is music, the best we can do is talk about Addison Rae not quite being a pop diva.
This may also be further proof that internet stars aren't quite stars. Despite the hype and attention and billions of eyeballs, TikTok has failed to become the core platform for launching A-list careers. TikTok is certainly critical for musicians to win fans, but is not enough in itself to forge real stars from scratch. Since Addison Rae has major ambitions, she had to distance herself from TikTok to make a name — within better respected, yet less consumed forms of legacy art. Tobias Hess opined in his newsletter Gen Zero, "Pop music in particular, is no longer the big, pulsing heart of culture." This is certainly true, but we're in a weird liminal state: Pop music's stature has fallen but it still seems necessary for the legitimization of emerging talent. Ice Spice put out some singles and exactly one EP, and that's what it took to get a Dunkin' Donuts ad (possibly our era's ultimate cultural accolade).
The internet has given us infinite column inches to provide commentary on pop culture, and yet there may not be enough that deserves commentary. All of these podcasts and Substacks are starting to feel like throwing a weekly beauty pageant with a dwindling number of contestants. I had a cynical faith that Max Martin could turn any mediocre, pleasant-looking person into a pop star, and with the infinite supply of pretty humans, I believed there would always be something out there. But it turns out that talking about Addison Rae not being an actual popstar is the best we can do.