Being 14 is really in at the moment. If you immerse yourself in the world of female teenage culture you find a lot of very young performers. Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and Rebecca Black. At the moment the X-Factor USA is getting a lot of interest and three of the most popular performers on that show for the teenagers are… three teenagers, all around 14, Drew, Astro and Cook. The UK version of X-Factor had Cher (“turn my swag on”) Lloyd.
On X-Factor this week (it’s “research” – yeah, right) Astro found himself in the bottom two and he clearly couldn’t cope. There was a lot of smack talk, and then tears, and when the tears came you remembered the key point: he’s a 14 year boy. A 14 year old boy who is watched and discussed by millions of people, who is on twitter keeping in touch with the fans, who is dealing with a very silly, overblown world so that a lot of TV executives and music moguls, and social media CEOs can get traffic and sell product and advertising off the back of it.
I watched Drew on Ustream because she tweeted about it and I had never heard of Ustream. It seems to be a kind of live video twitter type thing. Whatever. While she was answering questions I found myself laughing:
- My favourite colour is pink and glitter
- I’m going to go back to barefoot next week because that’s my signature
- What’s my natural hair colour? Good question.
- What do I like on burgers? That’s a good question.
A good question? Then I caught myself. She’s just 14. It’s rather nice that she is like this, but what a strange world they are in. On Twitter, on Ustream, on god knows what else, with hundreds of thousands of followers. It began to make me feel a little uncomfortable.
Rebecca Black had a hit with her much derided and much viewed song Friday. She has released a new song – Person of Interest – and I discovered, via Twitter, that she was in an interview on… Youtube. A 28 minute interview hosted by Youtube. Well, Rebecca Black seems like a nice girl, but what struck me was the presence of Youtube. Suddenly it made sense to me why Youtube is viewed as such a massive media phenomenon: it is essentially a viewer made media outlet.
Recently I was told that TV viewing in the under 20s had been declining because TV is not interactive enough. Youtube is plenty interactive. You can watch whatever you want, and you can join in and make your own show or channel if you want. More and more serious TV is making it’s way to Youtube. I have watched Adam Curtis, PBS docos, and Channel 4(UK) on Youtube. TV, of course, is joining in now, with all the major brands releasing internet TVs. What the major networks think about this I don’t know, but it is clearly a big win for Youtube, and Vimeo and their like.
Which brings me back to Twitter. Which I spent a few years mocking, but it turns out my mockery missed the point. True, no one cares what I do, so if I tweet about my lunch it is what it is: irrelevant, unimportant drivel. But it turns out that Twitter is not interesting for that reason it is interesting because you can follow people on it. If you follow interesting people they tell you interesting things, and they point you at other interesting things. It would also seem that Twitter breaks news before anyone else.
Which leads me to say this highly unimaginative thing: times have changed since I was 14 in 1987.
So this is a photo from 1986 and not 1987 but you get the idea. Here is a generation of kids that didn’t have computers (almost, but not yet), and – of course – didn’t have the internet or any of the social media that goes with it. There were two TV channels that played music videos either very late or very briefly. Not many magazines. A bit of radio. You know what I mean. When I wanted to engage in social media I had to pass notes (to a girl in class), and write letters (to a girl in New York), and pass on mix tapes (clumsily recorded off the radio), and have people over to watch videos.
Of course some things have not changed. The desire to be in contact with your favourite pop star hasn’t changed much since 1956. So I suppose what I am saying is that the root of all of this has changed very little, but that technology has made connections possible in an exponential way, and that those connections have created unexpected phenomenon and pressures. Access to content in a largely unmediated way and the possibility of a global connection with others. That’s what had changed.
And it is a little worrying sometimes. Some of those songs that the kids are covering are pretty adult. Cher Lloyd from X-Factor UK has defininetly got her swag on, but curiously her mum and dad look delighted backstage. Some very little kids do a cover of Superbass on youtube and end up on Ellen. The comments say that this is cute, but I feel uncomfortable seeing little girls in princess outfits saying those lyrics. Rebecca Black’s song Friday is infamous for its inanity (and that makes it almost charming), but it becomes an excuse for a lot of very vitriolic commentary and I wonder what it is like for a young girl to deal with very vitriolic commentary.
All I can say is, thank god I’m not the father of two teenager daughters.
Oh, that’s right… bugger.