The new entertainment system: On this week’s episode of Track Changes Paul is flying solo without Rich. He is joined by New York Times writer Taylor Lorenz. Taylor answers all of Paul’s questions about influencers, including how they actually monetize their brand in such a crowded online market. Taylor addresses stereotypes about influencers being vapid and shallow and shows us just how hard influencers work.
- New York Times - Taylor Lorenz
- Tyler Oakley - Youtube
- Hannah Hart - Youtube
- Lilly Singh
- Noah Centineo - Wikipedia
- Tik Tok
- Rosanna Pansino - Youtube
- United Talent Agency
- Forget DMs. Celebrities Want You To Text Them - New York Times
- The Rise and Fall of the Jeremy Renner App Which Was a Real Thing - New York Times
- Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
- Taylor Swift’s mobile app, The Swift Life, is the latest celebrity app to shutter - TechCrunch
- The Instagram Aesthetic is Over - The Atlantic
- Teens Are Being Bullied ‘Constantly’ on Instagram - The Atlantic
- Pewdiepie - Youtube
- Taylor Lorenz - Instagram
- Taylor Lorenz - Twitter
Taylor Lorenz Teenagers have a capacity for drama that is so [Paul exhales sharply] far above any normal person’s—
Paul Ford It’s cuz they don’t get physically tired. Like, they’re just like, “Oh,” and they cry it off, they wake up the next day, they’re like, “Well—”
TL It’s insane [music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down].
PF So my cofounder, Richard, is caught on an M train which means that I’m gonna do my absolute very best to do a decent interview all by myself, as CEO of this company. Let’s see if I still have the basic [music fades out] fundamental skills to talk to another human being without Richard Ziade sitting immediately to my right. And so we’re gonna just see how I can do. My name is Paul Ford. I’m the cofounder of Postlight and I am joined today by Taylor Lorenz.
TL Hi! Thank you for having me.
PF Taylor, what is your—you are a writer for the New York Times.
PF And you focus on influencer culture.
PF First of all, let’s describe what your beat is. Because there’s no one quite covering this world like you are.
TL So, I write about, I would say, internet culture and tech from the user side. I mostly cover anything to do with technology and communication. So, like, social media platforms but also, like, other ways that people are communicating on the internet.
PF Let me describe for the audience [Taylor laughs]. No, let’s set the baseline here cuz that’s like, “Oh! Internet!”
PF But this is more like Taylor has gone to an event where over 200,000 screaming teenagers are about to either kill or eat another person . . . and someone you’ve never heard of but is one of the most famous people in the world shows up and is merely an attractive teen for like a half hour . . . and these poor dads and moms are like, “What is happening? It’s all gone crazy.”
TL Yeah, I write a lot about influencer culture. I’ve been in that world, I think, longer than a lot of people in media. So—
PF Was it all Instagram? Where did it start?
TL No. YouTube, really.
TL I mean obviously there were like MySpace famous people but YouTube—
PF Oh, c’mon.
TL [Laughs] Yeah.
PF It felt really famous actually and it felt weird at the moment but of course in retrospect, it’s like, what? They had like 100,000 people? Like—
TL Yeah. I know. I was really into Tumblr and made some viral Tumblrs and I was looking back at, you know, how many followers they had and some of them just had like 5,000 and 10,000 but at the time I was like, “These are huge!”
PF Garbage! Who—did anyone ever get famous off of Tumblr?
TL Yeah, totally! I mean there were like sort of like Tumblr celebs. I mean Tumblr really peaked I would say between 2009 and 2011 which was also sort of early YouTuber people. So, there was fame on the internet but it wasn’t mainstream. It hadn’t bled into mainstream culture yet.
PF And there’s sort of no fame like an attractive person looking right into a camera. Like that seems to be—[uh, yeah—] which Tumblr doesn’t give—it’s, you know, it’s—
TL Tumblr was personality driven. I mean, there were a lot of YouTube creators that were big on Tumblr like Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, but I think YouTube is really what pioneered like creator culture. They came up with the term creator which is sort of synonymous for influencer but influencers, they’re very multiplatform. Sort of social media celebrities that are—like little entrepreneurs, I would say, on social media. And, I mean, even though YouTubers were definitely famous in like 2011, 2012, Vine and Instagram, like, made it, you know, all the more normalized.
PF Mm hmm.
TL Also, there were these celebrities that were kind of embracing social media in a new way that helped sort of spurn this influencer boom. Like, obviously Kim Kardashian, but also a lot of reality stars. Like, people on The Bachelor began acting like influencers on the internet. So, I would say, it’s not all from Instagram. And it’s not all from YouTube. But it is this sort of changing way that people use social media.
PF So it’s this whole system from kind of like the bottom of TV pushing down and from social media pushing up [yeah] towards TV and I remember I have a friend named Dan who used to work at YouTube in sort of like coordinating people. And I walked down the street with him and he was like, “You have to understand, half the people I work with I literally can’t walk down the street and you’d never know them.” And this was maybe . . . five, six years ago. And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I started to realize like, “Oh my God, everyone he talks to has like 180 million fans.”
PF Why don’t they cross over? Right? Like, they’re in this world—
TL They cross over all the time! [Laughs]
PF Ok, ok. But like—Ok. But they seem to have like a really specific fanbase to start, right?
PF Ok, and then, so how does a crossover happen? Who’s gotten big?
TL Well, Lilly Singh is the obvious one [ok]. I mean she’s the new Late Night host, right? On NBC. You know, she was a YouTube star first. I think it’s like a misunderstanding, though, when people say like, “Well why aren’t these people famous in Hollywood?!” Like they are famous in Hollywood. This is the new entertainment system. Like especially the young teen stars know that their online following is what’s gonna generate an audience for them. It’s what getting them cast in Netflix shows. Noah Centineo is a good example, too, of where it goes the other way where, you know, this kid gets cast in a bunch of teen rom coms and then now is an Instagram star. So, I do think that social media is kind of so ingrained in Hollywood. I think though that the divide is bigger with older people. Like—
PF No, you’ve schooled me appropriately. I was literally [Taylor laughs], “Oh yeah, no, I’m—” Increasingly there are things in my life where I’m like, “Oh, I’m older and out of touch.”
TL No, it’s not that! [Laughs]
PF Cuz I was extremely online, right?
PF But there’s so much online.
TL Yeah, I mean, I just think that it’s all, like, much together. It’s not as much of a divide now. Where it’s like, “Oh, well, these YouTubers are over here and maybe they can somehow cross this big gulf and get to over here which is real Hollywood.” Like, no, it’s all kind of like enmeshed and some YouTubers do go on to become sort of like traditional Hollywood actors but most don’t because they don’t need to. But there’s successful podcast hosts and Late Night hosts and other things.
PF So, they find their way into the media in all sorts of different ways.
PF Just like anybody. Like everybody, you know, who had a band and now is like a music producer or—
TL Right, yeah, yeah. A lot of them go behind the scenes too.
PF How bleak is it?
TL [Chuckles] I mean . . . entertainment is always bleak.
PF Yeah, this is true. Actually this is—We shouldn’t blame social media for the fundamental bleakness of the world. Like—
TL No, entertainment companies in general are predatory, sexist, racist, giant corporations and so, you know, I—
PF Yeah, we shouldn’t shocked that like there’s Harvery Weinstein at Miramax and then there’s like Johnny Littlestein in like some sort of influencer like—
TL Yeah, I mean, I would say, though actually, influencer culture has democratized a lot of that and you’ll see a lot more inclusivity and kind of like, you know, these people aren’t subject to these old, white, male Hollywood execs as much. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the new system but I think it’s—
PF [Crosstalk] Well, they’re still gonna get exploited!
TL Yeah, exactly.
PF But it just won’t be quite as bleak.
TL Yeah, or they’ll be exploited in different ways.
PF Where are you on TikTok?
TL Oh I mean I’ve just—I’ve written about TikTok a lot. I mean it’s definitely like the first mainstream social platform to break through since there’s a general awareness of influencer culture [mm hmm, mm hmm] and like it’s the first mainstream social platform to come through when there’s—when people recognize the value of generating an audience. So people go on there explicitly being like, “I’m just going on here because I wanna get big on YouTube and I know that if I can amass my followers on here, you know, that’s a stepping stone for me.”
PF Really? So TikTok is being seen as an engine for success on the other, more monetizable platforms?
TL Yeah, people know, too, I mean if you’re big enough on TikTok you can also monetize there. People just recognize, like—I think, you know, when Instagram first came up, and all these influencers were first getting big, it was really like 2014, 2015 that a lot of them generated their audience—2016, even. But I don’t think influencer culture really went mainstream until end of 2016, 2017. Really 2018. And so, at that point, I think, a lot of people had already established their audiences. It was a really crowded market. TikTok is like fertile ground for that. So that’s why I think you see a lot of teenagers hopping on.
PF I had to get off [Taylor laughs]. It was a little too depressing for me. I think as a dad now, cuz I’m like—my kids are only like five years away from TikTok age.
TL Oh yeah.
PF And I’m just lookin’ at them and goin’ like, “I don’t want you on here talking about your body dysmorphia.” Like I [Taylor laughs] just like—it’s too much.
TL Yeah. I find it really addicting and I love it.
PF Oh it’s—it ruined a vacation for me.
TL [Laughing] Yeah.
PF Cuz they’re so good. They’re so creative. Something about the form just nails it.
TL Yeah, it’s really creative. They provide a lot more sort of creative tools to make short-form video content than YouTube does. It’s much harder to produce a YouTube video than it is to make a TikTok, so.
PF Well, and with the TikTok it feels like the tools are just like right there on the phone, right?
PF So, you can . . . make a relatively well edited video with some effects and music without leaving the phone.
PF I mean that’s clearly how it has to go forever more.
TL Yeah, totally.
PF That’s the foundation. And, you know, I’m thinking about our audience. Our audience is probably not going, “I’m gonna become an influencer.” If they are, more power to them. But mostly they’re thinking things like, “I’m gonna be making things on the internet; I’m gonna be marketing; I’m gonna be doing stuff.” Let me ask a really dumb question: do influencers work? Do they actually like—
TL What? They work harder than anyone else—
PF No, no, I know they work really hard but like do they sell the product?
TL Are the effective?
PF Yes, thank you. Thank you for—
TL Yeah! I mean, they’re incredibly effective. It just depends on the campaign. That’s kind of like saying, like, “Is advertising on the internet effective?” People ask those questions, right? Like, “Well, is influencer marketing like—does it work?” And it’s like, I sort of compare it to online marketing cuz it’s like complete—it’s dependent on so many factors, right? Like—
PF Well, this is great. This is where I really wanna go which is like let’s talk about the system [yeah] and how this works, right? So, you have a . . . attractive or compelling young individual, usually. They have created a platform through ambition and by studying how other people create their platforms and they are ambitious. Like [yeah] you look at them and I’m just like, “Oh yeah, I see it in your eyes. Like you want this, right?” So, now, who shows up to take the money? Like let’s say I want to have them hold up a t-shirt and say, “Buy this t-shirt.”
PF Do I just reach out to them? Are there managers? Like how does it work?
TL Sure! It totally depends. It depends on the person. I mean they monetize in a zillion different ways. Sometimes brand deals are a part of that. And so one is, I would say, you’d have to determine if that person is even open to brand deals. A lot of influencers increasingly don’t do brand deals. But if they are open to sort of the sponsored post model, you—yeah, sometimes you can reach out—
PF Wait, the sponsored post versus what?
TL Well, they monetize in a million other ways. Some of them just have, like, direct monetization through Patreon or some other kind of—
PF So, that’s a big one, like, “You like me, give me money”?
TL Yeah, exactly.
TL It’s much more stable. You’ll see a lot of influencers are moving away from doing kind of one-off sponsored posts. They won’t do it because it’s volatile, they might not get paid forever. It’s annoying, they’re usually—
PF There’s a lot of ripping them—
TL Yeah! They’re getting ripped off left and right. So, you know, a lot more of them are making their own products, too. So, let’s say you’re a beauty influencer, right? Like, you’ll develop your own custom beauty palette and maybe sell that.
PF Mm! I got obsessed with the YouTube cake making world.
PF Because my kids—it was a content I could watch with my kids cuz it’s always like, “We’re gonna make a bunny of fondant.”
PF And so there’s like Rosanna Pansino and like [yeah] they’re amazing, right? And they all have their own spatula and then their camp that you go to learn [exactly] how to make cakes. So that’s filtered. That’s sort of the same model where . . . “Yes, I might have a spatula brand that I partner with.” But they have a lot more say in it.
TL Well, yeah, they—and also it’s their own product, so they’re getting more of that revenue. They’re not being contracted by an agency that’s contracted by another agency that’s contracted by a brand and, you know, getting less of a cut at every level. So you’ll see them either work with a larger company to develop a custom line or just soup to nuts kind of develop their own product. A lot of them also have merch, like Logan Paul, for instance, it’s the majority of his revenue comes from merch. So, people just monetize it a zillion different ways. Sometimes it’s shout outs; sometimes it’s—like we just said—a sponsored post or a brand deal. But, you know, say you do own this t-shirt company and you want an influencer to do a post with your t-shirt. You know, sometimes you might just message that influencer directly and do the whole deal over DM, some of them work without contracts—that’s another issue.
TL And then some, you know, you might be negotiating with, for instance, a manager at United Talent Agency in a very, sort of, traditional way. So, it really depends.
PF Are there a lot of parents who are managers?
TL Not—not more than probably traditional Hollywood. Some parents and family members do get involved. It kinda depends on the person. A lot of parents have no idea how the system works so they’ll start working with a manager or an influencer talent agency.
PF I mean you can go to Google and you can buy all sorts of automated stuff on YouTube and, you know, buy ads but . . . that’s not available yet sort of more broadly.
TL Well, yeah, I mean, I would say the equivalent is going to an influencer marketing platform of which there are literally thousands—
PF Ok! This is—ok, so there are Influencer Marketing Platform—or IMPs.
TL [Laughing] Yeah.
PF So my I-M-P. What do I do at an I-M-P?
TL Yeah, and I think it was like 2017, more than one opened per day. It was like over 400 opened that year alone and now, I mean, there’s just thousands of them, so—
PF Are they like automated systems? Or just like groups of people in a room or like what’s—
TL No, they’re—they’re usually sort of like tech platforms. And what they do is sign up, you know, hundreds, sometimes thousands of influencers sign up. They enter their data in, their rates, first sponsored post, and their social profiles, they kind of link it all. And then a brand, for instance, like Dove will usually work with an agency that contracts out an Influencer Marketing Platform—they’ll go on; they’ll put their budget in; they’ll put how many posts they want; they’ll upload the creative that they want posted; and then that sort of like RFP will go out to a million creators and—Well, it’s not even an RFP. It’s just like—it’s literally like a bidding thing. Where it’s like, “Hey, we wanna do this campaign. We have x amount to spend. We want you to post x posts. Do you accept it or not?” And those creators will be like, “Yes,” or, “No.”
PF If I’m an influencer and Dove just said, “Hey, we want you to do a couple of posts.” What do I do now?
TL So, it depends on the campaign. Sometimes you would be developing the creative with Dove with more of the turnkey solution which is what I was saying—like working with one of these platforms. Usually the creative is set and so you just have to post something at a specific time or agree to a certain amount of posts that can be like one tweet and one Instagram Story shout out and one feed post that is up for 48 hours. It can be—
PF “Really loving this new lotion.”
TL Yeah, exactly.
PF Hashtag sponsored post.
TL Yeah, hashtag ad. Although a lot of them don’t do the [chuckling] hashtag ad but yeah, like, “Universal Studios just launched x movie. Check it out. I can’t wait to see it this weekend.”
PF Talk—what’s your research process? Cuz this is a vast world. There’s no—is there like an influencer magazine, B2B, that comes and tells you about—
TL No, I tried to like kinda make that once but no, I pay attention to a lot of like industry coverage. So like Hollywood Reporter or Variety or who UTA signs; who’s working with WME. So I pay attention to those people. I usually know about them before they get that big, just cuz people online are paying attention to them first.
PF Where do they talk? And like all the influencers? Where are they like hanging out and chatting about influencer life?
TL Anywhere. I mean, some of them text. They hang out. Some of them live together. Some of them work together. It’s kind of like working in entertainment, right? Like you kind of—you get to know people in the business. It’s very LA centric, I would say, 90% of the people and things that I write about are based in LA or have some kind of LA connection.
PF Are you out there all the time, then?
TL Yeah. I, like, refuse to move there, even though I definitely should—
PF Well, you work for The New York Times. This is like a classic compromise.
TL Yeah! I mean New York Times is out there. I just—
PF It’s ok.
TL I’m a New Yorker [laughs].
PF It’s ok. You don’t have to justify that.
TL You know, the internet is everywhere. Um, but—
PF Well—[both chuckle]. Ok, I mean, look, the thing that I’m picking up—and I’ve been reading your stuff for years on this now—but talking to you, oh my God it’s big.
PF It’s just everywhere and it’s big and, you know, there’s the kind of like, “Well, I never knew that he would have a hundred million followers [in old man, “Get off my front lawn” voice]—Why do kids like that stuff?!?” But it also sounds like—I mean what are the niches that people are going into? Cuz it just can’t be everybody being like, “Hi guys!!” Like it’s gotta be—
TL No, no, no! I mean it’s everything. I think people have a stereotype of like influencers which is this young person that is like you said [in a perky voice], “Hey guys! Welcome to my channel! Here’s my daily vlog!”
PF Or a Nazi who likes video games.
TL Right. Right. Right [chuckles].
PF Those are the two.
TL Or like some, you know, beautiful, young Instagram model that people see as very vapid [mm hmm] because they take selfies all the time, right? Like there’s a lot of these kind of stereotypes that come along with the industry. I would say like, of course, some people do play into that but the majority of creators are very interest-based [mm hmm]. So, it’s people that—like you said—are obsessed with cake decorating or cars or some random niche thing within a video game. You know? And it’s very hyper specific which, you know, allows them to kind of breakout a little bit. Or they have a really unique humor or personality that just catches on. But I mean there’s literally, like, influencers for every single thing on the planet.
PF Well, with the cake stuff, I remember just watching, and just realizing . . . these were very serious business people [yeah!]. They were very charming and they were really good on camera and they had good bakery businesses going along but then they were committed. And they were getting, you know, hundreds of thousands or millions of followers to make this work [yeah]. And you could see like, “Ok, that’s gonna be a lot of work. But it could really be meaningful.” And I think, you know, if you hit that lightning, you’re just gonna double down until you start to kind of like lose impact.
TL You can’t be an influencer without being an entrepreneur because you’re negotiating brand deals. You’re marketing yourself; monetizing yourself; productizing things through, you know, your brand.
PF Mm hmm.
TL So, it’s very much like these people are—like you said—operating small businesses. Some of them do it more successfully than others. Some it’s very much focused on the fame; some it’s focused on the content or making inroads within some certain industry. I think a lot of them are hyper aware of how fickle the internet is and how these platforms can kind of like squash them at any point or squash their distribution—
PF Yeah, this is—what do they make of Google? What do they—I mean it must be terrifying.
TL [Chuckles] They all have like love-hate relationships with these platforms. Like in one sense, these platforms give them life and fame and a career but I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot people more, like, moving towards things like Patreon or getting more direct money from their audience and having a more direct relationship with their audience. I just read about this new platform called Community that all of them are getting on now which is like a text-based platform. So, it gives them a phone number and they can then distribute updates via text to everyone’s phone. And that allows them to kind of circumvent these algorithms that are kind of unreliable. So Discord is another one. A lot of them have—a lot of big YouTubers have made Discord communities where they can—again, directly distribute content to their audience and not have to rely on an algorithm.
PF Alright, so it’s—they’re always looking for new infrastructure.
PF Yeah. That blows my mind. And there is always new infrastructure.
PF What would it take to destroy YouTube and atomize it and get everybody to have their own platform?
PF Do they talk about that? Do they think about it?
TL No. I mean, because having your own platform you don’t . . . you want a more direct way to distribute your content—
PF It’s distribution. Yeah.
TL But discovery happens on these platforms.
TL So it’s not like they’d leave YouTube for their own platform. I mean the Jeremy Renner app is like [laughing] a good example that right now. How much it failed!
PF We should tell people what that was.
TL So, there’s this—I mean a lot of celebrities have made apps and it never works. Like, the Kardashians had apps, you know, that failed—
PF She had the game though.
TL What? She had the game which was amazing! Right, that was amazing.
PF [Crosstalk] That was an unbelievable victory.
TL Yeah, yeah. Which is great, but the Jeremy Renner app was basically an Instagram clone that was only Jeremy Renner and it was mostly, like, user content and so that just quickly devolved into a total mess and—
PF Well the internet destroyed it really quickly.
PF Like the internet just like capital ‘I’, extremely online, came in and just were like, “Hey, you can make this—you can make it seem like Jeremy Renner is texting you terrible things.”
TL Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of like the Taylor Swift app which I also read about a couple of years ago that was overrun by Nazis and—
PF Yeah, that was less fun. Yeah.
PF The Jeremy Renner was just like, “Alright, you’re all assholes.”
TL It was just cringy and—Anyway, I think that it’s very hard to start your own platform. You’re always gonna be reliant on these systems for distribution and discovery.
PF When you go home at the end of the day, you’ve spent a lot of time with influencers, energized? Exhausted? Like this is a world. When I see it, I get . . . I don’t know, though, it’s certainly, actually, probably better in terms of money and power and authority than like blogging was.
PF Right? These people have real power in culture as opposed to like fake, pseudo-power. [Taylor laughs] I mean, I don’t know, is this gonna last? Is this sustainable for humans? Or is this just like young people with a craving kinda starting their band, going out and like a few of them will hit?
TL This has been building for so long. I mean I would say over a decade [right]. I think it’s definitely, like, social media and influencer culture has sort of upended all of these traditional systems in a way that is—it’s not gonna revert back, you know? There’s no going back. We’re not gonna suddenly like stop discovering [chuckling] things on the internet. Like, the internet has disrupted all of it—I hate that word—but it really has. I do think that we’re in a particular time. I mean I wrote a piece that was like—it was something I was thinking about for a long time but I wrote a piece called “The Instagram Aesthetic is Over” and it was just about how this like moment of the internet of this like very hyper curated, perfect looking, influencer, aspirational type of content was “over”. I hate declaring things over but—
PF No, but like, “Here I am—I’m at my villa in Italy,” and—
PF—it’s like someone with really nice blonde highlights and—
TL Well it just wasn’t resonating anymore.
TL And I think that really—end of last year or beginning of this year is when that flip started to happen and you just noticed that those type of influencers weren’t performing well, and there’s this whole new class of YouTubers and Instagramers and content creators that are based on quote/unquote “authenticity” that were outperforming all of them. And I think that we’re seeing that now, like I think influencer culture’s just kind of ingrained in everything, and it’s less about this like one percent of creators at the top and sort of like just everyone leveraging that, like, influence, you know what I mean?
PF Mm hmm.
TL I also think teenagers are very savvy about attention. We live in the attention economy and I don’t think that there’s a going back but I do think that there’s a correction against some of the, like . . . aspirational-type stuff that was associated with it, from maybe 2016 to 2018.
PF Can you still enjoy it?
TL Yeah! Yeah! Oh my God I would say more. I mean, enjoy it more so because you’re not, like, holding yourself to impossible standards. So it’s more like, relatable and—and, you know, that content, I think, is better. It’s also more inclusive and broader and—
PF So, you’re liking it more?
TL I mean I like it more. I love whatever. Like, I love drama [laughs].
PF How much drama is there in these communities?
TL So much drama.
PF There’s so much drama.
TL I mean there’s eternal drama on the internet.
PF Yeah but like attractive teens living together making videos together?
TL Yes. Yeah. I wrote a story about Instagram teen bullying last year and these girls were just like . . . yeah, just insane levels of drama and then they’re best friends and then they’re not and like anyway, so—
PF They’re mean too.
TL Oh my God. They’re so cruel. But it’s funny cuz my parents moved recently and I found this binder. I used to print out all my old AIM chats when I chatted with a boy.
PF Oh boy.
TL And I was rereading these chats and some of them were vicious [yup!] and, you know, I guess your brain isn’t fully formed when you’re 13, so.
PF It’s not and it’s always a good reminder that you are terrible.
PF Like it’s always actually good to go back—Like, cuz I have all my email going back what? 25 years. [Yeah] So that gets me into my late teens. And first of all, you change a lot less than you thought. You have the same stupid ideas.
TL Yeah [laughs].
PF I had one short story I was gonna write and if you asked me I’d tell that I had that idea about a year ago. It’s like 11 years ago when I [Taylor laughing]—like I found the outline from 11 years ago. But yeah, we’re all pretty venal and snippy at that age and there’s a real, like, competition as to who can be the worst.
TL Yeah, yeah.
PF And so like you combine that with essentially a mass medium, it’s pretty intense.
TL The internet definitely exacerbates that [mm hmm]. As does fame and money and power.
PF What is this world like overseas?
TL I mean, it’s different in different ways. Obviously in Asia, it’s ten times bigger than it is here.
PF Yeah, this is—I mean, I sort of feel sometimes that we’re just tiny babies.
PF Just everything that comes out, you’re like, “Ok, that’s what we have but times ten, going four times faster.”
TL Yeah. Yeah. I mean, in Europe I would say is probably like the most direct correlation between like American influencer, YouTuber culture and the UK. I mean, there’s a lot of like people in the UK that are essentially the same as people in the US, in Germany and stuff like that. But, yeah, it seems like Asia is just leaps and bounds ahead of us.
PF Who are your favorites? Who are your go-tos? If you actually just wanna relax and enjoy?
TL Oh my God.
PF I try but then it will always be like someone will do a four hour video explaining a Logan Paul issue [Taylor chuckles] and I’m just like—
TL Well, yeah, I love Tea Channels. I mean, which are basically drama channels. I just like—I’m sorry [Paul chuckles] I love them.
PF So, wait, what are they?
TL They’re channels that are just dedicated to like outlining specific dramas. And it’s mostly, like, teenagers or young people, some of them are even run by people in their thirties. And they kind of like make these really elaborate Powerpoints with voice overs like depicting every single level of some stupid drama. Where I go to relax is more groups. I’m in a lot of Discord communities and Facebook groups. And I love those. So that’s kind of where I go like before I fall asleep.
PF What do they make of you?
TL Most of them don’t give a shit about me.
PF No, you’re just showing up—do they care about The Times?
TL I actually texted one of them [laughing] recently, I was like, “Here’s a link to an article where you’re mentioned.” And they were like, “Oh ok thanks.” And I was like, “Uh, whatever. They don’t really care.” [Paul laughs] When your whole world is YouTube, you just don’t really care about mainstream media. I think a lot of them, too, have a very anti-mainstream media stance. I mean in this case I kind of agree with people like PewDiePie where like—
PF He’s the famous video game—
TL Yeah, he’s a gamer. He’s probably the biggest creator of YouTube, over a hundred million subs. Like and he’s very anti-the-mainstream media. I kind of get it. I mean these people are constantly being miscovered by the mainstream media and it’s annoying. I get annoyed at it myself. It’s happening less and less so cuz I think a lot of media outlets have hired people that get it.
PF Well, once the economic power gets real, everybody starts taking it more seriously.
PF Like, they want the news to be accurate about them.
PF It’s no longer as exciting to hear about like crazy millenials ruining everything cuz you’re like, “I’m gonna rely on them for my healthcare.”
TL Right! Yeah! It’s kind of like—but even now, you still see so much rude coverage and it’s like—
PF Could a Netflix come in, swoop in, and just like absorb all this talent and—
TL No, because the talent is millions of people all over and it’s so fluid. Like, even if you signed all the top people today, like the top people in six months would be different, so.
PF Right, so like Microsoft absorbs Ninja and someone else just comes in on Twitch [yeah] and—ok.
TL I mean Ninja—there are these standout stars. Like Ninja is synonymous with Twitch and I think popularized that platform in a really specific way. I don’t think—I think the first generation YouTubers that did that have all already kind of faded away.
PF And I wanna be clear: I just read those words in the newspaper [Taylor laughs]. I have no clue what’s going on.
TL No, no, no. I just think it’s really hard. There’s not just one person. Or one group of people.
PF Gotcha, so it’s the network, actually.
TL Yeah. I mean I do think though, like, if creators get angry at a platform and leave en masse, it can cripple the platform. Vine is a good example of that [mm hmm] where the platform was overly reliant on this upper echelon of creators that was generating the majority of engagement on the app and so when they all decided to leave it did hurt the app.
PF Oh is that really—that happened? I didn’t even know that that—
TL They all got really mad at Vine and, you know, Vine was so mismanaged and kind of a disaster in the end.
PF God, it was good while it lasted though.
TL Oh God, it was so good. Except, you know, I really hate all of people’s nostalgia around it and it’s like, “You guys stopped using it.” Like, the numbers declined. I’m like, “You guys are so nostalgic for Vine. It like died in front of your face.”
PF But it never—I mean you look at TikTok, it’s so easy to just keep going.
TL Oh yeah! I mean also Vine never really innovated on its product.
PF I always felt that I would like run out. And I’d be like, “Well, I guess that’s it for the teacup pigs.” You know and just like, “Oh well.”
PF You’d find something really cute and fun and get into some weird circle and you’d be like, “Eh, ok.”
TL Yeah! It’s funny, I was just watching a video of the Vine interface recently, though, and I was just like, “Oh my God, this looks so basic and stupid.” [Paul laughing] Like it’s funny how like you couldn’t do like anything on it and when you think of something like TikTok today and all the creative tools that it has, like you get why it’s just so much more addicting.
PF Do you make things? Do you go play and learn? Or what do you do?
TL Yeah, I make things but I wouldn’t call them tech products. I don’t really know how to code, so I can’t make apps. I wish I could.
PF You can’t—don’t let companies like this fool you.
TL [Laughs] I have a lot of like dumb ideas but no, I make my own like creative projects. I like making things on social media like starting accounts and seeing where they go. Like I started a TikTok aggregator page. Sometimes I start random accounts and post content just to see how it performs.
TL Yeah! It’s kinda just like fun for me or like I have like a home design page that I started and a Twitter account that I start—Like I just kind of start things just to see like . . . just to meet people and see what’s up in that world.
PF If people wanted to get in touch with you, what would they do?
TL Just message me. I don’t really check email. So just DM me. My DMs are open on every platform @TaylorLorenz on Twitter and Instagram.
PF Oh, that’s very influencer of you.
TL I know. Well, I hate email. So, I refuse to use it.
PF Fair enough, fair enough. Taylor Lorenz, thank you for coming on Track Changes.
TL Thank you for having me! [Music fades in]
PF Well, that was a hell of a journey. There is a lot going on. Here’s what I know: the world of influencers is bigger and vaster and more legit . . . than you might otherwise think. It’s really easy to look at all that stuff, “Uh hoh, teens!” But it’s teens with billions of dollars of money flowing through their vlogs. V-logs? I don’t know. I’m flyin’ solo here. It’s not as much fun without Rich, I gotta be honest. Because there was no one, through the course of that interview, to go, “Now hold on a minute here!” But, nonetheless, I tried my hardest, I hope you all enjoyed it. Listen, if you need to get something built, something amazing, something digital that you hold in your hands, something really at the scale or quality of like a TikTok or an Instagram, no, I’m not even kidding, you can call Postlight. That’s us. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call us through email, I don’t know. Anyway! If you need anything done and you need a good, long-term product partner to do it for you, it’s us, Postlight. Talk to you soon. I’m gonna get back to work. I miss Rich when he’s not here. Bye [music ramps up, plays alone for six seconds, fades out to end].