Fault in Our Stars and Finding Balance in Teen Culture

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 04, 2014 @ 01:23 PM

Later this week, 20th Century Fox will release the highly anticipated Fault in Our Stars MovieFault in Our Stars (FiOS), a teen romance based on the best-selling 2012 Young Adult novel by John Green.  Social media has been buzzing over this movie for years, and the excitement is getting even more intense as the premiere date gets closer.  The trailer for the film has nearly 20 million views, and John Green has been popping up all over social media promoting the film. 

The success of FiOS might seem surprising.  There are no supernatural creatures, it’s not set in a dystopia where teens must fight to the death, and it lacks much of the dark, fantastical elements we’ve come to expect in teen media.  It’s a realistic story about two terminally-ill teens who meet and fall in love.  The story isn’t new to Young Adult fiction (or “YA” among the indoctrinated!), but Green’s story has made a huge impression on teen and adult readers.  A lot has already been written about what makes FiOS so successful (its raw emotions, its universal story of love and life, its compelling characters, etc.), but we thought of a different reason as to why FiOS is not only so wildly popular, but also why it’s popularity isn’t that surprising.  

Teen culture has always been about balance.  For every bad boy, there is a boy next door; for every nerd, a jock; and if there’s heartache, there’s a new romance.  The list could go on.  Even popular culture aimed at teens balances itself.  The crazy stunts and outrageous antics of Lady Gaga are balanced by Taylor Swift’s wholesome good-girl. 

After years of supernatural creatures and murderous teens, FiOS balances YA literature and teen culture.  For years, teens have been bombarded with (and rabidly consumed by) dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia.  Just when it looked like the scale was beginning to tilt a little too far, along came FiOS with its human, fallible characters, its awkward romance, and its gritty exploration of a very real and very human issue: illness and death.  FiOS provides teens with something different, something to offset the media they’ve been consuming for so many years. 

Even John Green himself is vastly different from other YA authors.  Green was one of the first major vloggers on Youtube, a platform he has used successfully to speak to teens and promote his books.  Green tweets and takes to Tumblr. His celebrity status and willingness to engage with teens has led some to call him the "teen whisper", unlike Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins, neither of whom have actively engaged with their audience in the ways Green does. 

While it might be easy to talk about the importance of tension in teen products or offerings, we think a bit of balance might be a better formula for success. Extreme might make for a headline, but balance makes for a bestseller.

Tags: Lady Gaga, Teen Culture, movie, Taylor Swift, John Green, Teens

What 2010 Tells Us about Kids, Tweens and Teens Today

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 @ 02:17 PM

In our YouthBeat Yearbook, we wrestle with the headlines, dive deeply into data from across our twelve survey topics and look at what mattered in the market in 2010. But before we do that, we thought we’d share a few trends that told us about the way kids, tweens and teens thought in 2010, and what it means for 2011.

The Lady Gaga Conundrum: Overly Produced but Authentic. For today’s youth, independence doesn’t mean gritty footage, do-it-yourself fashion or even casual chic. In 2010, Lady Gaga struck a chord with youth with a deliberate self-depiction that felt anything but accidental. However, Gaga got it right by being herself – whoever that might be. Like Justin Bieber, who might have been pegged as part of the music machine in the past, she kept her cool by carefully crafting her image, and also crafting tweets – making her accessible, and allowing her “true” voice to be heard.

Good Guys Get What’s Theirs. Look no further than Glee!  to see that squeaky clean shows (even those that feature a little drama) have found a place. While we can’t deny that the cast from Jersey Shore and the moms from 16 and Pregnant  got attention in 2010, when it comes to what youth are watching, more care about characters with good – or at least complex – intentions – than with Gossip Girls. Perhaps youth have gotten burned out from the bad girl and bad boy celeb stories that seemed to dominate headlines in 2010, or maybe reality TV began to look just too unreal. But in any case, we think that kids, tweens and teens would agree that to be “bad” in 2011, celebs and shows might want to try to be “good.”

SpongeBob as Seal of Approval. SpongeBob
Okay, that might be going a bit far, but in 2010, a licensed character didn’t signify sub-par food as much as it meant a seal of approval on a slightly healthier option. Nickelodeon’s and Disney’s policies on partnering with healthy food manufacturers became truly visible in the marketplace with Mickey found on snacks like unsweetened dried apples. Shows on both networks also worked in healthy eating and living into their narratives. So in 2011, protecting your brand might mean partnering with a property that cares about parents’ perspectives, or managing your own property by making deals with partners who make a positive difference in the life of kids, tweens and teens.

Design on a Dime. Prior to the economic downturn of the past few years, we had begun to notice that average suburban girls were showing up to focus groups with designer purses…We noticed more and more conversation surrounding brands that many adults would find to be aspirational. Now we’re seeing designers catering to this market (see Coach’s Poppy line) while being conscious of the price-point that’s really practical for today’s increasingly cost-conscious kids, tweens and teens. Mass merchants are youth’s favorite places to shop, and designers that might have previously been inaccessible have found a way to meet their young consumers half-way. We think this formula – along with offering deal-savvy youth special ways to save – will continue to redefine fashion in 2011.

Tags: Lady Gaga, advertisment, parents, Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber

MTV Talent: Against Type

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 04:04 PM

On Sunday night’s VMAs, the cheerleader got deep, the bad boy said “sorry” (kind of) and the kids on the fringe dubbed themselves the “cool kids” at the party – and everyone else seemed to agree.

The MTV VMAs have never been predictable. But the “anything goes” mystique around this event (which first aired in 1984 with Madonna as its star performer) has always represented the iconoclastic image of its host brand. In more recent years, its stage has become a platform for bad behavior. A star whose shine has subdued? Kiss someone – anyone – but preferably the most shocking person you can find (see Madonna). Feeling a bit frisky? Fight a puppet – go ahead (see Eminem). And if you think somebody got robbed of the Moon Man? Say what you think. On stage. In the middle of her speech (Kanyegate).

But on Sunday night, the VMAs were a kinder, gentler event – even as they were hosted by the biting, brutal Chelsea Handler.

If this had been the “ordinary” VMAs, we might have seen a celebrity death match between Swift and West. Eminem would have taken a day off from Lady Gagaredemption and gotten riled up. Sexuality would be challenged and played with – not taken seriously. And someone would wear an outfit wholey comprised of raw meat.

Well, that last one happened (see Lady GaGa).

But so did this…Taylor Swift took the high road, and instead of fueling the flames, she walked right into the fire. She showed a clip of the infamous incident from VMAs 2009, but quickly moved to her teenage diary entry, “An Innocent.” The lyrics, “you are not what you did” seemed to be directed to a certain someone in the audience…And while they resisted pairing up for an inauthentic duet, they did attempt to put the whole thing to rest, once and for all.

For his part, Kanye apologized all week via Twitter, and sought forgiveness again via his performance of “Runaway.” He did lace his apology with a pretty extreme number of expletives, but if he didn’t, would we doubt his sincerity.

Cher showed up. In the same outfit she wore back in her 1989 video “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

But perhaps GaGa was the thing that looked most different. It’s not that the VMAs haven’t had their fair share of spectacles (see Cher). And she delivered on the eye-candy front. The number of costumes she wore was just over the number of VMAs she received (that’s 8 for the record). But she also took the time, over and over again to give a shout out to her “Little Monsters.” As Mary Elizabeth Williams from Salon.com wrote, “[She] loves her Little Monsters so much they may want to start screening her calls.” With a belting out of her mantra, “we were born this way,” Lady Gaga rallied her followers with love and acceptance, not anger and aggression. She brought the military to guard her – but she brought the soldiers expelled from the military because of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” On stage, alongside the cast of Glee!, it seemed clear that a different kind of queen had come home.  

But this isn’t the MTV of the old VMAs. This is a brand that followed the awards show with World of Jenks – a 30 Days-style documentary series in which the documentarian named in the title explores the lived experiences of people who live outside of most teens’ comfort zones (an autistic teen, for example). Its show, If You Really Knew Me, strives to bash stereotypes about everyone from gang members to gay teens. Can a brand be rebellious, romantic and relevant at the same time? For today’s teens, it seems to be a model to watch.

Tags: Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Cher, Taylor Swift, VMA, TV, MTV, Eminem, Madona

The Unexpected Appeal of Lady Gaga

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 23, 2010 @ 09:51 AM
In full disclosure, Lady Gaga got on our radar quite a while ago - right around the time that MTV's The Hills intro'd her as an emerging artist who Lauren Conrad had the chance to style. And we have to admit that we wouldn't have predicted this star's meteoric rise. Even moreso, we would never have anticipated that she would make the grade with kids and tweens specifically.

But Lady Gaga is nothing if not surprising. Her outfits make as much noise as her singing (and we mean noise in the nicest of ways). Her performances defy expectations - and gravity! And her androgynous look defies categorization.Lady Gaga

But maybe we should have known. When we look at Lady Gaga, we see many of the elements that define this generation's heroes...

  1. She's different. We don't just mean unique - we mean different. And while this might be what we think of as the kiss of death for "fitting-in-conscious" kids, she seems to do "different" in an aspirational way. She knows she's different, but isn't trying too hard to be. And her brand of standing out appears to come from a genuine creative spark versus a marketing machine. She frequently speaks of "thinking like an artist," and claims glam rockers like David Bowie and Queen are kindred spirits.

    Lady Gaga doesn't discuss her sexuality, but she openly embraces the LGBT community as her own. In the past, this might have been enough of a taboo to make them stay away. But for this generation, embracing a broader definition of "normal" is part of their DNA. And for tweens and teens, in particular, seeing someone who feels comfortable in their own skin despite standing out in so many ways inspires - not intimidates - them.

  2. She cares. Perhaps what makes her so appealing is that she not only stands out, but she makes others feel like she empathizes. She supports causes that she cares about - and has teamed up with Virgin Mobil to support homeless youth (based on her knowledge that 40% of homeless youth identify as GLBT). Gaga recently paired up with another stand out songstress, Cyndi Lauper, to raise the profile of the Viva Glam line of cosmetics from M.A.C. - who gives "every cent" of the proceeds to the M.A.C. AIDS Fund. With today's kids, tweens and teens growing up under the assumption that their brands will behave when it comes to pro-social activity (from being green, to being kind to animals to donating to important causes), Lady Gaga's inclination towards altruism contributes to her appeal among the youngest set.

  3. And finally, she's grateful. How refreshing! While much of her work speaks to struggles surrounding fame, she seems to handle most of the side effects of celebrity with grace. When Christina Aguilera dismissed comparisons to Gaga by saying she didn't know who she was, Gaga told the press that she was honored to be compared to Aguilera and should "send her flowers" since Aguilera's comments raised her public profile! Amidst a sea of stars who seem to behave badly and have lost their way, Gaga (barring the occasional pantless appearance at Yankees' games) may be the most revolutionary role model to hit the scene in a long time. And kids and tweens like their stars simple and simply good. While Gaga might never be simple, she might just be the good girl that no one saw coming.

Tags: Lady Gaga, Teens, music, tweens, MTV, MAC