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 Wishlists Tell Us About Tweens

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 @ 11:47 AM

In our last few blogs, we have been looking at our YouthBeat age groups through the lens of their top wishlists items for this year.  If you’re shopping for a tween, you know that being “in the middle” – navigating the treacherous territory between the safe haven of childhood and the risky waters of the teen years – makes for a complex and sometimes confused wishlist for the holidays. Right around 11 years old, we often hear parents of boys and girls complain that their children no longer have a go-to store, and there “asks” have become alarmingly few and far between…Sounds like a nice problem to have? Perhaps, but parents of tweens know that their children still have high expectations for their holiday hauls, and they also know that tweens’ lack of locution doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions about what they want. So, below is our best attempt to help these moms and dads out!

  1. If you need a tween shopping heuristic for the holidays, think child-like Taylor Swiftfun with a sophisticated twist. This lead us to a whole category that has served as a timeless turn-to for the tween set…Back in the late 80s, I remember, fondly, wishing for a bottle of Coty’s “Exclamation” under my Christmas tree. For tween girls, dressing up and putting on a look still feels playful, more than purposeful, and perfume serves as the perfect entry point to the beauty business. This category, which plays to the senses without putting forth an overly adult look, lets tweens fantasize and day-dream without being too daring. Every holiday season, a number of new brands emerge, but this holiday, we’re betting on wonderfully girly “Wonderstruck,” by Taylor Swift, the romantically optimistic “Someday,” from Justin Bieber, and for the hello kittyironic older tween, Hello Kitty and Crayola (yep, Crayola!) sprays from quirky scent house, Demeter.
  2. This year, reading gets a rad makeover with EBooks making it on to tweens’ radar. Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color and the Kindle Fire may make for a new kind of scene – instead of tweens listening to their iPods together, we may see them side-by-side with their stylishly accessorized eReaders, downloading the latest installment of the Hunger Games or “Pretty Little Liars.” Although YouthBeat data suggests that tweens continue to prefer paper (with some industry experts hypothesizing that the buy-it-on-release-day mentality created by the Harry Potter Series has led this generation to take on a collectors’ level love of the hard cover version of their favorite reads), this year, we expect to see tweens take hold of this new technology to a greater degree than ever before. If eBooks are slightly too sophisticated (or pricey!) for your tween, take a chance on another kids/tween trend – making you the star of your own book or comic! U Star Novels puts your name into a novel, combining younger tweens’ love of customization with their desire to see their name in lights (or print).
  3. Nike might not seem like news to us, but for tweens, this brand continues to top their list for footwear, and for boys and fashion. NikeiD gives the traditional brand a tween test, allowing tweens to get an authentic and socially endorsed product, but one of their own making. Customizable fashion can tend to feel kiddish, but mostly because the big brands tend to lead versus follow tween style…And too much play makes for a product that tweens don’t feel comfortable displaying. But NikeiD, which allows tweens to take a gift card to a website and create their own bags, kicks, and sport watches which look more like a find than a fun arts and crafts project.

Next up, our final group – teens!

Tags: parents, movies, Taylor Swift, beauty, fashion, reading, holiday, tweens, Justin Bieber

Taylor Swift’s Sounds of Silence

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Nov 02, 2010 @ 09:38 AM

With the launch of her third album, Speak Now, Taylor Swift seems to be courting a new love: the press. Swift is no stranger to the spotlight, having started her (mostly) country and largely crossover career at the tender age of 15 (she’s now 20). But in this post-Kanye-gate opus, Swift breathes fresh life into her formulaic approach: girl dates boy, girls and boy break-up, girl writes a song. PerhaSpeak Nowps her romantic liaisons with the hate to love bad boy John Mayer are just a bit more interesting than anything she could have been doing with the Jonas Bros.? Maybe the lost potential of a Taylor/Taylor long-term romance (and all the puns and wordplay that could allow) is just more heartbreaking than the typical teen queen romance gone wrong? Maybe a song that forgives Kanye West for stealing her moment in the sun was so surprisingly genuine that we can’t help but listen?

Or maybe Taylor Swift is compelling to kids and tweens (the top musician on their respective lists) and pleasing to the press because she has managed to do a few things that we don’t expect from our teen icons anymore…

First, in a “share” culture, Swift neither shows nor tells. She manages to remain coy about her love life in interviews, and she doesn’t Tweet about her every interlude. She seems to keep her love life under wraps while it’s in progress (at least we’ll admit that this whole John Mayer business was news to us!). And this ability to stay discreet while living a life about which the public is increasingly interested makes her “news.”

But Swift doesn’t just live privately – she plays with privacy. She might be the nicest scorned woman you’ll ever meet, but she certainly sends a message to boys she dates: be nice or be sung. For tween girls, this model for managing heartbreak feels not only more practical than confronting that boy who just wasn’t that into you, but it also seems a bit healthier. Swift writes the cathartic letter to her ex, sends it, but keeps it anonymous (albeit transparent). She finds her voice, and as she writes in many of her songs, “has the final word.” For girls who are just finding their voice, this ability to express one’s interior life without ruining their exterior life is a skill worthy of admiration.

Finally, Swift explores and experiments – in music and in life. She doesn’t let herself be labeled as the lady of one genre (which may be why the CMA snubbed her this year, much to their own detriment?), and, in perhaps the sweetest revenge, she lets her exes inspire her. Her bluesy rif on “Dear John” might be poking fun at the rootsy guitarist, but her sound is all the better for having borrowed it. And the self-consciousness beneath her quiet confidence shows through – and that’s not a bad thing! While she earns the title, “veteran” in terms of performing, she plays the part of relationship novice in her life and songs. While her cohort of young celebrities shows more skin and reveals more details about their lives than we ever wanted to know, Taylor Swift seems to be taking the time to grow into her own skin. And it’s hard not to watch.  

But what’s the future of Taylor Swift? Can she hold on to fame while holding out on sharing the scoop on the details of her private life? We’re not sure, but we know we’ll be hanging on her every word until then.

Tags: research, CMA, Taylor Swift, Youth, music

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