Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer examines the ways in which film and TV teen narratives must evolve to resonate with the complex identities of Gen Z...

Today’s teens draw from an array of influences that weren’t available to generations before them. Consider the effects of teenhood played out alongside the internet, versus an analogue adolescence of decades gone by: the worldwide web alone provides inspiration and opinions, outlets for creative expression and peer pressure in equal measure. As the challenges and motivations of teens have changed drastically over time, media responses have shifted to reflect this complexity.

Here, we challenge film to stray from the traditional and highly stereotyped coming-of-age story – as portrayed in high school classics like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Mean Girls (2004) to speak more authentically to Gen Zers. 

Smashing stereotypes

In the early 2000s, film began to sympathetically make light of the awkward teenage years, rather than mocking them. Recall the lead in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) getting too drunk at a party and dancing on the table, or American Pie’s (1999) lead unknowingly doing a strip tease on a livestream for the whole school. These embarrassing moments of 90s film read as negative.

Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You
Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You

The early 2000s instead celebrated the sheer embarrassment of being a teenager and told us not to take it too seriously. Those who were previously labeled outcasts or geeks now reigned as sarcastic, witty leads. For example, in Superbad (2007), the protagonists were nerdy boys striving to impress girls they’ve always crushed on, while in Easy A (2010) our bookish lead hilariously conquered the double standard against high school girls and sexuality.

Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in <em>Easy A</em>
Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in Easy A

Meanwhile, outside of the US, millennial teens got an even more raw narrative on the teenage experience. Humour was a vehicle to tackle teen challenges often viewed as taboo – from sex, drugs, bullying and teenage pregnancy. In Canada, Degrassi (2001) allowed teens to fumble through mistakes without neatly tying episodes up with a moral message (as was done in the 90s). In the UK, Skins (2007) showed awkward struggles, with taboo teenage moments served with a side of surrealism. But while these dramas were seen to be more gritty and ‘real’, they were also criticized for glamorizing teenage rebellion. 

Embracing the messiness of teendom

Moving on from the Skins and Degrassi’s kids breaking the rules, recent depictions have looked at the more everyday struggles of Gen Z – from online bullying to FOMO. 

While remaining extremely innocent, Eighth Grade (2018) used actual kids (acne and all) to make each painful moment of being 13 palpable, coupling awkwardness with the complexities of being a teenager in the age of social media. Similarly, Lady Bird (2017) shone a light on the tension-ridden mother-daughter relationship, making its angsty, precocious protagonist relatable. These kinds of ‘everygirl’ leading ladies would both have previously been sidelined in teen film, but now their limelight gives teens someone strong, yet familiarly flawed and smart, yet naive, to relate to. 

<em>Eighth Grade</em> - growing up online
Eighth Grade - growing up online

This summer, Booksmart (2019) graced us with something perhaps more akin to the ‘regular’ high school experience. Like Superbad, the story follows two hard-working girls who feel they’ve missed out on the classic high school experience. As they seize their opportunity on the night before graduation, going to a party and kissing the boys and girls they like, they interact with a range of different teenage characters along the way. This film sourced its relatability through letting the audience know that everyone lives out high school in their own way, and that’s okay. 

Complex and hybrid

While Booksmart successfully captures relatable high schoolers, each character is still fairly one dimensional, defined by a single characteristic: nerdy, stoner, slutty, etc. For Gen Zers, identity is defined by several factors existing alongside each other – race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, political views, social justice involvement – the list goes on. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed or defined by a singular trait. 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) weaves the lead’s Asian heritage into the storyline, making it a celebratory narrative. Euphoria (2019) plays on the typical teen archetypes, but muddies them with complexity. We still have jocks and popular girls, but each sits on a spectrum of gender identity and sexuality, insecurity and confidence. In Big Little Lies (2018), a child suffers a panic attack because of her overwhelming anxiety about climate change. Both in Euphoria and 13 Reasons Why (2017), toxic masculinity (used to conceal one’s sexuality) has an extremely detrimental impact on said character and those around them. Of all the titles mentioned above, only one (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) has a rating that would even allow teen viewing. 

Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before

There’s still room for progress

There’s evidence that film is beginning to consider the multidimensional, contradictory nature of Gen Zers, but more can be done to make characters feel authentic to teens in a setting that’s PG enough for them to watch themselves. Diversity also remains an issue, with Zendaya becoming one of the first black, teen female leads in a major channel show, and Hunter Schaffer the first trans actor (Euphoria). 

However, tension will forever lie in the contrasting needs to achieve both entertainment and realism. Film is meant to help us escape our own realities, so run of the mill house parties are unlikely to ever be featured on screen. But where is the happy medium between truly relatable and glamourized? Continuing to build on representing a range of teenage voices seems a good place to start.

There are currently more than 2.5billion Gen Zers worldwide. For more thinking on how to speak to this generation and its duality, check out our work on the Hybrid States Of Gen Z

New Hedonism

As we live through the self care boom and a time of peak wellness, where does pleasure-seeking fit in? Download the full report on New Hedonism for how we’re letting our hair down in 2019 and beyond...

New Hedonism – download it here.

When you think of hedonism, you most likely imagine sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. But in a world where meditation apps are the new way to escape the daily humdrum, and bars are stocking drinks sans alcohol, it’s time to think about what fun, partying and indulgence mean in a more socially-conscious society. 

Earlier in the heady heat of summer (and early in the not so heady morning) associate director Berny McManus and director Dunstan Kornicki redefined hedonism for our Rise breakfast attendees. They took us on a whistle stop tour of hedonism’s evolution from illegal raves in warehouses, to the kind that feature yoga mats and smoothies. 

Does this shift mean we’re witnessing the arrival of the most sensible generation yet? Well, the ways we get our kicks are still driven by the same four elements of pleasure-seeking: sense, ideals, social interaction and intellectual engagement, but the narrow Western definition of hedonism is being left behind as we see a more global, inclusive version open up that no longer hinges on pure excess. This change in how we express our pursuit of pleasure is a direct reflection of the cultural landscape altering around us. 

As this generation operates with a newfound sense of restraint, they’re also rejecting the rulebook  – on sexuality, sensorial quirks and partying with a more conscious mindset. So, it’s not quite time to forget sex, drugs and rock’n’roll altogether, it just might be time to look at them a little bit differently.

Our New Hedonism report dives into those elemental needs for pleasure and a range of cultural examples to take you through thrill-seeking’s change in identity – download it here.

Rise: Inside China

Join Crowd DNA Asia’s managing director Emma Gage at our next London Rise event, as we move from stereotypes to nuance in our five step guide to brand building in China, the market on every 2020 strategy...

Date: Sept 19

Time: 8.15-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU

China is an essential strategic pillar for most international brands. The opportunity is clear; it represents high value, the world’s biggest economy in terms of purchasing power, and a middle class emerging at scale. Everyone is rushing to get involved – but it’s not easy. Quick wins are rare, and the failures far outnumber the success stories.

What’s more, if you always think about China ‘vs the West’ (like many Western audiences tend to), the trends and movements often feel extreme and hard to empathise with. Information isn’t difficult to come by, but it’s tough to piece together and understand the everyday reality.  

So what are the new values shaping modern China, and what do they mean for international brands and businesses in search of new opportunities? 

Join us at our first Rise event after the summer hiatus as we help bridge this gap. Building on work conducted in categories such as apparel, finance and alcohol, we’ll bring a rich and tangible sense of China’s changing values; as well as mapping five cultural shifts relevant to Chinese audiences of all ages. 

For coffee, croissants and a ‘how-to’ guide to China, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com for an invite. 

Didn't make it to Glastonbury this year? Fear not - for the second instalment of our Listening In series, consultant Benji Long transports you to the fields of Worthy Farm (via social media) to uncover the festival's biggest talking points...

As won’t have escaped you, Glastonbury 2019 saw 200,000 revellers – a number equivalent to the population of Colchester –  descend on to Worthy Farm, Somerset.  To track the buzz as things unfolded, we set up a social listening monitor that gathered over 320,000 mentions online over seveb days. In that time, Glastonbury conversation surpassed chat about who will be the next British prime minister, and the even more British topic of the (hot) weather. So, what was all the fuss about at Glasto?

Stormzy makes history

There was one clear winner in generating the most online hype. London-based grime artist Stormzy took the largest slice of online mentions, with 61% of the top eight artists combined. His headline performance drew attention for a number of reasons. Firstly, that this was the first British black male to headline the festival in its 50 year existence – something he was not afraid to capitalise on. Characteristically, Stormzy took the opportunity to speak out about racial inequality in the UK and even sampled MP David Lammy’s influential interview on racial prejudice in the British criminal justice system. Continuing his political crusade, he orchestrated his liberal-leaning crowd to chant ‘f*?@ Boris,’ knowing it would be broadcast well beyond the farm fields to millions watching live via the BBC coverage.

Thiago Silva rap goes viral

You might suspect the most engaging post of the weekend to be about another of the weekend’s stars – Kylie’s come back perhaps, or Lewis Capaldi dressing as Noel Gallagher anyone? But no. Instead it was Alex (no surname required), die-hard fan of rapper Dave, who came on stage and perfectly recited the track ‘Thiago Silva’ during the rising star’s set, fittingly dressed in a PSG shirt with said footballer’s name on the back. Having been published on Saturday evening, one Twitter post about this stage-crashing went on to be retweeted 20,400 times and garner 119,000 comments. Looking at the virality map below, we can see how the initial tweet at 22:40 spread across the platform, before being picked up by BBC news which helped it to go stratospheric.

The greenest Glasto yet

In other festival news, Michael Eavis’s announcement that Glastonbury would ditch plastic bottles was praised on stage by 93-year-old David Attenborough in a deafeningly-cheered surprise appearance. “That is more than a million bottles of water that have not been drunk by you,” he told the audience from the Pyramid Stage, just before Kylie Minogue’s set.

However, Glastonbury’s environmental efforts were also met with backlash. While ‘Attenborough’ and ‘plastic-free’ dominated the positive conversation, there was negativity around the state of the site after the festival. ‘Rubbish’ and ‘tents’ highlight the waste that was left behind as festival-goers ‘desert[ed]’ the site.

The power of Glastonbury

Once again, Glastonbury makes a claim for being the world’s best festival (though we might be biased here in the London office, having waved a few of our own off to it last week). But this is also reflected in the festival-goers’ online conversation, making headlines for all the right reasons; supporting diverse and emerging talent and using the magnitude of the event as a vessel for wider societal change.

Social listening is a powerful tool for tracking events as they unfold, and analysing trends is part of how Crowd DNA provides culturally charged commercial advantage to brands all around the world. If you need to understand more about an event, category, theme or topic, and want to find out if social listening can get you to answers, contact us at hello@crowdDNA.com.

 

Rise: New Hedonism

Ignore the rumours: hedonism is alive and well. Join Crowd DNA associate director Berny McManus at our next Rise breakfast session in London, as we explore the changing dynamics of having fun – and why we’re all still party people at heart...

Date: July 11

Time: 8.15-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU

Hedonistic pursuits – you know, the ones driven by pleasure and indulgence – have traditionally been grouped as facets of ‘letting go’. Drink, drugs, sex and other forms of escapism have always dominated. But what happens when you add wellness, environmental concerns and other topically 2019 themes into the mix? 

According to the ONS, Gen Z in the UK are consuming 20 per cent less alcohol than their millennial counterparts drank at their age. Similarly, the portion of young Americans reporting having had no sex in the past year more than doubled between 2008 and 2018. The rise of Generation Sensible, who are more interested in mindfulness than MDMA, is fuelling a growing consensus that hedonism is dying. 

But can we ever reach a point in culture where pleasure takes a permanent backseat? 

Join us on Thursday July 11, as we redefine hedonism, our host Berny taking us on a journey through scenes of the past (from 90s rave culture up to the yoga enthusiasts of today); before diving into the new hedonistic occasions of 2019. 

Using a unique need states model, we’ll share a revamped definition of hedonism – demonstrating that the fundamental human desire to let off a little steam still prevails. And, naturally, what this means for brands – from shaping comms to products to experiences.

For coffee, croissants and hedonistic insights, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to any party people who might also be interested. 

Our new thinking around Gen Z has landed. Here's our Hybrid States model, including a chance to download the full Hybrid Generation report...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

Gen Z are many things. They’re health obsessed, alcohol avoiders with a plan to save the planet; but they’re also everyday teenagers intent on breaking rules. While this duality can be a daunting prospect for brands to engage with, one thing is very easy to grasp – Gen Z are now the biggest generation on earth.

With that pressing fact in mind, our latest Rise breakfast was dedicated to the launch of a new framework for getting to grips with Gen Z – a model that we’re calling: Hybrid States. Presented by Crowd DNA’s London managing director Dr Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Rachel Rapp, today’s young adults were described as a generation defined by their own duality.

Thanks to the unique context that they’ve grown up in (think polarised, yet hyperconnected), Gen Z’s values and motivations are combining in unconventional ways. Combinations that we’re now labelling, and embracing, as Hybrid States. Using Schwartz’s Theory Of Basic Human Values, our presenters showed how their motivations are blending and fusing together. As it turns out, Gen Z’s value states are never binary and don’t plot easily on the map, which, when you think about it, is pretty exciting.

We’ve identified nine of these Hybrid States that we see Gen Z occupying. Providing fertile creative ground for brands of all shapes and sizes, you can read more about opportunities for winning with Gen Z in our full Hybrid States report – available to download here.

And keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks as we bring Gen Z’s Hybrid States to life in nine short films.

The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...
The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

In a new content series, we’re zooming in on the unique character of New York City neighborhoods, as seen through the eyes of those born and raised in them...

Culture is core to our work at Crowd DNA – plotting change (fast and slow) and applying this understanding to problem-solving for our clients. Get beyond the gridlocks and the concrete, and culture is what makes cities work, too. It’s what makes them fascinating, rather than just frustrating. It’s where the energy and the hope comes from.

Crowd DNA New York’s The Neighborhoods Project looks to explore these themes, and to do so from the perspective of natives of some of the city’s finest boroughs. We’re seeking to understand the impact of gentrification (not always what you might expect); the unique qualities that continue to drive local pride and preserve identities in spite of rapid change.

Our first collection dives into Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Lower East Side and Greenpoint. We meet those born and raised in each, those working hard to stay put. There are stories of embracing heritage but equally of the quest for adaption. Ultimately, we’re getting to the bottom of what makes New York, New York.

Stay tuned this summer for more on this exciting project from Crowd DNA New York.

You can check out more city thinking from Crowd DNA in volume four of City Limits, an editorialised report series which, this time, focuses on emergent solutions to urban problems.

 

Benji Long from Crowd DNA’s Futures, Semiotics & Listening team kicks off the first post of our Listening In series - demonstrating how we get to cultural meaning through social data. First up, a look inside the fandom of K-pop superstars BTS...

K-pop (that’s Korean pop music) is taking the West by storm. With precision-perfect choreography, EDM riffs and bubblegum melodies overlaid on Korean rap lyrics about mental health, there’s something distinctly novel about this phenomenon. K-pop support is also huge on social media: in the last year there were 541m tweets relating to the genre in the US, and 11m in the UK. Disconcertingly, it’s a hotter topic online than climate change…

In the UK and US, K-pop is provoking more conversation than global warming - and the volume keeps growing
In the UK and US, K-pop is provoking more conversation than global warming - and the volume keeps growing

Amid the wider conversation, one band totally dominates. BTS, aka Beyond The Scene, are a seven-piece boy band that have been drumming up wild support, including seeing their supporters win Best Fan Army at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. But what is it, exactly, that has built up this fan-force, and why should we be paying attention? Faced with this extraordinary phenomenon, we decided to use social listening to dig a little deeper and understand more about what BTS represent.

First, The BTS hype

Fan love for BTS
Fan love for BTS

BTS have an intensely intimate relationship with their fans. While fan devotion of this kind is nothing new, their constant online conversation with the ‘army’ is staggering. There’s a real sense of religious fervour towards them. too: in the last six months, there have been 350,000 posts online containing BTS and ‘angel’.

Individual group members regularly come out with personal stories, connecting with their fans at every opportunity. From their rags to riches narrative – one that sets them apart from other groups in the K-pop industry – to their willingness to open up to their fans, BTS play strongly to themes of authenticity (whether engineered or not!). But it’s not just about keeping it real: they’re also provoking conversation and challenging norms in two areas:

1. Identity Fluidity

RM inspires young people to be themselves
RM inspires young people to be themselves

The band actively confront gender stereotypes by dressing in ‘feminine’ clothes and wearing make-up. They speak up for the need to be true to yourself. By normalising this, they are reaching out to a mainstream audience with a powerful message about being who you want to be; particularly resonant for those in their formative teen years or those feeling marginalised.

Their latest album, ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’, is titled after a famous book about Jungian theories on identity by Dr Murray Stein. In the first song, member Kim Nam-joon (aka RM or Rap Monster) wonders: “‘Who am I?’ is the question I’ve had all my life / And I’ll probably never find the answer.” Joining BTS on this journey of self-discovery ranks highly in their appeal to fans.

Make way for feminist kings BTS who took lessons from Korean professors of feminism to write their lyrics and treat everyone equally regardless of their gender!” – Twitter user

2. Talking About Mental Health

The important stuff
The important stuff

Either through their music or sharing views in very public forums, BTS strongly encourage their fans to acknowledge mental health issues and to be more understanding of the emotional struggles we all face.  RM (that’s right – Rap Monster) spoke about mental health at the Unicef Love Myself fundraiser, encouraging young America to follow their dreams, and to ignore social and cultural obstacles.

More recently, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, BTS member Suga discussed how important it was for those who have a platform to use it to talk about mental health: “If they talk about it openly – if they talk about depression, for example, like it’s the common cold, then it becomes more and more accepted.” Their fanbase are responding. In the last six months, there have been 3.2 million social posts containing BTS and ‘thank you’ – and with 85% positive sentiment.

BTS are Asian men that are open about talking about mental health and stressing the importance of emotional intelligence. Let that sink in.” – Twitter user

The K-Wave Keeps Rolling

Thanks to their cultural impact, the BTS septet are credited with fuelling the number of Hallyu (or Korean Wave) advocates across the globe to almost 90 million – playing a lead role in the increase in popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s. You might also have been enjoying more Korean cuisine of late (kimchi), drama (Netflix’s Okja) and even footballers (Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min).

Hallyu is a deliberate initiative started by former Korea president Kim Dae-jung, mobilising cultural resources to build up positive associations with the country. But beyond this official promotion, BTS has shown how powerful people-to-people diplomacy can be. The band has over 18 million followers on Twitter, and in 2017 had the most liked tweet worldwide.

It’s estimated that around 7% of all tourists visiting South Korea were motivated to do so by their love of BTS.

Fan Purpose For Brands

BTS x Converse collab - as seen in 'Fake Love' video
BTS x Converse collab - as seen in 'Fake Love' video

Fan purpose is a powerful form of currency for young people, especially when they can connect through shared experiences across cultural divides to promote positive values and ideas. BTS make a case for not being afraid to stand up for what you believe in – and fans can join the cause by showing their allegiance. While brands might not have the dance routines or rap rhymes, BTS show the value in representing issues and themes that maintain relevance across borders.

Measuring and analysing social trends is part of how Crowd DNA provides culturally charged commercial advantage to brands all around the world. If you need to understand more about a category, theme or topic, and want to find out if social listening can get you to answers, contact us at hello@crowdDNA.com.