The longer we stay inside, the more life feels like the music video for Green Day’s “Longview” — the ultimate paean to suburban ennui. That video was so perfect in capturing the essence of grungy rec rooms, a concept that was totally foreign to me until I made white friends in elementary school and started hanging out at their houses. One of them had an older brother with a heavy smoking habit, so seeing the plaid couch in that Green Day video, spent cigarettes filling up an ashtray on the table, and a TV set that was at least a decade old ticked off all the boxes — I could practically smell the baked-in odors of old smoke and schwag weed.
Billie Joe Armstrong sang of a particular kind of boredom we now call #firstworldproblems. Before the internet was in our pockets (let alone in every house), it was a bummer if you had hundreds of cable channels at your disposal and yet everything on TV sucked. It’s not unlike the extended staycation many of us find ourselves in now, except instead of aimlessly flicking through the boob tube, we’re flicking through the endless scroll of content that either contributes to the growing sense of unease, helplessness, and despair gnawing at the pits of our stomachs, or momentarily distracts us from it.
One of my favorite distractions is @hidden.ny, a progenitor of the “archive” Instagram, an account prioritizing deep-cut photos where inference based in a foundational knowledge of street culture fills in the context you’d normally expect in the captions. It’s part-Superfuture/NikeTalk/Splay, seminal online fora in their own right that influenced the way we talk about sneakers, streetwear, and music today. Seeing a photo of Nigo chilling with Paris Hilton, or Pharrell’s iced-out Blackberry and Rubik’s Cube chain from that inimitable 2006 BET freestyle reminds older heads that they were there before street culture blew up and became a meme simplified to “Which Off-White™ Nike Are You?” based on your birth year (and the dates begin in 1999! Feel old yet?!).
But something’s happened to influencers and content aggregators during quarantine. Welcome to The Clout Drought™. It’s where social platforms and online content creators seemingly have a larger audience than ever, but have hit the internet equivalent of cable television: millions of channels but nothing’s on.
In some ways, it feels like a lot of the accounts I follow are on re-runs. Or they’ve done the thing TV channels do, where they either air a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit marathon or every single Fast & Furious movie all weekend long. Why put in the work to highlight the new and novel when you can get just as many eyeballs by rehashing things you already know people like? I swear, if I see another photo of a dyed hemp Stüssy x Nike Zoom Spiridon Caged 2, or an artfully-placed 1985 OG Air Jordan 1 colorway (Storm Blues and Ash Greys, you’re on notice) on my feed, I might just defenestrate myself.
“I’ve seen accounts I follow devolve pretty clearly,” says Chris Black, a writer and cultural commentator whose taste is generally deemed impeccable by other people on the internet. “You’re on the road constantly; you’re in these great hotels; you’re wearing these beautiful clothes; and you’re at these beautiful restaurants. Then all of a sudden you’re stuck in your apartment, and it’s another selfie or a picture of a stack of books. I can tell you’re running out of ideas.”
Lockdown has made it impossible to flex on a plane or five-star hotel room. People who otherwise enjoy enviable existences on the timeline have gone silent or otherwise given a look at their real lives, the humble abodes they spend most of their time on airplanes escaping (cue: “Wow king, you live like this?”). The only food going on IG stories are things either created at home or delivered, which is nothing like securing a table at a restaurant with a years-long waiting list. IG Live has exposed celebrity and influencer culture for the farce that it is, with plenty of fake-it-til-you-makers trying to connect with their audience in a real way, but finding that they actually don’t have anything to say.
“I do think that this shit is sussing out true creativity,” adds Black. “It’s forcing people to do things in a different way, and also figuring out what your audience truly responds to versus just shitting stuff out that you find.”
In fact, some of us are taking this time to be more creative than ever. You know, like how Sir Isaac Newton, while in quarantine during the bubonic plague, used the opportunity to discover calculus (yay!). Billie Eilish even told Zane Lowe in a recent Beats One interview that she’s managed to write an entire song in quarantine! That’s cool and all, but Dolly Parton wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on what she called “a good writing day.”
But the truth is, a lot of us are finding it harder and harder to do anything slightly above the equivalent of jack shit, especially the millions of newly unemployed and underemployed individuals trying to work out their own salvation in this fraught period.
Cam Hicks, like many photographers, certainly isn’t shooting anything at the moment. But he did take this time to release his first book, For the Porch, which managed to sell out of its first copies when it was released online last week at Dover Street Market and Paradigm Publishing. It was a calculated move on his part. For one, he wanted to make something that would set him apart from other photographers, and second, it’s an ideal way to keep himself busy as he starts to think of his next steps.
For the past two or three years, he’s felt like there was an oversaturation in the fashion and creative industries, and a lot of repetition in terms of concepts and ideas. He brings up the idea of economic “creative destruction,” in which an economic structure incessantly renews itself, and believes that’s exactly what we’re experiencing right now, and it’s been long overdue. It reminds me of a Sade clip that’s been making its rounds on Twitter where she talks about the importance of taking a break. “It gives you a chance to realize why you’re doing what you do, and actually want to do what you do, not just do it because you’re already there and you’re on a roll,” she says.
Indeed, with global fashion weeks being cancelled, both street style photographers and their always-fitted subjects find themselves at a crossroads too. Some have turned the lens on themselves, including Tyler Joe, whose hilarious, personality-driven Instagram posts include branded content with Samsung and Matchesfashion, for whom he documented all the hard work that goes into a TikTok video. French photographer and Air Max addict Julien Boudet self-styled, shot, and modeled in a lookbook for Toronto streetwear label 3.PARADIS, who sent the clothes to the Luxembourg home where he’s riding out isolation.
Stylist, consultant, and model Aleali May is used to being on the other side of the camera as one of fashion week’s most flicked-up fit gods. In our recent Vibe Check podcast, she admits she’s been doing more of a reset, catching up on her favorite fashion documentaries, digging through her wardrobe archives, and figuring out ways to make her styling and consulting gigs work remotely.
About a month ago, Evan — a self-aware, supercilious Canadian better known on Instagram and YouTube as @fuckhopsin — posted a video titled “The Instagram Archive Page Subculture – A Critique On Content Curation.” Part-Destiny 2 gameplay, part-valid critique on creation versus aggregation, it’s sort of a “Who Watches the Watchmen?” moment for people whose primary hobbies include screenshotting Virgil Abloh’s Instagram Stories and mining places like KanyeToThe or BapeTalk for photos of streetwear and gear in the pre-blog era.
He cites @liljupiterr and @hidden.ny as — for all intents and purposes — the godfathers of this archive shit. But with great power comes great responsibility, and in the video he gripes about how both accounts sometimes gravitate towards posting similar images of the same sneakers (sup, Dior Jordan 1s?) and jawns-copping tastemakers (mainly former homies Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti) rather than use their sizable platforms to put a shine on under-appreciated labels or give more context to the neophytes who aren’t as hip to the history of a particular silhouette or designer, but whose fashion knowledge is limited to whatever’s been memed in the past few weeks (i.e. this person has Googled “where to buy Yankee with no brim”).
“I’ve seen a lot of people just stick with a certain formula that someone else is successful with and attempt to replicate that,” he laments. It reinforces a groupthink around what’s cool without providing any real context as to why something is held in such high regard. It dumbs down aesthetic appreciation to soulless appropriation.
The result is a scene of similar pages with obscure-sounding names that — in Evan’s words — is “a lot of people copying each other and not necessarily providing anything new or bringing extra information to the table.” In a chicken-versus-egg phenomenon, it’s as if the popularity of @liljupiterr and @hidden.ny spawned its own fuccboi continuum populated by Lil Uzi fit pics, Revenge X Storm Low Tops, and pre-2010 Rick Owens Geobaskets/Dunks (when they still had the trademark-infringing design on the side, an amalgamation of Nike’s Swoosh and Puma’s Formstripe). Instead of championing discovery, it champions conformity, which is why the Clout Drought™ is also a time for separating the A-alikes from the real deal.
Among the stellar follows during the Clout Drought™ include @organiclab.zip, whose dedication and consistency to GORP drip and trail-ready kicks is commendable. Then there’s accounts like @hartcopy (run by Highsnobiety social editor Tim Suen) and @samutaro, which evolved from the personal page of London-based denim expert and trend forecaster Samuel Trotman (the name is a play on Japanese denimhead label Momotaro, and his avatar is the “Fuck ‘Em” safety pin from 2009’s Supreme x A.P.C. collab). Both do something novel in the age of visually-dominant internet culture: They have faith that their audience cares enough to read.
“I saw a lot of people sharing images and posting them but there was no real kind of thought or understanding of the context of where they came from,” says Trotman. “I was seeing a lot of these young kids who are good at creating an aesthetic and bringing an interest around these brands, but I felt like there needs to be more of a level of understanding and knowledge behind it.”
What I especially appreciate about the work Suen and Trotman are putting into their accounts is they’re not just reminding us of cool shit we already know exists, they’re putting people onto things whose time may have finally come. Sure, you’ll see the Travis Scott SBs on @hartcopy, but you’ll also learn about the 2004 Hello Kitty Prestos that only existed in whispered back issues of obscure Japanese sneaker magazines. Trotman will alternate between narratives about designer basketballs, then highlight the work of resin artist Chris Bakay, or post about the Korean-Americans who vigilantly kept watch over their communities during the L.A. Riots. They offer deeper, substantial chunks out of the monolith of street culture rather than just the high-engagement, low-hanging junk food of so many other accounts.
Trotman admits that he didn’t think anyone would even read his captions when he first started taking a more narrative approach to his platform. Your average “long-form” Instagram caption maxes out around 2,200 characters (about 365 words), which is only a little over a paragraph. Meanwhile, @hartcopy puts the text right on the image, a layout similar to tomes like Shoes Master or Lightning’s Nike Chronicle Deluxe, and certainly pleasing ephemera enthusiasts who always wondered what the Japanese text translated to.
These accounts represent the antithesis to “gatekeeper” culture, the notion that a thing can only truly belong to its earliest, most fervent adopters. Sneakers and street culture are mainstream now, and there’s no stopping that. But what @samutaro and @hartcopy provide are ways to keep it honest, accountable, and — most importantly — fun.
It restores the inherent nerdiness of jawns enthusiasm, encouraging people to issue corrections in the comments (which sometimes get updated in the caption), or reminisce about even more obscure sneakers and collaborations. It’s the crass, conversational tone of forum culture melded with the accessibility of Instagram. And maybe these kinds of self-contained communities will eventually lead us out of the Clout Drought™ and into the promised land of content.
“Kids should be able to learn through other people like we’ve learned, and this is just a new means of how information is being presented,” says Trotman. “I didn’t ever want to just write like, a cringy one-line tag. I wanted to add something more interesting to the table.”