Exploring the Language of the Stars

Cultural Literacy for Old People

Cultural Literacy for Old People
Credit: wEnDy

You know who Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber are.

Your eyes don’t totally glaze over when someone tells you the latest news about Chloe Moretz. Maybe you have a general sense that One Direction is a boy band? From England? Although who knows what their music sounds like. And in a lineup of Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Miranda Cosgrove, Mila Kunis, and Rachel Bilson, you could guess which was which with 75 percent accuracy.

Good! Phew. Awesome! But frankly, who cares about any of those people anymore? What about the new stars, the ones kids/teens/babies actually CARE about right now— do you have any idea who they are? Here are 11 people you probably have not heard of, but everyone in the all-important tween demographic already loves.

Austin Mahone

Austin Mahone just turned 17. He’s being hailed as the second coming of Justin Bieber. He has more than two million followers on Twitter and he’s the opening act for parts of Taylor Swift’s current tour.

His origin story isn’t particularly magical; he began posting videos of himself singing Bieber and Bruno Mars covers on YouTube a few years ago, some of them got north of four million views, and now he has a record deal. His fans, who at one point in his ascent could pay to Skype with him, are known as Mahomies.

He has a nice voice. He seems likable and genuine. His hair is doing weird things in some of his videos but that seems to be the way with the kids these days.

His YouTube channel still includes many weird artifacts from his rise to fame that you would expect to have been deleted from his history once he crossed over into the world of manufactured celebrity. Singing an a capella cover of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” atop a running washing machine, surrounded by soap and bleaches and other sanitizing products? Maybe a little too on-the-nose.

My favorite of his videos is his cover of “No Air” with Alyssa Shouse, another young YT ingenue. I like it because I love this song but the fact that Chris Brown sings on the original makes my enjoyment of it difficult to relax with. Consider me a Mahomie for this if nothing else.

Bella Thorne and Zendaya

Bella Thorne and Zendaya are the stars of one of the Disney Channel’s newer cross-marketing delivery vehicles, a show called Shake It Up. It is a show about friendship and dancing. It follows the usual Disney model, zany friends and an annoying younger brother living with only the vaguest parental oversight. If you like that sort of thing you’ll like this sort of thing.

Bella and Zendaya were career child actresses solidly booking parts on shows and movies when they were picked out of a lineup of skinny and pretty likable unknowns to be the skinny and pretty and likable leads on this show.

It’s not really important that you know who they are now. It’ll just be important to be able to mentally refer back to them later, as the Disney show in-game between them develops. Who will Disney double down on and offer promotion for her tangential singing and movie acting careers? Which one will betray the Mouse, turn her back on the house of Disney, play against type by leaking semi-scandalous photos of herself to the internet, eventually establishing a respectable career as an actress in independent films? I for one cannot wait to find out.


On the surface, R5 looks like any other semi-creepy family band à la Hanson or the Jacksons. To call them a pop/rock band would be to lend more edge to the term “rock” than it’s deserved in 30 years. Their music is serviceable, using verses and choruses and guitars and drums and harmonies in a way that instantly identifies what they’re doing as “music” while going no deeper.

Like every other family band, the interesting stuff is all happening just offstage, and the further you scratch the surface of this band the weirder it gets.

The Lynch siblings began their life in the pop culture spotlight not as a band but as members of a dance troupe called Rage Boyz Crew on So You Think You Can Dance. But how bright can sibling stars shine in an urban dance troupe of more than 20 kids is the eternal question. The siblings, all of whom also play musical instruments, hooked up with Ellington Ratliff, a drummer who is identified in R5 press materials as “their best friend,” and like a phoenix emerging from its chrysalis or however butterflies get made, re-emerged as a band.

R5 consists of:

  • Ross: rhythm guitar and vocals, also the star of the Disney show Austin & Ally, aka the Cute One
  • Riker: bass and vocals, the Safe One
  • Rydel: keyboards, the Female One
  • Rocky: lead guitar, the Mature One
  • Ellington: drums, official best friend, the Outsider One

But their name is R5! you scream. Wheres the fifth R? Well! There is also a fifth sibling, Ryland. At 16 he is the youngest member of the family, but he does not appear in the band; rather, he is their manager. How does a 16-year-old manage a touring band? Is it like being the manager of the high school baseball team, i.e., he sits on the sidelines, making sure there are enough towels? Is posing Ryland as the band’s manager the Lynch parents’ attempt to throw us off the scent of their Hollywood stage parent famelust? Does Ryland harbor some terrible, dark secret that prevents him from actually being in the band? Or perhaps a passion for some musical instrument outside the acceptable borders of teen pop music, like the Jew’s harp or pan flute? When will we learn the true dark secret of the fifth R? This is definitely a band to watch, for that reason and that reason alone.

Hayleylovessyouu / Aaroncarpenter / Drew_Shipley

The newest, oddest brand of celebrity we have yet created as a culture is the Person Who Is Famous on Instagram. Instagram is littered with young and famous self-portrait artists. Hundreds of thousands of people follow along as they post pictures of themselves, clothed and smiling, nothing terribly scandalous. They are shockingly normal looking.

They also participate in a kind of visual meme involving captioned reaction shots, an odd mashup of selfie and cartoon.

Credit: hayleylovessyouu

Credit: aaroncarpenter

The visual gags are the modern internet equivalent of Garfield, wholesome and relatable observations, not particuarly clever or insightful, but of no offense to anyone. Nonetheless they manage to garner thousands and thousands of likes (“double-taps” in the vocabularly of Instagram).

Credit: drew_shipley

Are they visual artists? Cultural critics? Their main talent seems to be an ability to stand in front of a mirror holding a phone. If they have gained this many followers for doing so little, what do their futures hold? The safest bet is to fear them.