“I won’t be coming in to work because I’m devoting my entire day to Beyonce’s latest Tumblr update, which features the gift of Bey-faux-vegan being fancy, rich and all that sh*t” – is possibly not the kind of message you want to leave on your manager’s voicemail. But such is the power of Tumblr (and Queen Bey), that someone, somewhere, would probably use that line.
Tumblr, started by David Karp in 2007, introduced a new edge to social networking, a revolution all of its own which offered users the ability to share their thoughts, aspirations, likes, dislikes and lip-synching cat GIFs, through the power of photos, rather than text in the Twittersphere. It quickly became a smorgasbord of visual content, including far too many of those relatable and inspirational ‘post-crappy week’ vs. ‘post-breakup’ girl quotes, also brought to you by Instagram, which sit among all those pics of how the barista at Starbucks misspelled your name. It made “Cat Ladies” cool – pictures of cats and humans swapping heads (see them here), possibly created by someone bored, drunk or stoned, or all three. That last example also proves that Tumblr is easy to use, regardless of the mental state you’re in, and its content is highly accessible, although maybe not so easily digestible at times. Like when you stumble across a RiRi fan’s numerous GIFs of the singer humping water while balancing a bad wig on her head in the video for “Pour It Up,” or a collection of images under the title “Meadow Of Sinful Thoughts” which as you scroll down includes a picture of Ed Sheeran playing a guitar. I don’t know about you, but Ed Sheeran and sinful thoughts are two things that should never appear in the same sentence, unless you’re really into ginger Hobbits.
Today Tumblr hosts over 100 million blogs and a staggering 44.6 billion blog posts have been created using the site. That’s a sh*tload of dolphins, palm trees and pyramid motifs superimposed onto orion nebula backgrounds for your viewing pleasure. For the first time ever, Yahoo also included Tumblr in its top search trends this year, highlighting the most viral blogs on the platform, and the top ten Tumblr fashion trends. Of course, that might have a little something to do with the fact that Yahoo also acquired Tumblr back in May this year, helping to give its online presence a huge ego boost. Hashtag #justsayin.
If you still haven’t embraced Tumblr-ing, then you’ll be glad to know you don’t need to be a rocket-scientist (or advanced in HTML and SEO) to understand how to use the micro-blogging platform. For example, my just-about-internet-savvy Mother could create a Tumblr blog in less than five minutes with zero direction. Surprisingly, it takes her longer to compose and send a text, but I just tell her nobody texts anymore, because it’s sooooooo 2001.
Tumblr has been embraced by every major mainstream website by the addition of a sharing option for its users, and many also run their own Tumblr-based blogs to achieve more side traffic. Surveys show that consumers in the 18-34 year old demographic are hooked on the social networking site, particularly the 13-to-25-year-olds, who now use it more than Facebook – as a spokesman for research firm eMarketer told the New York Post, “Not because Facebook is ineffective, but because the digital audience is more fragmented than ever before.”
As founder David Karp explains, “Collectively, users spend in the order of tens of billions of minutes per month on Tumblr” – that’s when they’re not deciding between tweeting another insta-selfie or eating their lunch. The site has become an experience which offers a massive and instant community of users, with a strong mobile presence and can often be a platform for engineering and promoting emerging talent. There’s very little or no narrative to most pages, only a constant stream of seductive imagery, and as is becoming more common, a copy-and-paste trend – something which is easy to spot when you see the numerous streetwear blogs currently obsessed with the colour black, layering and slogan snapbacks. As Tumblr after Tumblr appears with users and their friends wearing the knock-offs-of-a-knock-off ‘Givenchy by Preston Heron’ #BOOTLEG or replica Hood by Air #Been #Trill, I’m left asking, really? Feel free to move on and do something NEW anytime soon people.
Musicians, artists and creatives on all levels have formed their own virtual friendships via Tumblr, constantly communicating about and influencing each other’s aesthetics, in a similar way to how club culture did in the 70s, 80s and 90s. What the colourful youth are into is always of interest to the taste-makers of society, and Tumblr trends do give some indication of what’s happening on the streets, but to find out what’s really going on, I suggest you go outdoors and see for yourself. But wherever the youth goes, fashion follows of course, so it’s no surprise that designers and brands have got in on the act by harnessing the power of Tumblr to focus on their content creation. It’s an opportunity to engage with their fans and consumers and give people the chance to explore the DNA of their brand. Tumblr’s former Fashion Director Rich Tong told Mashable in 2011, “There’s a huge capacity for fashion content to go viral on Tumblr.”
Fast forward to 2013, and almost everyone is discussing their latest collections and activity online via visual storytelling. From Calvin Klein, Oscar PR Girl and Adidas Originals to Browns Fashion and Alexander McQueen (who used the site to get the word out about the launch of their younger McQ range), fashion is constantly Tumblr-ing at us. Burberry are the masters of digital marketing, presenting its “Art of the Trench” Tumblr, positioned as a ‘living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it’. More recently, Nicola Formichetti brought us the #DieselReboot, an interactive Tumblr campaign which marked one of the biggest rebranding exercises in fashion history. Even Formichetti’s BFF, Lady Gaga, launched her own “Amen Fashion Tumblr” – a journey through her unique definition of avant-garde style, in which the singer posts images such as her feet clad in socks and Louboutins alongside the quote, “You can take the girl out of catholic school, but you can’t take her socks.” Amen.
The downside of Tumblr, seen in its just released 2013 Year In Review, is that its take on the most reblogged fashion and style trends – tags to you and I – show that none of the descriptions were particularly used that much in the industry. Ok, ‘Grunge’ may have got a look in thanks to Hedi Slimane bringing it back in March for his Paris Fashion Week show – but tags like ‘boho’ and ‘pastel goth’? How about ‘tartan’ or ‘fluted skirt’ or ‘oversized coat’? all of which dominated the runways for AW13/14. No, instead ‘hipster’ and ‘swag’ were some of the top trending tags, hence my point earlier in this article about the over-bombardment of street style Tumblr’s not really saying anything new, or relevant.
I’m also surprised ‘Seapunk’ didn’t get a look in, the term famously coined by Brooklyn-based DJ, Lil Internet, which sparked a global movement on Tumblr and in the pop culture mainstream. Teenagers and twenty / thirty-something’s everywhere began dip-dying their hair in anything from Tropical Turquoise to Oceanic Blue, while scouring the shops for psychedelic dresses to match their trippy locks.
The question is, are these actually ‘trends’ or just Tumblr addicts describing an aesthetic where people try to look as ‘alt’ as possible? Are people actually buying into these vague themes and concepts? I doubt it. If something happens and it’s not on Tumblr, did it really ever happen? Probably. It’s just we have better things to do with our time than stare at our computer screens or mobiles to see what we should / could / or won’t be doing with our lives. And if we really want to find out the latest fashion trends, we’ll just go to Topshop.com. Tumblr is therefore actually just a better gauge of what makes for a good, shareable image, than what is trending in fashion. Just look at the punk-inspired Tumblr’s which popped up post the Met Ball’s supposed homage to the iconic movement, which actually turned out to be a bunch of celebrities completely ignoring the theme and dressing like sofa covers instead (see: Kim Katrashian). Did these users and bloggers actually understand the history of the punk aesthetic? Probably not, because they were just jumping on a Tumblr trend bandwagon. That’s not punk folks, that’s just a load of b*llocks, as The Sex Pistols would say.
Crossing over from digital into reality, are generation #yolo worried about the culture of Tumblr becoming too commercial? All those hipsters in their eBay purchased ‘Ramones’ T-shirts are panicking that Yahoo’s ability to sell online advertising across its sites, is based on data about people’s personal interests after all.
Yes, we live in a visual culture where words aren’t the only way of communicating anymore, as the quote says, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’
But this repetitive thrill of the never-ending scroll feed, and that constant need to establish our place in society and identify with a clique, coupled with a brief and instantaneous recognition for who we are, likes = love. Is this all just a short-term post-physical consciousness, where our realities are determined by like buttons?
Yes is the answer. And the Tumblr scenesters will continue to seek out the next big thing to identify with, or be part of the ‘cool’ crowd who get there first, like the one’s who discovered that picture of Lasagna del Rey when searching for food porn under the #lasagna tag on a rainy Sunday afternoon (even though it’s actually spelt with an ‘e’).
Could Tumblr itself one day appear in the “DeathofCool” Tumblr, because its had its moment, just like John Travolta’s lace hair front which introduced the Oscars Movie Musicals tribute in February this year?
Let’s hope not, as I for one would miss the “Respectful Rappers,” a Tumblr where its creators reinterpret the misogynistic, egotistic and crass ignorance of mainstream rap lyrics. Such as Eminem’s ‘Sit down b*tch, you move again – I’ll beat the sh*t out of you’ which features in the track “Kim,” replaced with the description, “You always brighten my day”.