Entertainment

What Are Vine Stars Doing Now That Vine Is Dead? Freaking Out.

About two years ago, while Vine was healthy -- before the internet celebrities it germinated outgrew it and ultimately turned against it -- three of the bigger names on the platform teamed up with some better-known YouTube personalities for a rap battle to determine which crew’s content reigned superior.

Meant as a tongue-in-cheek, real-recognize-real roast, the faux battle pitted Vine's DeStorm Power, King Bach, and Logan Paul against the YouTube trio of Superwoman, Timothy DeLaGhetto, and D-trix. All were and remain popular social media personalities with millions of devoted fans across various platforms, and for five minutes and 36 seconds (or five minutes and 30 seconds longer than Vine could have accommodated), they fired a handful of good-natured if obvious disses at one another. The YouTubers made cracks about how "six seconds ain’t talent bro" and "we make art, you make GIFs." The Viners lobbed lines that seemed tethered to the stereotypical millennial ADD worldview that helped make Vine popular in the first place: "If you ask if I'll see the video to this song, don't be silly, Lilly, the ads are too long."

As battles go, it wasn't exactly Supernatural vs. Juice. But it turned out to be prescient, with the biggest blow landed by Superwoman – née Lilly Singh: "They call us weed whackers, 'cause we kill vines." She couldn't have realized it at the time, but two years later – and barely a month removed from Vine shuttering its digital doors -- her boast bears out.

So what happens to Superwoman's former adversaries? When Vine was healthy, its top-tier creators thrived, using their mastery of the medium to turn personal brands into real money. Lots of it, even. "There ain't a Vine star out there who isn't a millionaire," Alx James bragged to Mic.com during the app's late-October funeral. He might have been exaggerating, but maybe not by much. While Vine didn't pay its stars directly, it was an indirect conduit to cash through three primary paths: brand endorsements, appearance fees, and merchandise. It's easy enough to drop a McDonald's hamburger into a Vine or spend some time on Snapchat promoting shampoo in exchange for money. Or attend a Wild Turkey party and guzzle bourbon for money. Or stamp your face or some random words onto a T-shirt. Also for money. But all of that is dependent on relevance, which is dependent on eyeballs, which were previously furnished in large part by Vine. So now what?

Over the last few weeks, I talked to quite a few former Vine stars to see what they were doing now. Some told me they’re on a quest to keep the good times good. Others are panicking. All are learning hard lessons about fame. Alx James told Mic, "we'll be fine." Maybe. But some will likely be more fine than others.

King Bach, Casey Neistat
King Bach, right, with fellow internet celebrity Casey Neistat | Franzer Harrison/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I. The day the looping died

Barely three years ago, Vine blushed about having 40 million users. By the time its six-second videos were buried 6ft under the online dirt, only 0.66% of Android users in the U.S. opened the app each day -- down from 3.64% in August 2014, according to research provided to various media outlets by 7Park Data. Parent company Twitter never revealed how many users and viewers Vine hemorrhaged these last few years, but it was enough to kill the app in an attempt to save itself and buoy its stock.

There are all sorts of theories behind Vine's swift decline, from concerns about unchecked troll abuse, to a flood of tweens commandeering the app, to a dip in quality loops, to overhead ($10 million a month by the end). But for Vine stars, it was also something else: Vine's reluctance to ply content providers with graft. Facebook and Instagram, for example, regularly toss gift cards to creators in order to buy expensive equipment. YouTube has entire studios in major cities for its creators to shoot videos. It even sends out little plaques when they hit certain subscriber milestones; they look like framed play buttons. It might sound silly, but it's right out of the Silicon Valley employee perk manual. But not Vine.

"There was talk about monetization, but it never happened," said Sara Hopkins, a Vine star with a million followers and three-quarters of a billion loops. She transitioned most of her content to Instagram (239k followers) and YouTube (44k subscribers, 1.1 million views) while Vine died its slow death. "They weren't progressing with creators in mind. There was little to no facilitation from the app to continue developing the creator community. YouTube has done a fantastic job taking care of and promoting their creators," she said. "Vine didn't try to do this until it was too late."

As Vine decayed, 18 of its biggest stars banded together and approached the company with a demand to be paid more than a million dollars each to produce something around three pieces of original content per person, per week. The maneuver was either a righteous embrace of capitalism or a sloppy last-ditch extortion scheme. Either way, it failed. Vine balked. Its stars walked. If that wasn't the precise time of death for the company, it certainly served to notify the coroner.

II. Delusions of stardom, or: You're not more famous than Brad Pitt

Logan Paul wants to be famous. That's hardly remarkable among Vine stars. They all want to be famous. And on some level, by some definition, they already are. But if fame is an alphabet spectrum, they're probably plotted closer to Z than A. Logan Paul wants to change that. Along with his buddies King Bach and DeStorm Power, Paul is thriving on YouTube, where he has over a million subscribers and 43 million views. It isn't enough. He craves real fame. Legit A-list. The 21-year-old has said, more than once and quite earnestly, that he hopes to be the biggest entertainer in the world.

Like any Hollywood climber, he's eager to act, but his early roles show just how unfavorable the exchange rate is between social media fame and fame fame. He's appeared in some small roles, including an episode of Law & Order: SVU. He also starred in a recently released YouTube Red original sci-fi horror flick called The Thinning, about an overpopulated dystopia where only the smartest survive after taking a test. The rest are… thinned. (I won't spoil the social media-heavy plot for you, but -- surprise! -- the system is rigged.)

So if YouTube is the step that comes after Vine, and acting is the step that comes after (or during?) YouTube, what does becoming the biggest entertainer in the world look like to Paul?

"It looks like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. Or Kevin Hart. Two guys who I respect the SH*T out of for their hustle, hard work, and unparalleled expertise and knowledge of both traditional and digital media." That was Paul's reply via email. Complete with the asterisk. He continued: "As far as what that looks like in 10 years... I literally have no idea. But I've been saying this for the past three years -- when I get there, I'll know it."

Bromides aside, Paul makes an interesting point about not knowing what the future of digital media holds, about taking care not to rely too much on any particular medium. It's a disquieting truth for some former Viners now tasked with learning a new language. There isn't a YouTube Rosetta Stone for people mainly fluent in Vine. Much of the unease is owed to obvious differences in format and the way jokes and stories are told. A six-second framework automatically streamlines (and limits) what you can do. YouTube is different in terms of possibilities and time. Getting a viewer to watch you for six seconds is exponentially easier than getting them to watch you for five minutes, much less two hours.

Sarah Hopkins

Of course, there are Vine stars who take that last part for granted, who assume their previously hungry followers will gobble up whatever they dish out next because, well, they’re Vine stars -- the emphasis being much more on the second part of that now-defunct phrase than the first. And this, says comedian Jordan Burt, an early adopter of Vine who had 3.1 million followers and nearly a half-billion loops before jumping to YouTube, is a sure way to shatter dreams.

"There are conversations I've had with Vine stars who think they’re on the same level as A-list celebrities," says Burt. "Like, real celebrities. Actual celebrities. I don't know how you think you're more famous than Brad Pitt. You're not. He's cemented himself. And, oh yeah, he's also talented. He's shown that he has skills beyond being popular."

To be clear, Burt wasn't talking about Logan Paul. And Burt insisted he understands how easy it is for millions of followers to short-circuit your self-worth GPS and leave you feeling like you've arrived at Peak Popularity when you've barely reached the base camp. He called the sensation "intoxicating" while simultaneously puzzling over how his peers are incapable of understanding or acknowledging the inherently ephemeral nature of internet celebrity.

"There was a point where I was gaining hundreds of thousands of fans every day," Burt said. "I still always had the mindset of, 'OK, this is a starting point. I can't rely on this to last. I have to make it sustainable.' Even with tons of followers and tons of money, I can't go into a business meeting and be like, 'Look at this, I make six-second videos.' The film industry would laugh at you. You make six-second videos? That doesn’t mean anything. Prove to me you can make real content that lasts."

III. What it's like to be washed up at 27

At the intersection of "what comes next" and "start all over again," you'll locate the source of some serious anxiety for certain former Vine stars. Miel Bredouw -- better known as Miel or MielMonster -- had more than a half-million followers on Vine and north of 329 million loops. Her humor tends toward the dry and sarcastic, including the YouTube video she posted after Vine expired. In it, she said the app's shutdown was a positive development, allowing her to "focus on other things, like making more tears." Then she went full fake-meltdown: "I think I missed the boat. It's 2016 and I'm old as fuck." She's 27. She was kidding. Mostly.

Aside from worrying about YouTube infrastructure issues -- the videos generally feature expensive cameras, lighting, and editing software, compared to simply shooting a Vine on her phone -- she's not sure her brand of humor works as well there. "Sometimes I remind myself that teenage audiences might not find anti-aging serum jokes very relatable, or that a Michael McDonald reference might not... quite land," Miel wrote in an email. "I'm not sure I'll be able to make a living from monetized videos/brand deals forever, but at the end of the day we will all end up wormfood. Just kidding. I mean, that is true, but I'm not going full-blown Walt Whitman on you. I have to believe if I keep my nose to the grindstone, it'll be okay. Isn't that what everyone in entertainment tells themselves?"

 

A post shared by brittanyfurlan (@brittanyfurlan) on

Brittany Furlan

Not quite everyone. No. Brittany Furlan had 9.9 million followers on Vine and more than 4 billion loops. She has 2.1 million followers on Instagram. But despite the 269k YouTube subscribers and more than 27 million views, she admits she's "not as fortunate" as other Viners. Vine made sense to her. YouTube often doesn't. She confessed to not being very good with editing software or post-production tricks like the ones used in "Kitty Cat Car Jump." "Those people are all so savvy," she said. "I'm kind of an old person." She just turned 30.

Accordingly, Furlan, who hasn't posted to YouTube in over three months, has put most of her energy into acting. But here, other problems present themselves. She has an agent and a management team (which also represents high-level clients like Margot Robbie), and they've gotten her plenty of auditions, but she fears she's already been typecast as an internet one-off. "That's Hollywood," she said. "That's LA. They try to put you in a box. It can be a little gross."

Vine changed her life. She knows it. She's thankful. But the more we talked, the more her fear about the future crept into the conversation. "Maybe I'll book a show," she said. "I hope so. But it's scary. I'm not sure what's going to happen." After a pause, she exhaled: "I need to get my shit together and get on YouTube."

Conclusion: I can't stop looking at this picture of Logan Paul

To the extent that there are any answers about what happens next for Vine stars, they might be found in a picture of Logan Paul. It’s not a loop or Snap or video. It does not move. It sits there. It is old tech. Pre-Vine tech. No matter. The picture is everything. I can't stop staring at it. It is the millennial equivalent of the lava lamp. The picture explains why the Vine star-turned-would-be actor is so confident these days, and why many others aren't.

In it, he is shirtless, which is maybe the least surprising or mesmerizing thing about it. There are abs in the picture. So many abs. Lots of abs. Again, not the most surprising or mesmerizing thing. He is tan -- a mop of brown-blond hair atop his smiling, squinting, happy, handsome head – and a parrot is perched on the left index finger of his extended left arm. Which is also not the... you get it. Here's the reveal: Behind him, and behind the parrot, is ANOTHER GODDAMN PARROT. This one is painted and framed and hung on a wall. It is peering at Paul and the finger parrot. It is peering at us. Judging. Surely, judging. It may or may not be a portrait of the real fucking finger parrot. Who can tell? I am not a parrot expert and you are not a parrot expert and also it does not matter. (But I'm pretty sure it's the same parrot because by now I am surely a parrot expert.) The photo is everything you need to know about what's already happened and what happens next.

There is no metric or math to explain why the picture is captivating. (Except perhaps: Parrot + shirtless bro + another parrot = eyeball paralysis.) It just is. You know it when you look at it, and Paul knows it, which is the point. The knowing. Here. Here are things that are visually interesting. I made them. Look at them. Marvel at them. Pay me for them. He's good at it, wrapping his hands around abstract weirdness and making it conform to shapes that yield money. How can you not look at that photo? How can you not look at him? How can you not think that, when he says he wants to become the biggest entertainer in the world, what he's actually saying is he'll keep finding ways to make people ogle him? We can dissect the power of platforms all we want. But, really, that's all that ever mattered to Paul and his contemporaries: all those eyeballs, locked on them, in what they hope is an endless loop.

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John Gonzalez lives in Los Angeles with his wife, their two dogs, and their cat. His Snapchat account is primarily used to put sunglasses and other funny stickers on their animals. Brands interested in paying him large sums for his innovative use of social media should DM posthaste @_johngonz.