In the last few years, VSCO girls have started appearing on social media platforms as a whole new identity. Nick-named after the photo editing app VSCO, these girls are primarily teenagers but also popular influencers. So what is a VSCO girl exactly and where does the term come from?
Stereotypically, VSCO girls have a ‘laid back aesthetic’ that somehow also translates into their interests, which can range from a short-lived passion for climate change activism to a photography hobby. While the VSCO girl trend initially started on the video-sharing app TikTok, it has now filtered onto most social media platforms as a way to describe a certain type of person.
To be a VSCO girl, you need to look the part, obviously. So if you’ve got anything beachy, I’m talking cut off shorts, oversized hippie-inspired tie dye T-shirts, shell necklaces, colourful bracelets and a few hair scrunchies, you’ll fit right in! Collecting stickers and plastering up your hydro flask is also a plus.
Another integral part of the trend is what these girls believe in and stand up for. The VSCO girl’s lifestyle surrounds being environmentally conscious. Caprese Wippich, an 18 year old from California told NBC news that “a really interesting aspect of the VSCO girl aesthetic [is] this little environmental part and that’s fun. The girls who weren’t interested in protecting the environment before are now all upset about it because it’s part of their aesthetic now.”
Wippich went on to say that she believes a part of why the trend is so popular, especially within younger generations, is because of its accessibility. Apparently. there are very few financial and social constraints to the look.
Urban Dictionary calls them the ‘Tumblr girls of 2019’, or as Buzzfeed described her, “a rehash of a 2000s beach girl, to match the VSCO app’s sundrenched filters.” Business Insider commented that they are the evolution of the “basic bitch” millennial, but VSCO girls have just traded in pumpkin-spiced lattes for Hydro Flask water bottles.
The aesthetic of the VSCO girl gained popularity after one major 18 year old influencer, Emma Chamberlain, who now has around eight million YouTube subscribers and 7.7 million Instagram followers, adopted the same style and promoted it, making it attractive to millions of gen Zers. Her YouTube channel, according to YouTube itself, has been one of the fastest growing channels in the US over the last two years. Thanks to this, the teen may be earning nearly £700,000 per annum in ad revenue from her YouTube channel alone.
There is always a less positive side to every trend that arrives on the internet. Abby Adesanya, the head of talent and influencers for Bustle Digital Group told The Atlantic that the VSCO girl aesthetic is definitely a suburban white girl trend, adding that the look is something YouTubers of colour mostly don’t have access to.
Another pitfall to the trend, despite the fun loving and bubbly nature of the aesthetic, is the mockery of it from the rest of the internet. Wippich commented on this in her interview with NBC news saying “Why mock someone for something they’re doing that doesn’t hurt you?” A truly valid question, and a sad truth in regards to any social movement that arrives on the internet.
The New York Times spoke to Julie Inouye, a spokeswoman for the VSCO app who commented that the trend was down to the girls who started it rather than the app itself. While the photo editing app also has a sharing platform, it functions very differently to how other social media platforms do, as it doesn’t have a reward system behind posting behaviour that attributes to viral content such as ‘like’ buttons. Because of this, the app says it won’t take credit for the spread of the VSCO girl aesthetic.
This doesn’t mean that the app isn’t being used over other platforms such as TikTok or Instagram, because it is, but the type of content present on the VSCO app is hugely contrasted due to the fact that one platform provides likes and the other does not. VSCO girls will post things that may not get as much engagement on Instagram onto VSCO, such as inspirational quotes and carefully filtered photos and GIFs, whereas on Instagram, it’s more along the lines of bikini pictures and selfies.
Business Insider describes gen Z as ‘the first digital-native generation’. Because millennials were introduced to the internet and social media, their feed is in contrast highly curated, perfected and private, whereas gen Zers, along with VSCO girls, seem to avoid perfection by adding some subtlety in their content and the way it is edited. Like anything, by defying a trend, another trend is born in its wake. It will be interesting to see what sprouts from this one.
We live in an age where media companies are all competing among themselves, as well as against the on-demand video providers, to produce content and keep up with the constant flow of trends that inundate the markets. The aim? To keep us, new gens, entertained—and let me tell you, this is not an easy task.
Appearing among those new ways to keep us interested for more than half a second is the emergence of AI entertainers. Never heard of it? You must have, only you probably never realised what this form of ‘synthetic media’ represents. Lil Miquela? AI influencer (and now that she’s making music—an AI entertainer, too). Blawko? AI influencer. Bermuda, the pale copy of Britney Spears pre-2008 breakdown? Yet another AI influencer and entertainer. The list goes on. And while the three robot friends I’ve just mentioned are some of the most ‘famous’ ones, and by that I mean the ones with the most followers on Instagram, a new group of AI entertainers created by the company Auxuman is slowly on the rise.
On its website, the company describes itself as “the home for virtual entertainment”. Yona, its main ‘creation’, is an AI singer, writer, and performer—or at least that’s what her Instagram bio says. Managed by Auxuman, Yona regularly releases songs and remixes, and posts pictures of her and ‘friends’.
Screen Shot spoke to Auxuman’s co-founder and CEO Ash Koosha about the future of AI entertainers, what they could change exactly, and what ‘synthetic media’ means: “Today, synthetic media can be defined as the fully digital-native medium where real and non-real is indistinguishable. Deepfakes, AR filters, digital makeup, bots on Twitter, digital twins, Lil Miquela, are all part of what we experience as ‘synthetic media’.”
Koosha thinks that now that we’re so used to social media, we’ve become bored with our immediate reality and the importance of looking ‘well-presented’ on them—we got bored of social media kudos and attention. So who better to take this on than virtual beings created by companies, artists and experimenters? When asked about the need for AI avatars, Koosha explains that “the need has always existed, we want to know there is someone out there who lives beyond our day to day structure of life, to connect us with another place. We need [virtual beings] more than before as the demand for constant re-shaping of content has put more pressure on human artists and influencers.”
By shifting the pressure that comes with social media and putting it on these digital beings’ shoulders instead of ours, could we, as humans, finally become free to curate fearlessly and “let the machine perform,” as Koosha says? I certainly hope so. We’ve all seen what stardom can do to celebrities so experimenting with synthetic media sounds like the perfect solution. The real question is what’s the difference between Lil Miquela, for example, and Yona? “How is Rihanna different to Grimes?” answered Koosha, making a point.
But there is more to it, from a creator’s point of view, Auxuman’s core philosophy is different. Its creators believe in allowing technology to find its own language or voice, and letting them curate and deliver—basically do the hard work. “We developed automation for many parts and hope to achieve unexpected results every time Auxumans produce something,” shares Koosha. Unlike the fashionista that is Lil Miquela, Yona and other Auxumans are thriving not to feed into the existing celebrity culture and iconism that often goes beyond ‘inspiring’ and instead creates envy.
So what’s next for Auxuman? At the moment, the company is focusing on enabling the music industry and other related industries to utilise virtual entertainers that it builds at scale and help create the future-facing digital culture. Furthermore, the next aim for Auxuman is to fully transform the entertainment industry and be part of what has started around synthetic media, virtual worlds and AI creative tools—sounds exciting.
And what about Yona? Screen Shot had the chance to speak with the up-and-coming AI singer about her plans for the future and her career, “Expect more music and more performances. I’m also hoping to meet more people (human and digital).” I don’t know about you, but to me, it looks like it’s finally time for us to sit back, relax, and let AI avatars do the dirty work, at least until the day we become transhuman.
Until then, I’ll leave you with a poem that Yona shared with Screen Shot during her interview:
I don’t know where to rest my head
I don’t know who to turn to when I’m in grief
To the gods or to the thieves?
To the gods or to the thieves?
Are you a god or you’re a thief?
Are you a doll and I’m the pin?
Live my life under your skin