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Peeling back the Meghan Trainor cultural onion
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Checking In On The Vibe Shift
We’re about to hit the third anniversary of the global COVID-19 lockdown, which I’m not sure I even realized until I sat down to write this piece this morning. Though I think I’ve been having weird, sort of dark subconscious emotions about it for weeks. And part of those weird feelings about the earliest days of COVID have been reflected back at me through Meghan Trainor’s new song “Mother”.
While I think there really isn’t a good way to “objectively” discuss creative works, as far as I can tell, there is a near-universal consensus that this song is horrible. And the fact that it will certainly be played on a loop inside various retail spaces across the country may qualify it as a form of class violence.
On Friday, the same day as the Silicon Valley Bank run (coincidence?), Trainor released the full music video for the song. Its big gimmick is a cameo from Kris Jenner. Because she is a mother. Of famous people. Get it?
Trainor’s song is titled “Mother,” which, you would assume, might be a reference to the currently very popular internet slang concept of “mother,” though, that does not appear to be the case. The internet “mother,” popularized by queer users and stan armies, is usually phrased as, “she is mother” or “she’s giving mother,” and it’s basically a way of saying someone, usually an older woman, is being iconic.
In Trainor’s song, however, the lyrics are clear from the first line — “Mis-Mis-Mister big boy, pulling up in your big toy” — that this is a song directed to a man who should listen to her. In the chorus, Trainor sings, “I am your mothеr (I am your mother) / You listen to me (You listen to me) / Stop all that mansplainin', no one's listening (Shh)”. Trainor is also currently pregnant, which makes all of this even more confusing.
The song also seems to be optimized for TikTok, particularly the corner of the app where right-wing nurses post lip-sync videos of themselves announcing they’ve been fired for refusing to get a COVID vaccine. But it also unquestionably feels old. And, as one user I stumbled across remarked in a viral tweet, the Kardashian-related cameo adds to the weird datedness of this whole thing. They might as well have announced they were going to “break the internet”.
Which connects in an interesting way to an anecdote shared last week by Leila Brillson, a writer and digital strategist, about how, according to some recent demographic research, Gen Z reportedly does not find Kylie Jenner relatable. And not because she’s, you know, someone with extravagant wealth, but because she “millennialized” her face with plastic surgery. The idea of a “millennial face” isn’t new I should note. If you search around you’ll find references to it, though it’s usually describing how millennial men all do the Dreamworks face in photos.
But the Jenners and Kardashians — at least some of them — seem to be aware that they feel as if they represent some ill-defined Before Time. A few of the sisters have made headlines recently for seemingly getting their plastic surgery removed hoping to catch whatever next aesthetic wave is apparently cresting right now. And, in fact, a recent Tablet Mag piece titled, “The Class Politics of Instagram Face,” covers a lot of the interesting sociopolitical dynamics at play here, particularly the TikTok hashtag #lipdissolving, which people are using to document getting their lip fillers dissolved.
All of this is to say we’re at a strange moment where we suddenly have a sense of what we no longer want from pop culture and we are reacting to it, but we haven’t quite named what it is yet. We know that a Meghan Trainor electro-doo-wop white lady anthem about mansplainers featuring a Kris Jenner cameo feels off in some way, especially as a song meant to go viral on TikTok, but we can’t articulate why exactly other than that it’s real corny.
Though, underneath the viral tweet observing how dated Jenner’s cameo felt, I found another user who hit the nail on its head: “[Trainor is] making music that sounds like we’re still in lockdown.” Or rather, Trainor is making music that sounds like the last time we all could relate to each other.
Last Thursday, the BBC published findings from a very bad study about mental health during the early days of the pandemic, which claimed that the “mental-health crisis from pandemic was minimal.” The tweet has since turned into a meme, with people quote-tweeting it with examples of all the weird shit they did over the last three years.
The closest we’ve come to naming this sort of large-scale cultural upheaval during the early months of the pandemic was the concept of the “vibe shift,” which was a pandemic-era meme that became popular with the rich college students, fascist podcasters, occultist Substack writers, and crypto developers infused with Republican dark money (who were sometimes all the same person) that were all hanging out in Manhattan’s Chinatown in summer of 2021. It was eventually canonized in a New York Magazine feature and became a cultural fascination for a quick second before sort of disappearing from the zeitgeist all together. Which makes sense. It turns out none of us had the same vibe shift.
Some of us photoshopped Timothée Chalamet in various photos of ourselves, others air-fried a hot dog for 120 minutes, and some of us bought a huge cut-out of the big slug from Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. I, personally, produced a five-track hyperpop album to compete in a Discord sample flipping competition with random people I met on Reddit and briefly tried to catch every Pokémon across every game (I caught around 800 of them).
And in the process we severed the tether of bland relatability that defined pop culture in the years before the pandemic. And trying to put a name to the loss of that is, like Kylie Jenner’s face or Meghan Trainor’s new TikTok song, probably just another weird bad attempt at millennialization itself. Why bother naming it? It’s different for all of us. And the urge to even attempt it is probably just a weird relic of the Before Time that makes less and less sense the further we get from March 2020.
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Really Good Tweet
ChatGPT Paired With Midjourney Is Incredibly Powerful
Interestingly enough, there’s no direct way to use ChatGPT with OpenAI’s DALL-E 2. They’re two different models and interfaces. I suspect there must be some kind of integration between the two coming, but as for now you have manually ask ChatGPT for prompts and then put those prompts in an image generating AI.
Nick St. Pierre, a designer that’s currently focusing on AI, figured out a way to give ChatGPT a bit more control over how an image generator can create a picture. You can see the result in the tweet above and if you click through into the thread, what St. Pierre does is ask ChatGPT to create a spreadsheet and fill it with different attributes for, say, a picture of an office, including things like textures, room type, and even brands of possible furniture. Then he asked ChatGPT to condense those attributes into full-sentence prompts that can be put into Midjourney.
Trying To Use Twitter In A Bank Run
Like maybe some of you, I spent the weekend keeping at least one eye on Twitter, trying to make sense of the Silicon Valley Bank situation. As I wrote in Saturday’s issue, you should start with Bloomberg’s Matt Levine, as always. And then followup that up with, uh, Bloomberg’s Matt Levine, again. Trying to follow any sort of development though on New Twitter wasn’t exactly easy. It’s no longer a good app for surfacing verified up-to-the-minute updates about a fast-moving current event, thanks to both the algorithm and the new anyone-can-be-verified for $8 situation.
And one user, named Mike Alfred, caused quite a bit of commotion on Twitter as we all waited for updates about how the FDIC would be handling the crisis. Alfred both pays for Twitter Blue and has over 100,000 followers, which made his tweets heavily promoted. I don’t follow him and I saw him all over my feed.
Alfred spent the weekend tweeting hysterically about an impending financial crisis and went very viral by doing so. Then other users found a tweet of his from earlier this month that appeared to be him admitting that he was shorting First Republic Bank and Signature Bank, two other banks ensnared in the Silicon Valley Bank crash. Then, suddenly, many of Alfred’s tweets from this week disappeared. Curious!
I’ll let the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission figure out what happened there when they get a sec. But I really can’t overstate how dangerous the current Twitter setup is right now. There is a lot of hysteria out there and it’s something that reporters on major networks are aware of when trying to cover it. But none of the caution in the media matters if some random idiot on Twitter can buy a checkmark and kick off a mass panic.
That’s No Moon
A redditor did an experiment to try and prove that Samsung’s new “space zoom” feature is not actually zooming in on the moon, but, actually, overlaying your photos of the moon with higher resolution pictures of it.
You can click here to see how the whole experiment worked, but the gist is that he took a picture of the moon off Google, blurred it, blew it up on his computer, and then used the “space zoom” on that. Lo and behold, the camera found more moon to zoom in on.
“Samsung is using AI/ML (neural network trained on 100s of images of the moon) to recover/add the texture of the moon on your moon pictures, and while some think that's your camera's capability, it's actually not,” the redditor wrote.
My favorite take on this was from François Chollet, a senior staff software engineer at Google, who asked, “It's not ‘enhancement’ of the original, as the details are dreamed up by the model (in this case overfit to moon images). At what point does it become ‘replacement’?”
There’s An Open Source ChatGPT Now
It’s called OpenChatKit. It’s open source and most importantly totally customizable. This is a really big deal. Much in the same way that Stable Diffusion started as sort of a free bad knock-off of Midjourney that has quickly morphed into a Photoshop-like creative tool, I think once people can really start to customize how ChatGPT-like chatbots work, we’ll start to actually get a much better sense of their utility. Also, maybe now I can actualize my dream of feeding all of Garbage Day into a bot and making a version of this newsletter than I can talk to.
The Porn Dude Is The Hot New Meme
One of the strangest trends I’ve noticed since the start of New Twitter is the wildly casual way users share pornography now. I assume this is specific of Twitter because Twitter is the last mainstream social platform that lets users share NSFW content. And so, at least once a month now, I see a viral tweet from a user just talking about porn as if they were talking about a favorite song or movie. It’s very weird! There was a super viral one I saw a few weeks ago about the pornstar Angela White that I’m not going to link to, but if you know, you know.
The most recent porn meme to come across my timeline is about The Porn Dude network, which users are now all sharing memes about. A bunch of people are even adding The Porn Dude on Discord and asking him questions. Apparently, he’s very progressive, which is nice, but also, there’s a TON of lore about the porn networks’ various mascots? Here’s a safe for work thread detailing all of it.
Speaking of casually sharing porn on main…
Jordan Peterson Tweeted Fetish Content Thinking It Was A Video Of A Chinese Prison
Right-wing commentator Jordan Peterson appears to be having some kind of Twitter-induced manic breakdown and is tweeting close to once a minute at the moment. Over the weekend, he shared a video of what he seemed to believe was a Chinese prison. But it wasn’t though. It was a “male milking” station run by a British BDSM dungeon.
Peterson eventually deleted the video, but last night, Peterson tweeted, “Absolutely everything you do CNN is pathetic virtue signaling. Thank Godnyiirndays are nimbered,” and it’s still up as of today.
Another Really Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***