Famous for six seconds: The celebrities of Vine
Twitter’s video app, Vine, only lets its users make the shortest of films. Still, that hasn’t stopped its stars from turning brief encounters into a high-profile career
Wednesday 29 January 2014
If you have never come to terms with the Kardashians, you might struggle with the concept of a Vine celebrity.
But Twitter's video app, which has just celebrated its first birthday, is launching dozens of young "Viners" into fame and fortune with clips lasting seconds. Vine's brevity is its USP (videos made and broadcast through the app can be no longer than six seconds and consist of six frames) and Viners have used their mobiles to capture snapshots of everything from the Boston bombings to stop-motion film, porn to pranks. But the app's staple is a kind of witty skit that tells a story in a heartbeat.
With more than 40 million users, Vine and its stars are redefining what it means to be famous in the 21st century.
Earlier this month, two of the world's most popular Viners, Jerome Jarre, 23, and Nash Grier, 16, turned up at a shopping centre near Reykjavik to meet fans on the northern European leg of Grier's international tour (yes, Viners have international tours). It was a casual affair, organised between the two friends via social media the day before. Neither of them was expecting big crowds.
"Someone could have died," Jarre tells me when I speak to him. A total of 5,000 fans turned up, and, desperate to get close to the pair, ran riot. Once things had finally calmed down, the Vine celebrities had to pick up the bill. Jarre had wanted to do a free meet-up, so decided against booking a venue and hiring security, but he tells me the Reykjavik gig will be the last of its kind. It was "too dangerous" to do again, he says.
Jarre's presence turns his fans into gibbering wrecks, but, in a coffee shop off Oxford Circus in London, he looks relaxed, comfortable with success but unmoved by a very modern sort of fame. Jarre is striking in the flesh. He's tall and handsome in a traditionally French - which he is - kind of way. With a fanbase of four million followers and growing, Jarre is the fourth most popular Viner on the planet, falling after Grier, King Bach and Brittany Furlan. His Vines are irreverent and Jarre opts for real-life interaction. In other words, he pranks people, and his fans love it.
In one Vine, we see Jarre asking the camera, "why is everybody afraid of love?", before running up to a shopper in a supermarket and giving her a fright by shouting "love" at her. Jarre's Vines, which can be replayed on his account, skirt the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, but he insists that he always tries to finish on good terms after filming.
Jarre left home, a small Alpine town in France, at 19, dropping out of business school to try to find fortune in China. Failing, he moved to Toronto and finally New York, where he launched his Vine career and a talent agency called GrapeStory, with social-media expert Gary Vaynerchuk. They manage the contracts of most of the world's top 20 most-followed Viners. He's vague about how much he's made so far: "We're not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars but it's enough to live. So I can say I am making a living out of Vine. So do 20 other people." What Jarre does reveal is that he hasn't actually taken home a single penny yet because he didn't have an American work visa.
In June last year, Ellen DeGeneres aired one of Jarre's Vines on her chat show, a first for American TV. Three months later and he was welcomed as a guest on the programme. Now, he's set to become a regular, providing he gets his visa. "As a kid, I always said I wanted to meet everybody on earth," Jarre says. As one of the kings of Vine, he might be one step closer.
Colin Kroll, 29, co-founded Vine in June 2012 in New York with Rus Yusupov and Dom Hofmann. The trio, who still work in the Big Apple, had always enjoyed sharing videos with each other and hoped others would, too. "I think that we felt that if we made the tools really simple to use, people would be inspired to shoot and share their lives with us," Kroll explains. Four months later - and before the app had even been released to the public - it was bought out by Twitter, for a rumoured $30m. Groups of like-minded people soon started collaborating through Vine. Kroll says: "Vine has become the product of its community. It's really cool to see the new creative medium that is larger than yourself."
Steve Dunne, founder of UK-based Digital Drums, a training company that provides advice to government about digital communication, says Vine is successful because video is such a powerful way of transferring information. "You can take in a message 60,000 times quicker in a video or a picture than you can through reading the written word," Dunne explains.
Ian Padgham, considered to be one of the world's most talented Viners, left a high-flying role in Twitter's marketing team last August to use Kroll's "creative medium" to make selfies, comedy and stop-motion art for a living. By any standards, his artistic Vines are extraordinary, and over the last few months he has worked with Xbox, Sony, Nokia, Budweiser, Mercedes, Disney and Twitter. In many of his stop-motion Vines, Padgham creates an illusion of being able to use his fingers to push and pull objects around him. In one, provocatively titled "playing with myself", we see Padgham fling himself around a room, shake the wall and swing a chandelier, all with his index finger, his thumb, a mirror and some clever camera work.
Padgham won't say how much he makes for each Vine, but reveals that companies can pay up to $10,000 per video. That's $1,666 a second.
While he doesn't have as large a following as Jarre, Padgham, with more than 327,000 followers, was one of the first Viners to recognise its business potential as a user. "It's getting to this point where it's not just content, it's not just the production of the creative, it's this whole idea of how agencies and brands are trying to connect with influencers and advertise in that way. It will be a fascinating trend to see how advertising transforms to incorporate this idea of individuals as influencers."
Vine celebrities, such as Jarre and Padgham, are becoming assets to companies who, ever more so, want their kind of content and personality to be associated with their brand. Over 12 months, the app has fundamentally changed the way brands work with those they sponsor. Earlier this month, MTV paid Nash Grier to produce a Vine in fancy dress in order to advertise its show, Teen Wolf.
He might have just been knocked off Vine's top spot by Grier, but 25-year-old American Andrew Bachelor, King Bach to most, understands better than most how to use Vine to promote himself. King Bach, who moved from Florida to LA three years ago, produces archetypal Vines. Focusing on skits, he tells stories through video that his fans can relate to - many of which involve King Bach failing at flirting. The wannabe actor, who has more than five million Vine followers, is a self-described international heartthrob ("the ladies love me... they always propose to me and I always accept") and has used his internet stardom to land a recurring role in the hit US TV show House of Lies.
While Vine and its select set of superstars have different goals - some want fame, some fortune, some a creative outlet, some the freedom to experiment - they are all using their internet stardom to launch themselves, and, in this sense, they are all products of the 21st century.
There's one other unifying characteristic of Vine's elite community, and it's that they have foresight but no fixed future. These internet-forged stars are dynamic early adopters, willing to make and take opportunities wherever and whenever they can. 12 months after launching and Kroll can only speculate about where Vine will be in five years' time: "On every mobile phone in the world? I'm not sure." He adds: "I know what we're shooting for."
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