An introductory note from

"While influencers balance fan relatability with brand monetizability, they face a more delicate challenge: simply being cool. The cool factor, when mastered, amplifies an influencer’s appeal, allure, and, most importantly, long term relevance in the eyes of fans. Influencer 'cool culture' resembles an off-brand version of celebrity culture: being fashionable, attending exclusive events, socializing within elite circles, having seemingly unlimited free time for activities, and, somehow, having a photographer present everywhere you go. In short, influencers are microsocialites. Influencers who master such a delicate aesthetic enjoy the ever-coveted ‘worth following’ status and, in turn, grow their fanbase.

The secret ingredient to influencer success, even being cool, is the art of sprezzatura: appearing effortless when, in actuality, studied carelessness powers every post. From picking outfits, to attending events, to documenting moments, all the way down to which photo to share, immense is a human’s commitment to the social craft. Lines begin to blur when considering the production effort powering virtual humans as creative teams pick garments, settings, activities, poses, and CGI expressions with hopes the final product has dimension and realism.

One of the fastest, most direct ways to legitimize an influencer as 'cool' is to appear with someone of greater social status. The benefit of influencer collaboration is, at least, two-sided: gaining street credit for gaining acceptance in seemingly-exclusive social circles, and gaining exposure to previously unreachable audiences via crossover appearances. Such collaboration between influencers and other celebrities can exist in any number of mediums, from ad campaigns to Youtube appearances to social posts.

As mentioned below, as well as our perspective above, the traditional sense of the word 'cool' relates to being fashionable. In the broader sense, the word encapsulates more complex synonyms, such as effortless, wealthy, exclusive, and famous. In this section, six separate images will be examined under 3 sub-cultural aspects of ‘being cool’ online.

We partner with Deya Aliaga Kuhnle on this five-part series in appreciation for her work studying virtual influencers. You can read her entire master's thesis here, from which the following article derives."

Being Fashionable

Figure 9: Cool and fashionable from Lil Miquela, Figure 10: Cool and fashionable from Emma Chamberlain

igure 9 is an image of Miquela looking down at the camera in front of a plain white background. Miquela is wearing a cropped denim singlet, denim jeans, a necklace and an oversized denim jacket that hangs off her elbows. Miquela is showing her midriff and has a yellow popsicle in her mouth. Her hair is in two buns on the sides of her face with loose strands and a sharply cut fringe. The pictorial space offers dimension as Miquela’s face seems to be further from the camera than her legs; her head is tilted down and gives the impression that this photograph was taken at an upward angle. 

In Figure 10, Emma is seen standing in front of a mirror; the side of Emma’s face can be seen as well as the full mirrored version of Emma. She has on a black leather bikini top, tight, colorful and striped high-waisted pants, a choker, hoops, a wristband, and thin red sunglasses. Her hands are on her pants and appear to be adjusting them, but Emma is looking straight at herself in the mirror. The background of the image seems to be the interior of a house, but nothing major stands out otherwise. Emma looks thin and tanned in the photograph. The colors of the photograph appear highly contrasted, and the lighting seems dramatic, dark and full of shadows.

Figures 9 and 10 offer a lot of contextual meaning as both of these images were set at the Coachella music festival. The Coachella music festival is known specifically for exemplifying “millennial cool,” being “a playground for the rich” and being the “world’s most sought after selfie destination”. (Beaumont-Thomas, 2019) Emma has mentioned in multiple Youtube videos (Chamberlain, 2018c, 2019e, 2019f) that Coachella is a big deal for her personally, and that for the 2019 edition of Coachella, she spent four months picking out her outfits for the event. This behind-the-scenes peek discloses the amount of effort and time dedicated to attending a “cool” event and to look “cool” whilst at the event. She has also suggested that she has spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations that help her decide on which outfits to wear for Coachella, and she has dedicated a portion of her closet space specifically to Coachella outfits (Chamberlain, 2019a) The outfit shown in Figure 10 features pieces from luxury brand Moschino as well as UNIF, American Apparel and Dolls Kill. Interesting to note is on the last day of the event, Emma took photographs of her outfits to post on Instagram but did not attend the last day of the event (Chamberlain, 2019f); this further hints at the priority that taking photographs for Instagram has.

This all goes to suggest that a lot of effort and work has gone into the crafting of the fashionable outfit and into the crafting of the photograph seen in Figure 10. The photograph is of high quality, in focus and has an element of artistic ability and thought in which Emma is staring at herself in the mirror without the image being a selfie; the camera is shown to be a professional DSLR camera rather than a phone in her Youtube video (Chamberlain, 2019b). In the same video (Chamberlain, 2019b), Emma highlights the significance of posting Instagram pictures at this event and shares multiple versions of photographs taken in the same outfit at the same location.

While Figure 10 shows a relatively high-quality photograph of Emma in an expensive outfit at a fashionable event, it is still accompanied by the caption “me being conceited”. The joke and honesty in the caption seem to highlight and make light of Emma staring at herself in the mirror; it also juxtaposes the visual itself and grounds the level of “coolness” in the image as if to say ‘I’m ​still​ just like you even if I’m wearing expensive clothes.’

Meanwhile, Figure 9 also tags Coachella as the location that this photograph was taken, which is a clear play at being both relevant and relatable as Miquela herself can not physically attend an event. The manufacturing of Miquela’s presence at the event seems to further represent the attendance of such events by the Instagram elite. Miquela is similarly in a fashionable outfit. The jacket is hanging half off on her arm, suggesting a posed nature to reveal the outfit in its entirety under the jacket. Miquela’s visual has required just as much work as Emma’s has, and in similar ways. Emma’s effort in producing this piece of media has gone primarily into careful planning of her outfits and the photographs that would be taken for her Instagram feed, while the creators of Miquela similarly have spent plenty of time in planning this photograph of Miquela and her outfit as well as executing this rendering of Miquela to appear realistic with human-like dimensions and perspective.

Exclusive Access

Figure 11: Being cool in relation to luxury and access to exclusive events from Lil Miquela, Figure 12: Being cool in relation to luxury and access to exclusive events from Emma Chamberlain

Figure 11 shows Miquela standing upright, staring directly into the camera in front of a green, plant-filled backdrop. Golden words adorn the backdrop but can not be read in entirety in this visual. Miquela has two buns on the sides of her head and has on a matching outfit consisting of monstera printed, glitter patterns on a loose T-shirt and long pants. She does not have any jewelry on and her arms hang loosely on the sides of her body. The pictorial space that is relatively three-dimensional with the backdrop of the sign and Miquela standing in front of the background; the shadows and lights bouncing off her face and arms gives a realistic view to the space that she is taking up in the photograph. Miquela is the figurative form before the built form of the background, which is both natural and architectural, combining the natural plants and the constructed display. 

Figure 12 is a high resolution photograph which shows Emma fully in focus and sharp with a slightly blurred background. Emma is not looking into the camera. Her hair is pulled tightly back into a ponytail and her facial features are well-defined by makeup. In this photograph, she is wearing large earrings and a dress with fringe detailing and an abstract shape pattern. She is holding a purse that has Louis Vuitton patterns across it in her right hand and her phone in her left hand. The photograph itself also has a watermark from ‘getty images’ on it, suggesting this was a professionally taken image of Emma. Finally, in the background, a fence can be seen as well as parts of an architectural form of a building.

The contextual analysis, such as when reading through the image captions or conducting an internet search, gives more information as to the setting of Figure 11: the British Fashion Awards. Lil Miquela’s captions also share that this outfit was designed by luxury designer Richard Quinn; this outfit retails for over 11,000 dollars (Net-a-Porter, 2019a; 2019b), and illuminates that effortless opulence of the traditional and social media elite. Miquela’s pose in front of the brand sign seems to mimic the red carpet photographs that traditional celebrities have taken of themselves; this suggests Miquela is famous enough to have photographs taken of her at exclusive events.

The contextual analysis for Figure 12 shows Emma at Paris Fashion Week wearing a 6,000 dollars dress by the luxury brand, Louis Vuitton (Louis Vuitton, 2019). The photograph has the “getty images” label on it which is a label that oftentimes accompanies celebrity paparazzi photos and is taken by a professional paparazzo. The context of the “getty images” label, the location of this photograph and the dress presents a luxurious view into social media influencer Emma’s life. The flaunting of wealth by both influencers is a characteristic very predominant in traditional celebrity culture and will be discussed further in the later sections. 

Pictures With Other Celebrities

 Figure 13​: Being cool in relation to access to celebrities from Lil Miquela, Figure 14​: Being cool in relation to access to celebrities from Emma Chamberlain

The subjects of Figure 13 are two women, one of which is Miquela; both women are looking directly into the camera and photographed up to their stomach. The woman on the left is pursing her lips, her facial features are defined by the way the light and shadows fall on her face. Her hair is slicked back and she is dressed in a black T-shirt that says ‘calvin’. Her arm is draped across Miquela. Miquela is wearing her hair in two buns on the sides of her head with loose strands dangling and a fringe that goes across her forehead. Her face is dotted with copious freckles, and she appears to have light makeup on her eyelashes and lips. Miquela is wearing a white tank top that has letters written on it, though the arm of the other woman is covering these letters. This visual seems to play between the lighting on the two women to show stark contrast with the way the light and shadows are sculpted on their bodies and the juxtaposition of the colors of their shirts. The close-up image has very saturated colors and high resolution and clearly defined patterns in Miquela’s freckles and hair. 

On the other hand, Emma’s photograph, Figure 14, consists of four main human subjects in what looks like a Christmas family photo taken in front of a winter-themed backdrop and Christmas tree while all subjects in the visual wear matching holiday-themed sweaters that say “Where’s the Mistletoe?”. The colors in the picture are vibrant and contrasted sharply with harsh shadows, and the forms consist of structural forms in the background and the four figurative forms. Emma’s facial features make her look unhappy, her hands are clasped over her knee tightly, she is hunched over, and she is not looking into the camera. She looks barefaced and her hair is pulled into a loose ponytail with a scrunchy. The other three subjects are staring directly into the camera and have small smiles on their faces.

The contextual analysis of Figure 13 reveals it as a sponsored advertising campaign for the clothing brand, Calvin Klein; in addition, this photograph features supermodel Bella Hadid alongside Miquela. Bella Hadid has over 25 million followers on Instagram, which is substantially more than Miquela’s 1.6 million followers (bellahadid, 2019). Bella also posted a few Instagram sponsored posts for Calvin Klein around the same time that Miquela posted this visual, but none of the images that Bella posted featured Miquela (bellahadid, 2019). The overall ad campaign on Miquela’s Instagram feed included a multi-photo and video spread that includes a video snippet of Miquela and Bella Hadid intimately kissing (LilMiquela, 2019).

The contextual analysis for Figure 14 uncovers that the other members of this photograph are popular YouTubers, James Charles and the Dolan Twins, all of whom are considered well-known in the online media space and each has more Youtube subscribers and Instagram followers than Emma Chamberlain. The Dolan Twins, James Charles and Emma regularly create “collabs”, or collaborative videos together for their Youtube channels, one of which is a vlog of when this Instagram photo was taken (Chamberlain, 2018d). In this 12-minute vlog, Emma, the Dolan Twins, and James Charles write letters to Santa describing what they want for Christmas and then take photographs in matching sweaters. The video has an ironic and sarcastic undertone, and uncovers the amount of activity and effort that went into the creation of this video and photo; the photoshoot itself included multiple snaps of the four YouTubers, many of which Emma is smiling in the photograph as opposed to the one that she posted. The Dolan Twins and James Charles did not post this image or any variation of this image with the matching sweaters on their personal Instagram feeds.

Being photographed in an intimate setting with the insinuation from both the visual and the caption being that they are a family in Figure 14 is highly relevant to the discussion of being “cool” online. Being pictured with other celebrities can be said to be a show of a high level of fame and prestigious stature in the sense of being on the same level of stardom with other celebrities; this inherently contributes to that “cool” factor. It can be considered a legitimization of one’s position being present in an appropriate society. 

This concludes part three in our five-part series observing the careful balance between being “insta-famous” and being relatable. Read Deya's full thesis here.

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