This year we’re celebrating young celebrities who have made an impact on entertainment in unconventional ways. Teen Vogue introduces its Young Hollywood Class of 2021.
Something funny happens when the world turns upside down. There’s panic, sure. But if catastrophe unfurls long enough, revelations start to creep into the darkest places. Listen to those long enough and you might learn a thing or two about who you’ve been, who you are, and who you might want to be.
Or maybe you’ll just laugh.
That’s what happened to me over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll spare you the messy details, suffice to say that I’ve had my health and the privilege of boredom. I’m not usually one to spout off some creativity checklist when given months of unscheduled free time, particularly when the news is filled with Very Bad Things like mass preventable death and white supremacist uprisings. But I had my moments. I learned how to use a drill, fell in love with(?) hiking, and have become reasonably adept at audio production, all things that I think qualify me for lesbian sainthood. But my greatest and most consistent teacher during this whole mess has been a completely unlikely source: TikTok.
More than any TV show, movie, or podcast, TikTok has given me joy. And it’s not just me. Throughout the pandemic, millennials have found — or, depending on who you ask, invaded — TikTok. It’s a platform that’s been built for and populated by Gen Z, filled with irreverence and malleability that makes the formulaic Facebook statuses of yesteryear look particularly antiquated. In the same way that Gen Z eschews labels for gender, sexuality or genre, TikTok creators embrace the same fluidity. A well-curated For You Page could include any number of Gorilla Glue girl hair parodies to easy ramen recipes. But make no mistake, it’s the creators themselves that make the platform what it is. I remember when Elsa Majimbo first popped up on my For You Page, her hair slightly unkempt, her laugh uproarious, her tone completely unbothered. “I wanted to meet up but oop,” she said to the camera about the upside of having a reliable excuse to avoid social outings. “It’s a pandemic!”
And it was nice to finally laugh about the pandemic. To date, nearly half a million people in the United States have died from COVID-19. It’s the type of loss so big and so persistent that it can make you feel numb. As the months dragged on and the death tolls mounted, it was poor people, working-class people, people of color, and front line workers who suffered the worst. They were the ones delivering our meals or dropping out of school to help keep their parents’ small businesses afloat. They were more likely to rely on infrastructure that failed them and institutions that were never meant for them. And they were failed by a Trump administration that openly trafficked in white supremacy while contesting a presidential election ultimately culminating into a deadly insurrection on the Capitol.
The outrageousness of COVID’s disparate impact, along with the protests that erupted in June after George Floyd’s death, made moments like the one where influencer Caroline Calloway told comedian and writer Ziwe Fumdoh on her Instagram Live show that she “deserves an ally cookie or something” all the more cringeworthy. “There are no cookies in this game,” Ziwe responded, flatly.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the game can’t be fun. TikTok, and social media in general, is where we found joy and connection, like videos of twerking ducks, parodies of pointless Zoom meetings, and recreation of God’s misheard directive to make dinosaurs meatier. The laughter, the dances, the absurdity kept us calm, made us hopeful, and helped us pass the time.
And let’s face it, that wasn’t an easy thing to do. With so many competing disasters vying for our attention, it was hard to focus on any one thing for more than a few minutes at a time. Our minds had to adapt. So did our entertainment. Music festivals were canceled, live shows were banned, tapings were delayed or reconfigured and even our beloved awards shows had to adapt to being held virtually. The one place where low production didn’t feel forced, where brevity and repetition made a perfect fit, was on social media.
This year’s Young Hollywood creators are focused on the people that kept us entertained. Disruptors in an industry that is desperately in need of change. People at the front of the culture, pushing us to think, laugh, dance, and cry. A new generation that’s mastered the ability to speak directly to their audience moving seamlessly from one platform to another.
It takes extraordinary talent to shine through a year of pandemic, protests, and a presidential election. But these rising stars did just that. Meet Teen Vogue‘s Young Hollywood Class of 2021.
Charli D’Amelio, the 16-year-old social media personality who burst onto the scene with a series of relatable dance videos and has since turned her everyday teenage life of voice overs and at-home science experiments into primetime viewing for her 108 million followers.
Just Maiko, aka 20-year-old Michael Le, is a Vietnamese-American hip-hop dance choreographer from Florida whose charm and enthusiasm shine through every high-energy video he drops — especially when his five-year-old brother Jonathan (or the rest of his family) is involved.
Ziwe Fumudoh, 29, is a longtime comedienne whose preparation more than met the moment in 2020, when her Instagram Live interview show, in which she often grilled guests about race (i.e. “how many Black friends do you have?”) became can’t-miss weekly entertainment.
Before a co-sign from Rihanna and vacationing with Naomi, Elsa Majimbo, 19, was just an ordinary Kenyan college student studying journalism in the U.S. until her dry pandemic humor took the TikTok world by storm.
“Bubblegum trap” rapper Lil Yachty, 23, somehow managed the uneasy feat of being famous and staying accessible to his millions of followers, earning him the distinction of being one of the most relatable pop stars around.
Each one of these stars learned to adapt to their moment. They sometimes learned in public, they worked to diversify the field or used their platform to entertain us. They’re not hampered by platform or genre or artistic discipline. They offer a lesson in fluidity that we would all be better off learning.
And we will. Just watch.
Photographer Grace Rivera
Culture & Entertainment Director Danielle Kwateng
Art Director Emily Zirimis
Stylist Michelle Li
3D Artist & Motion Designer Berenice Golmann
Motion Designer Natasha Smith
Designer Liz Coulbourn
Retouching Jinx Studios
Video Animator Melanie Duran
Visual Editor Louisiana Gelpi
Fashion Director Tahirah Hairston
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