TV & Movies

Elaine Lui on Shawn Mendes and Magcon

Teen-sympathizer Elaine Lui knows absolutely nothing about 21st-century adolescents

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(Illustration: Spiros Halaris)

One Direction did their fans a favour this past summer: they announced they’re going on hiatus next year. And while Directioners didn’t exactly see that as a favour at the time, most adults who’ve been through this kind of tragedy and heartbreak appreciate the advance notice. (How many of us have had the luxury of knowing ahead of time that we’d need to figure out how to get over something?) This, however, isn’t the first boy-band bust-up the modern teen has had to live through. It’s just the one most non-teens have actually heard about. But there was another recent breakup that traumatized the teen world, and the fact that it went down without us being aware of it is evidence that grown-ups are like Jon Snow: we know nothing…about teens.

Last year, teens were devastated by the disbanding of a group called Magcon. You’ve never heard of any songs by Magcon, because they weren’t put together on a reality talent competition or by a nefarious record producer. You’ve never seen a Magcon movie, because they’re not movie stars. You don’t watch Magcon on television, because they’re not actors. Magcon started out as an online collective of several really cute boys, most of whom didn’t know one another initially, brought together by one of the boys’ parents because they were really cute and also really good at social media, particularly Vine. Their videos weren’t slickly edited or even well-lit. Most of the time, they just put up short clips of themselves playing video games or driving or trying new tricks on their skateboards or pranking their friends—nothing extraordinary. But that didn’t seem to matter. As long as they looked good and their hair was tousled, teen girls would tune in.

Soon, teen girls all over North America were paying thousands of dollars and travelling hundreds of miles to “meet and greet” (that’s where the “Mag” in Magcon comes from) these boys at the mall. The screams were next-level. The tears were next-level. They pushed one another to get closer to the boys. They held one another like they were in  ain. Magcon hysteria was rivalling Twilight hysteria.

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Do you know who these teens are?! (Photo: Rex USA)

The only Magcon original you may know of is Shawn Mendes, the pop sensation from Pickering, Ont. But even though he has a No. 1 album on the charts and performed at the Juno Awards, Mendes still doesn’t have as many followers on Twitter or Instagram as Cameron Dallas, one of the founding members of Magcon, whose only discernible talent is documenting his life in six-second (Vine) or 15-second (Instagram) increments while looking really hot. As of this writing, Dallas has almost six million followers on Twitter and more than seven million on Instagram; just to put that in perspective, those are the kinds of numbers Channing Tatum pulls on social media—and it’s triple the number of followers Chris Pratt has. Chris Pratt, the guy who’s ruling the box office? You know, Chris Pratt? You do.

But you don’t know Cameron Dallas. Or Nash Grier. Or Aaron Carpenter. Because you are not a teen. I’m not a teen either. But since I’m so self-absorbed, I’ve always considered myself a teen-sympathizer. And that’s why I was so shocked and disappointed in myself when I found out about Magcon just a few months ago, which is an entire year after they split (over creative differences, obviously). How did I completely miss out on something that meant so much to teens? What else are we missing about teen existence?

I recently spent some time with a few teens—in the interest of protecting their privacy, I won’t tell you who they are or how I came to know them, although I’m not sure if extending that courtesy makes any sense when they overshare every aspect of their lives on social media anyway. While I fed them (and this required more energy and cash than I thought, because teens never stop eating), they gave me a few tips on how to feel “teen” again.

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Cameron Dallas!!!! (Photo: Instagram)

Let’s start with wardrobe. Unless you’re a teen socialite, brand names and high-end labels are not the preferred style option. Teen girls wear leggings a lot. They wear leggings to the mall. They wear leggings to school. They wear leggings out for dinner, fancy or not. Since they mostly don’t have to worry about muffin tops and sagging, teen girls wear their leggings openly—there’s no long shirt hanging past the hips. We’re the idiots spending $200 for jeans that restrict our movement when the youth are living free and comfortable in $20 leggings.

Next, according to the teens who honoured me with their presence, Facebook is “for moms and uncles.” Translation: Facebook isn’t cool. [Editor’s note: Love you, FLARE Facebook followers!] If you want to talk to people, it’s all about Ask.fm—a website where teens basically just interview one another all day. Questions range from the mundane (“What did you have for breakfast this morning?” or “What was the first thing you thought about when you woke up today?”) to the personal (“Why did you and Katie break up?”). The answers can be short (“waffles”) or very, very detailed and exposing. One of the teens who agreed to hang out with me showed me her Ask.fm and those of some of her friends. That’s when I learned that Tyler broke up with Katie because Katie sent nudes of herself to Ryan and couldn’t be trusted. When I clicked on Katie’s Ask.fm profile, she confirmed to her followers that she did indeed send the nudes but doesn’t consider it cheating because nothing physical actually happened. All this information was broadcast to their entire social circle, which includes people they know from school as well as total strangers. I got the sense that Ask.fm makes teens feel like they’re the celebrities in their own non-celebrity worlds. When people are looking at your profile, posing questions to you like you’re promoting a movie at a junket, it pretty much confirms that you’re the star of your own show.

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Cameron and Canada’s own Shawn Mendes (Photo: Getty Images)

That sense of self-stardom is also reflected in teen vocabulary. Hold up your phone, switch the camera view so that it’s on you, tilt it to get a flattering angle and then press the button. You think you just took a selfie, right? “Selfie,” however, is not the word teens are using these days. When they take a selfie, they call it a “pap.” Like a selfie taken first thing in the morning is a morning pap. A selfie taken while driving is a car pap. A selfie with all your friends? Group pap. The terminology is telling, isn’t it? Teens are their own paparazzi. Teens are papping themselves, they’re interviewing themselves, they’re spotlighting themselves, now more than ever. And in about five minutes, none of what I’ve just told you will be relevant, because teens will have moved on to something else that’ll take us, the adults, another year to uncover. That, then, is the only thing that remains unchanged. We know nothing. We will always know nothing about teens.

Elaine Lui is the founder of Lainey Gossip and the author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken.

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