By Kelly Moffitt, Social Engagement Manager - St. Louis Business Journal
MTV’s Vice President of Insights Innovation, Alison Hillhouse, recently came as part of a five-person team to St. Louis and studied what she calls “generational innovation” going on in the city. Originally from St. Louis, Hillhouse and her team are charged with understanding millennials and then taking that research back to MTV producers, who then use the ideas drummed up from across the country for show development.
Her team came to St. Louis for four days in February and found the energy in the city to be “extraordinary.” You can watch the video embedded below ( or at this link) to get a sense of the young tech entrepreneurs, non-profit founders and artists Hillhouse spoke with, largely centered around Cherokee Street. Though the people Hillhouse interviewed avoided the word “movement” to describe the amorphous feeling, she said there’s a lot of passion to change things not only on a personal level (like you see in New York) but also on a city-wide level.
Her team’s visit to Cherokee Street, including Nebula Coworking space and Smalls tea and coffee, reminded Hillhouse of Brooklyn but rawer as innovations in St. Louis are still happening for the first time. The qualitative research found these were reasons millennials found value in St. Louis:
1. The ability to make an impact—a smaller city gave entrepreneurs the chance to make a significant change with programs like “Sloup.”
2. Space, budget and freedom to experiment: There’s space to try and fail at projects in “beta mode” while living for a low cost.
3. The city is a blank canvas: Abandoned storefronts, warehouses and cheap, old homes offer a space to revamp.
4. The emphasis on community: People are nice here — plus the city is small enough to get connected to many of the creative movers and shakers.
Opinions of St. Louis from outsiders are changing as well, Hillhouse said.
“We spoke with a few Wash U grads who stuck around after graduating who said that five years ago, the people they knew who graduated from Wash U would go straight back to New York or LA, but now there’s a sense that St. Louis is a viable option for starting a business,” Hillhouse said.
The research team found that the vibe in St. Louis fits with what’s going on in other “second cities” like Detroit or Memphis. Previous research her team had done on the American Dream showed that 70 percent of people want to live in a city in their 20s. That passion for urban living was something Hillhouse found corroborated in St. Louis.
So, will what Hillhouse found in St. Louis end up as MTV’s next ‘Sixteen and Pregnant’? Likely not, but you never know what story lines or components of a show might make it in, Hillhouse says.
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
“I tell all of my friends out on the West Coast, St. Louis is the City of Dreams. You can do whatever you want here if you have the will and ambition.”
— Lisa Govro, young entrepreneur
Get More: MTV Shows
Yes, St. Louis. Not New York, not San Francisco, not Austin, not Chicago. Pockets of young people are choosing the road less travelled and flocking to cities that offer more of a “blank canvas” on which to create their dreams. Think Nashville, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and St. Louis … cities that have not been known as “hot spots” for recent grads, cities that young people have historically avoided in favor of the surrounding suburbs. But things are changing, as MTV research shows 70% of young people want to live out their 20’s in a downtown or near a downtown, not the suburbs. Where many older people see urban decay and crime in these cities, Millennials see opportunity.
MTV recently travelled to St. Louis and met with young tech entrepreneurs, non-profit founders and artists to learn more about the groundswell of young people revitalizing and re-crafting this urban landscape (they balked at the word “movement” which seemed to try too hard at pinning down the amorphous energy bubbling up). These urban pioneers are launching tech-startups in abandoned buildings, starting art collectives in old breweries, remaking turn-of-the-century homes and building pockets of commerce where young people can live, work, consume and bike everywhere. Universally they are connected to the mission of revitalizing the city and creating a community of likeminded individuals.
Why Millennials are saying “yes” to reviving cities:
Make an Impact
Young people want to make a tangible positive impact on their world, and feel more empowered to do so than ever before. Across the country, they are realizing that a smaller city, especially one that’s seen decay, offers an opportunity to create projects and launch businesses that can significantly change an urban landscape. According to MTV research, 80% of Millennials feel like it’s important to “revive cities in decay.”
In St. Louis, we learned of “Sloup” – a micro-funding monthly soup dinner where mostly young people pitch art or community improvement ideas, and attendees vote on which to implement with the proceeds from that night.
Community activist/artist Becca Moore, 25 explains, “I received a lot of pressure from people like, ‘why aren’t you moving to NYC, LA, or Chicago’… but the opportunities I have in a city like St. Louis are more exciting… I’m able to plug in right away and be involved in projects that impact the community.”
While a new coffee shop in Brooklyn is a dime a dozen, Small’s Tea Shop in St. Louis, recently launched by Lisa Govro, plays a role in the revitalization of the historic Cherokee Street neighborhood that thrived in the early 1900’s. Young people and Mexican immigrants are working together here to create a new community that’s a hotbed of artist collectives, tech start-ups, quirky shops and popular Mexican restaurants…. somewhat paralleling San Fran’s Mission district.
Sloup MicroFunding Dinner
Space, budget and freedom to experiment
Young people in smaller cities boast of the opportunities to start a project in “beta mode,” try it out, and if it fails, start something new… all while maintaining a lower cost of living (Yes, it’s possible to live in a beautiful Victorian-era home in St. Louis with a handful of friends for just $160 a month).
With such a low cost of living, it’s not surprising that St. Louis is becoming more attractive to young start-up founders and artists. As developer Matt Ström, 26 says, “St. Louis is becoming a good place to start a business – it’s part of the ‘Silicone Prairie.’” Mallory Nezam, 27, notes, “My friends are brilliant artists in New York and have this little chunk of time to do art between 3AM and 6AM– but people in St. Louis have that time, all the time.”
As Moore says, “I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do this if I had to move to another city and hustle to pay rent… my extra time and energy goes into projects that I really care about. The barriers are lower in a lot of rust belt cities – you can see your projects gain traction a lot faster.”
Popular band Sleepy Kitty recently relocated from their “tiny cramped space” in Chicago to their duplex “Art Castle” on Cherokee Street, where they have a music studio, a graphic arts studio and living space all-in-one.
Sleepy Kitty’s “Art Castle” - duplex art/living space in an old brewery
In cities with multitudes of abandoned storefronts, warehouses and dirt-cheap turn-of-the century homes, it feels like anything is possible… like BANK projects, an old drive-through bank repurposed into an art gallery by recent college grads.
Daniel Burnett, part of the Screwed Arts Collective, is inspired by the fact that St. Louis is a “grimy city.” He explains, “I think a lot of young people are tired of over-produced culture. Making everything shiny and plastic has its place, but even a lot of pop culture is embracing grimy elements. Grimy means you can get away with a little more, people are more relaxed, living is cheap, urban decay is prevalent.
In mid-sized cities like St. Louis, young creators speak positively about the tight knit community where people are “nice,” “welcoming” and “eager” to partner with you to make things happen. Ström says, “You have to be careful who you tell your ideas to – not because they’ll take your idea, but because the next day you’ll have tons of texts and emails from people saying “I heard you are thinking of doing this thing, I’m so excited. How can I help?” And Amy Flauaus, former Brooklyn resident and owner of Strange Overtones vintage shop, says, “It would take a lot for me to leave St. Louis at this point. Everyone just seems so happy here.”
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
When fake becomes authentic: Faux-Wood Paneling shoes from Proenza, posted on ithinkyou’reswell
Over the past decade, every last bastion of culture and consumerism has strived to be “authentic” – chain stores like West Elm offer handcrafted textiles from the Philippines, Dove produces tear-jerking documentaries on the meaning of beauty and Brooklyn grocers pride themselves on carrying locally-made potato chips (what’s so authentic about potato chips coming from Brooklyn, anyhow?)
This stuff is clearly working, so it’s not surprising that people and brands are beginning to explore the next levels and layers of authenticity. In fact, signs are pointing to the emergence of “post-authenticity” … playfully exploring the blurry lines between fake and real, between unique and mass.
People are saying: maybe everything doesn’t have to be authentic, if we all acknowledge together that it’s fake. Maybe sometimes we shouldn’t try so hard to be authentic. Maybe authenticity lies in owning “fake.” And maybe what’s at the core of authenticity – uniqueness – is not so easy to come by anymore. In this vast world of the internet, is anything truly unique?
Three interesting examples on post-authenticity come to mind:
1) Trendspotting agency K-Hole’s declaration of “normcore,” a deliberate decision to reject being unique… “normcore moves from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness”
2) Proenza launching “fake” looking designs from the “underbelly of America.” Designer Jack McCullough says of their recent collection: “we wanted it to all feel kind of fake – like not real wood – paneling. Everything fabricated.”
3) Our obsession with the uber-fake, like Twinkies or ‘90s sitcoms or ‘80s computer graphics or any kitschy nostalgia for that matter (TV shows, music, foods etc). What’s authentic is the naiveté we once possessed when we genuinely fell in love with these things. Now, we might all be jaded.
Post-authenticity and Millennials
Our audience is grappling with the move towards post-authenticity in their own worlds. Some of the most heated conversations we see around social media involve teens complaining about who is “trying too hard” to seem like they are not trying. For example, the “no-makeup selfie” phenomenon was once respected, now teens question whether there is something inauthentic about trying too hard to be authentic.
On the other hand, there almost seems to be more leeway granted to someone who clearly owns up to the fact that they ARE trying. Case in point: the elaborately staged @perfectprompictures Instagram with 100K followers
Another example: young people once wanted reality TV shows to feel so real that you were unaware there were camera crews and MTV producers hovering over the cast. Now, Millennials love to catch a glimpse of the camera guy, or see some of the orchestration of reality shows… knowing full well, it isn’t all just hidden cameras in a house.
We’re continuing to explore how the concept of “authenticity” morphs, how our audience interprets it and ultimately, how it impacts their attitude towards content.
By Stephen Friedman, president of MTV
The Millennial audience won’t be limited by the dichotomies of the past. Yes, Millennials are vociferous critics of our nation’s flaws. But in a new study, MTV asked young people how they felt about our country — and 86% of Millennials described themselves as “proud to be an American.”
Millennials love America as much as any generation. They just want to love it on their own terms. For young people, the word “patriotic” suggests a rigid acceptance of an ideology, an unquestioning fixation on a symbol or a flag that they feel misses their deep and complex relationship with their country.
For example, MTV interviewed Millennials about the Pledge of Allegiance. We asked them to dissect how the words they learned as children related to their attitudes today. Many of them, in hindsight, rejected the notion of “pledging allegiance,” which sounded to them like obedience instead of choice. They preferred to speak about their “pride” and “commitment” to America — about dedicating themselves to their country as a personal choice, not binding compliance.
Millennials believe that self-expression is America’s greatest good. Over 90% of young people feel it’s essentially American to be free to express yourself and your opinions.
That includes raising your voice when you feel your country is in the wrong. Young people realize that America has deep issues along with its myriad opportunities. They believe that advocating for change is an essential part of being American.
"Having American pride is about loving the country, but still acknowledging that we have faults as a nation and society," said one young person we interviewed.
"I see American pride as acknowledging the wrongs that America has done to other countries, but still [being] proud of the good things our country has done for the world," said another.
Millennials don’t believe you have to adhere rigidly to one side or the other. That’s why it’s no surprise that the Pew study found that more Millennials identify as politically independent than as Democrats or Republicans combined.
Often, Millennials turn to humor to express that combination of pride and criticism. It’s the South Park, Colbert Report mentality that you can both celebrate our strength and laugh at our absurdities — and that the very act of laughing at our country makes our democracy stronger.
Just look at “#Merica,” a Millennial meme that’s swept across social feeds and college theme parties over the past two years. The viral idea embraces both the greatness and the follies of American culture. An image of an oversized plate of fried chicken and waffles could earn the #Merica hashtag. So could a pickup truck driving into the sunset behind a sweeping mountain vista.
Millennials realize how lucky they are to have the right to criticize the government. Young people today have a more global perspective than older generations. The 24-hour news cycle and Twitter have exposed them to stories and imagery from around the world. They see what can happen in Egypt when citizens criticize the new government or in Uganda when ordinary people dare to express themselves. They recognize their good fortune.
They also see how America’s influence and resources can be used to confront global issues. Millennials conceive of themselves as “global citizens.” Young people are significantly likelier to give to global causes over local causes than Boomers or Gen Xers. They believe the solutions to worldwide problems can originate on our shores, even if sometimes we get it wrong.
John F. Kennedy said, “Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive.” Young people are rooting for our nation, questioning it and challenging it, and pushing America to improve. Freed from the strict division between patriot and protester, Millennials are making our country stronger.
This piece originally ran at USA Today Opinion on July 4, 2014.
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
While Instagram feeds have been infiltrated by parents and grandparents, the world of Snapchat is still largely Millennial territory. Gen Xers and Boomers frequently ask us to decode Snapchat – why is it so popular? What does it entail beyond a constant barrage of selfies?
First, Snapchat is much more than “just another app.” It lives in a unique sweet-spot for Millennials, providing a new level of intimacy while at the same time preserving a certain distance. The easiest way to think about it is falling somewhere between “real life conversation” and everyday social media feeds, which has interesting implications as to how Millennials are changing the way they communicate today.
We’ll explain more, but first, a tutorial:
Snapchat 101 – the basic mechanics: You snap a photo or short video, send it to your friend(s) and once they’ve opened, it dissolves within a few seconds… never to be seen again. You can also easily subvert the system with your phone’s “screen grab” function, and hold onto friends’ images forever (or at least until you lose your phone).
The new “Stories” feature allows you to create a public, daily feed of your activities, with photos/videos lasting a full 24 hours for friends to peruse. Some users are in love with it, some are already annoyed. As Hayley, 19 notes, “‘My Stories’ has become kind of annoying, like Facebook, where people post everything like ‘I just went to the nail salon.’” Some also feel this function is more polished and planned than regular Snapchat, with people “trying too hard to show they are having fun at a party.”
So what do people Snapchat?
Snapchats tend to be selfies (usually awkward) or photos of “random” things accompanied by equally random captions. One teen drew a face on a photo of an orange, and sent it along with the caption, “You are a good person.” A few teens talked about photos of themselves collapsed over homework with pained captions. Caitlin, 22, snuck a photo of a guy with a puggle in his man-purse for her puggle-loving sister. And if you are in the heat of a Snapchat convo and can’t think of a good image to accompany what you need to say, you simply take a photo of your thigh or bedroom wall. Artistic, well-thought-out photos are left to Instagram, where content is more “official.”
- Snapchat your crush first, text later. A group Snapchat is often an ice-breaker to one-on-one Snapchats, which are icebreakers to texting (where more “real” conversation happens). “It’s kind-of weird to text someone random, but you can Snapchat someone random and it’s seen as friendly,” Ellen, 19, explained.
- Don’t overdo selfies to people who aren’t your best friends.
- Selfies are best if they are raw, funny and awkward … unless to your crush. Millennials tell us about adjusting lighting, hair and makeup. Kayla, 17, says she used to spend eight minutes getting ready for a Snapchat to her now-boyfriend.
- Don’t send too many Snaps in a day, especially to a crush. You’ll look stalkerish. One panelist capped it at “5 per day.”
- Be careful when you open videos in public. You have no idea what they contain.
- Don’t open a Snapchat immediately – again, this depends on the desired relationship you are looking to cultivate. N/A if it’s your best friend. Definitely important if it’s your crush.
- Snapchat can offer a great opp to get status updates on exes, crushes and exes’ crushes. One college student notes, “I see my exes watching ‘My Story,’ which creeps me out, but is also flattering.”
- If you are out with other friends and Snapchatting, make sure not to send to an uninvited friend.
Why is it working?
Many reasons — the most interesting is that it’s actually a very personal form of communication. Millennials are looking for more intimate, “face-to-face” interaction in a world that’s increasingly virtual. The intimate, impromptu selfies make you “feel like you are just talking to someone.” But, Millennials also tell us that it simultaneously provides a bit of welcomed distance.
Snapchat also offers authentic, unpolished glimpses into someone’s life (or at least the impression of this… as noted above, sometimes shots are staged).
It lets you be lazy. You don’t have to think of something substantive to say or consider how it’s going to be interpreted. Snapchat helps you understand tonality much quicker than texting. A teen said “A ‘hey’ over text can be really loaded, but if you see it over Snapchat with a photo you can tell that it’s a friendly ‘hey.’”
And, it can even be highly resourceful. Sonali, 19, says, “Two of my friends who live on opposite sides of the country planned an entire vacation to Canada together solely through Snapchat!”
With all of the above, it’s no wonder that Gen Xers and Boomers are trying to understand what SnapChat is and why it’s so popular. The easiest way to sum it up – it’s personal, but not too personal. Welcome to the future of communication.
By Stephanie Monohan
When people think of Fandoms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fandom) in the Young Adult Fiction world, escapist, supernatural or fantastic stories like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent come to mind. But in the seemingly endless ocean of supernatural romances and tales of dystopian futures exists an enclave of books that explore day-to-day tragedies and real life coming-of-age as opposed to saving the world and eternal undead love. And vibrant fandoms are growing around these tragically real, sometimes existentialist books.
These touching, relatable stories about young love, loneliness, and even death are striking a chord with young readers (and many adults as well) who are looking for a bit more honesty in their fiction, but there’s something about the authors as well. Novelists like John Green, who penned Looking For Alaska and the YA sensation The Fault In Our Stars (currently being adapted into a feature-length film), and Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor & Park and the more recent Fangirl, have developed rabid fan followings due to their openness and communication with their readers, as well as their own personal histories within fandom communities.
While the glut of YA fiction reminiscent of the massive Twilight and Hunger Games franchises often feels overwhelming, there are still many teens and young adults willing to let their hearts break a little for this engrossing fiction. YA readers seem hungry for stories that speak directly to their experiences and don’t sugar-coat the realities of not only growing up, but being alive.
Much of that has to do with these authors’ understanding of fan communities and their own unique engagement with their fans. John Green, for instance, regularly updates his hugely popular video blog series vlogBrothers while also taking time to interact with his fans on his personal Tumblr page, reblogging them and offering long, thought-out responses to their questions. Rainbow Rowell incorporated her own experiences with fandom into her latest novel Fangirl, which follows a girl who turns to online fandom to cope with her real-life problems, a journey that many people who become part of fandoms may recognize.
This kind of connection is very important to young fans in general. The Millennials we talk to frequently emphasize the importance of celebrity/creator transparency and relatability. They have come to not only appreciate zero-distancing, but to expect it. They enjoy seeing not just the behind-the-scenes, but into the lives of the people creating their favorite pop culture. Plus, when it comes to books about serious subjects, or even just about growing up, it feels like the author is imparting advice in a personal way. As one of our panelists put it, “Now famous people can be your best friend.” (Julian, 23) Overall, this kind of closeness as well as the honest, yet humorous wisdom found in these stories is resonating with young readers and possibly jumpstarting a refreshing trend in young adult fiction.
By Sarah McDowell
I saw this outside The Counting Room, a popular bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The bar encouraged its patrons to step away from their social feeds and connect with each other on a more personal level instead.
By Alison Hillhouse
Millennials are the most talked about generation in history – the web is overflowing with articles and studies on Millennial underemployment, Millennial tech addiction and the intricacies of dealing with Millennials in the workplace. There’s so much conversation that we now see listicles and infographs about how everyone can’t stop talking about Millennials, like CNN’s “Can we stop worrying about Millennials yet?”
That’s why we’ve dedicated this post to letting Millennials speak for themselves, about themselves. MTV Insights partnered with Survey.com to get 250 18-24 year olds across the country to text us a picture + description that reflects the hashtag: #weliveinagenerationthat.
And here are some of our favorites…
By Matt Cohen, MTV Insights
When it comes to their love lives, we have found that Millennials often “run the bases backwards” — meaning that sex comes first, and relationships come second (if at all.) (See our previous post, “Love Stuck: The Meandering Path from Hook-Up to FBO”) This same pattern seems to apply among Gay Millennials – but with one important twist: For Gay Millennials, it appears that hook-ups very often lead to new friendships.
While straight Millennials tell us stories of casual hook-ups who tend to go their separate ways after failing to make the transition from hook-up to relationship, we hear from Gay Millennials that hooking up often serves as a casual opener to starting a new friendship.
Jacob, 22, explains “Almost every single gay guy that I know goes through the exact same pattern: You meet someone you think is cute, you hook up with him, and if it doesn’t turn into romance, you become friends.”
“All of my friends and I hooked up with each other and then became best friends,” says Domenic, 19, who told us that hooking up with gay classmates served as a social ice-breaker of sorts during his freshman orientation week at college. “When I got accepted to college, I joined the LGBT club for my school on Facebook…The first week of school we all slept with each other, and then we all became friends.”
Many of our panelists talk about how they have ended up with particularly “incestuous” social circles as a result of this behavior — meaning that many of their friends have dated or hooked up with each other in various combinations. Because gay communities are typically small (particularly within the college bubble) it’s often difficult to avoid an ex or former hook-up buddy. As a result, Gay Millennials seem to be making the best of a potentially awkward situation by viewing former hook-ups as potential new friends.
Jacob, 22, recalls “I was at a birthday party with a friend recently. We were looking around the room, and we realized that either one of us had hooked up with almost everyone who was there and had become friends with them… It’s almost universal among everyone I know.”
Although their social circles may be fraught with complicated overlapping connections, Gay Millennials fortunately have a large pool to draw from when it comes to looking for new potential friends or romantic partners. Whereas previous generations of gay youth congregated around local gay clubs or bars in order meet new people, many Gay Millennials now carry the proverbial gay bar with them in their pockets. Thanks to the advent of digital tools like Grindr – the massively popular gay geo-location app which helps you find potential hook-ups in your vicinity – Gay Millennials can easily tap into a fresh network of romantic or platonic possibilities.
For those who aren’t using hook-up apps like Grindr, however, even a tool as simple as Facebook can help expand the gay social circle. Many of the Gay Millennials we spoke to mentioned searching their Facebook networks when they first arrived at college in order to identify other gay classmates on-campus. (With the recent introduction of Facebook’s Graph Search, this type of search is now easier than ever before.) And even if you’re not looking for new gay friends, chances are they’ll find you as Steven, 22, explains “If you’re friends with any gay person on Facebook and you write on their wall, like 80 people will friend-request you.”
This is the third in a series of posts on Gay Millennials, in which we share our findings on the unique characteristics and experiences of this generation’s gay youth. Check out our previous posts in this series:
By Stephanie Monohan
It is no secret that geek culture has gone mainstream. Millennials, especially those on the younger end of the generation, have grown up learning that not only is it acceptable to have obscure, niche, or “nerdy” interests; those things can actually make you really cool.
We’ve also been seeing a lot of creativity surrounding geek culture and fandom, with young fans expressing their love for beloved shows, movies, comics, etc. and getting lots of feedback. One can find Millennials sharing this blend of fandom and maker culture on sites like Tumblr, but some fans have taken their fandom creations to the next level by creating businesses around their fandom self-branding.
Ant Roman of Nerdache Cakes (photo from Seventeen Magazine)
Ant Roman, 20-year-old cake decorator and owner of Nerdache Cakes, is one such fan. In a recent piece from Seventeen Magazine, we read about this self-proclaimed fan of “Superheroes, British Detectives, Doctors who travel in the depths of Space and Elementary School Cartoons.” She tells MTV Insights that she was a super-fan before she started baking: “I was born with nerd passion. Comic books were a huge love of mine. Star Wars was big when I was a kid, along with Sailor Moon. Fighting evil in cute outfits was all I have ever wanted to do.”
As a Millennial with a natural bent towards crowd-sourcing, she accepts a weekly baking challenge from one of her online followers and attempts to recreate her favorite characters in sweet form. She says, “Every week it’s Star Wars cupcakes, TARDIS cookies, and classic comic cupcakes. I won’t look twice at a purse cake – not nerdy enough for me! It that purse has a Batarang and a lipstick gun, however, that’s a different story.”
Teen Wolf cake
Fans contribute to and interact with their favorite fandoms in a variety of creative ways, most frequently through artwork, fan fiction, videos, music, etc. Nerdache Cakes is such an interesting project because it is not simply a baking business with a twist, but also a creative fandom outlet for Roman: “We all have a way that we contribute to fandom. I guess cake is mine! It really does make you feel like you are a part of something larger, with people who really appreciate your work.”
Check out Ant Roman’s work at www.nerdachecakes.com and follow her on Twitter at @nerdachecakes