CHELLA MAN, 20, NY USA
Chella Man is an artist-activist-model, who also happens to be deaf, trans and genderqueer. Man has cochlear implants and top surgery scars - ‘badges of pride’.
“As an activist, the 20-year-old encouraged youths to vote, gave a TEDx Talk, advocated for the deaf, and authored a column on Condé Nast’s Them. Man lives in New York, where he is pursuing an undergraduate degree in virtual reality programing. In owning his myriad labels, he discovered who he is. On YouTube, Man posts intimate videos of his relationship and how testosterone has transformed his body. Some might dismiss it as a symptom of a digital native’s oversharing, but in Man’s case, it’s more like paying it forward. In his TEDx Talk in May, he emphasized that one of the most important things he learned growing up was how to use the right words to describe himself authentically.” Artsy
Man is an intersectional spokesperson of Gen Z and a brilliant example of how his generation use the internet and create content in order to nurture personal development and self expression. His activism showcases Gen Z’s need for normalizing certain conversations, especially around gender, sexuality and disability.
ZENDAYA, 22, USA
“She’s cool. You can manufacture fame. You can manufacture publicity. You can manufacture songs. You can’t manufacture cool.” - LL Cool J
Zendaya Coleman has been on the path to stardom since she was 13. She’s an American actress and singer with over 60 million Instagram followers. She’s been in blockbusters like “The Greatest Showman”, and her newest venture “Euphoria”(a new teen drama which covers topics around gender identity, sex, queer romance and drug addiction) is said to encapsulate the nuances of being a teenager in 2019. Reviews are mixed - to quote one critic “attempts to know the soul of the new generation always tremble with the fetishes and the embarrassments of aging ones” - but Zendaya is undoubtedly the shining attraction for younger fans.
What do youth like about her? She’s not only a fashion icon and brilliantly talented performer - she’s spoken out about feminism, representation, racial prejudice & bias (when she got some racist comments after wearing dreadlocks to the Oscars to help people see them in a positive, fashionable light) and is consistently thoughtful about social politics:
“It’s important to raise your voice in things you feel passionate about and things you know about.” - Zendaya
BRETMAN ROCK, 20, PHILIPPINES/HAWAII
Bretman Rock Sacayanan is a Philipino Beauty Vlogger, Instagram Star, YouTube Star. He is one of the biggest names on the internet today, and has built up a following with his sassy personality, confidence, and quirky sense of humour.
“girl, before you say "what are those" to me, make sure you can afford the shoes i'm wearing. i'm gucci, you're walmart. i'm prada, you're nada.” - Bretman Rock
His rise to fame was quick; “he revealed that people were following him at such a rate - up to 100k followers a week- that Instagram had to shut down his account....his fans were not as happy about the incident, and they took to a hashtag on Twitter, #bringbretmanback in an attempt to help restore his account.”
His message is all about being true to yourself. Rock is gay but doesn’t consider himself an LGBTQ activist. Yet he’s all about inspiration and solidarity, regardless of how you identify.
GRETA THUNBERG, 16, SWEDEN
If you haven’t heard this name by now, where have you been? This 16 year old climate activist has been on strike every Friday for the last year, in the name of climate justice. Thunberg is currently sailing over the Atlantic in a solar powered racing yacht to reach the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, and COP25 in Santiago with creating as few carbon emissions as possible.
“I have Asperger’s syndrome and to me, everything is black or white. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet, they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop, then we must stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilisation, or we don’t.” - Greta Thunberg
She’s ignited fresh energy into the global movement asking for action on the climate emergency, has graced 100’s of magazine covers and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She walking the walk and getting older generations to sit up and take note - inspiring other like minded young people (like Saoi O’Connor) around the globe to realise their agency and the power of activism.
The #Gretatude (the immense gratitude for Greta Thunberg) is real.
JOJO SIWA, 16, NEBRASKA USA
“A talent deal with Nickelodeon has crowned her America’s most famous children’s entertainer–a singular star with more spunk than Shirley Temple and the merchandizing power of both Olsen twins.” Time
JoJo Siwa has been performing since she was 9 years old. She is now a YouTube sensation with over 10 million subscribers on the platform. Siwa came into the public eye at 11 years old, appearing on ‘Dance Moms’ reality tv show. She’s a singer, dancer and an actor - she does work with Nickelodeon and voices characters in the “Angry Birds 2” movie. One of her songs, Boomerang, has over 741 MILLION views on YouTube. Her new single #1U aligns with her brand ethos - ‘be yourself’.
“Hi, my name is JoJo Siwa! I’m 16 and I’m living my life exactly the way I want to. I think having my dream career at age 16 is really cool. No matter what anyone says, you can tell me I dress young, you can call me bald, you can say I’m annoying.... nothing will change me!” - JoJo Siwa
Siwa is also known as ‘JoJo with the Bow Bow’ because she wears prominent bows in her hair - she has over 1,000 bows. Her tone is excitable (an understatement) and her aesthetic is loud colourful and sparkly - think Rainbow Brite; pink, rainbow sequins, tulle, hearts, stars, ponytails and unicorns. It is a bit marmite-y as it comes across as a little childish, even for her age - and especially when you compare her aesthetic to some other 16 year olds, like rapper Bhad Bhabie. But Swia’s fans are young, ranging from 4 to 13 years old (she’s also somewhat of a gay icon).
We could go on and on. From Billie Eilish to Coco Gauff, these people are only just getting started, but they are making serious waves! Even if you are a new brand or organisation, these young individuals prove that you don’t necessarily need to be established or have years of experience in an area to have an impact. But, you do need to really believe in what you’re doing and have ambition.
It goes without saying that social media is a majorly powerful tool for these young people to get their name and message out there. They are all plugged in to digital and social culture. From vlogging on YouTube to making activist movements roar on Twitter, each platform has its own merits and these young people (who prize creativity as a life skill and form of personal expression) are expert and harnessing their creativity through these channels. This means, when you show up in their space, you’ve got to do it right and wholeheartedly.
All of these young icons are representative of younger generations’ attitudes, values and traits - including fierce authenticity and honesty, creativity and self expression, and the importance of diversity and inclusion. No matter what their niche is, these are figures who call it like it is, saying the things they feel need to be said. They stand up for what they believe in and they embrace their unique points of difference. Those things that traditionally could (or would, by many older generations) have been seen as vulnerabilities, are their strengths. Representation and diverse voices are hugely important. These values are not unique to Gen Z (you’ll have seen new Ad standards being legalised with regard to gender stereotyping), but they are representative of modern times. It’s essential to plan and review any brand content or message that you create with this context in mind.