If you aren’t following pop culture closely or you’re not a teenage girl you should be forgiven for not knowing who the boys are from the MAGCON tour. To the uninitiated MAGCON is (or was, the status is a bit unknown right now) a truly bizarre concept. Teenage girls pay $150 to meet and hug boys from Vine who really aren’t known for much, other than looking cute and posting funny videos. It could be argued that only a few of them possess any real talent. Yet, there is a big reason so many girls are following their every move.
And there’s power in numbers. Within the past six months all of the original MAGCON tour members have amassed over a million followers each. A quick Google search proves what I already thought to be true: mainstream media has no idea what a goldmine the internet is sitting on.
Take the tour’s youngest member, fifteen-year old Shawn Mendes. Two weeks ago Mendes released his debut single “Life of the Party” after being signed to Island Records. With no real push from the label, the majority of the promo came from Mendes and friends. Within a few hours of the release, Mendes’s single was sitting at number one on iTunes and stayed there for the next three days. By the end of the week it was reported by Billboard that “Life of the Party” had shifted more than 148,000 digital sales with only 25 radio stations playing the song. This is a massive number for such word of mouth promo. Mendes’s friend (and MAGCON’s biggest star) Cameron Dallas even posted a screencap of Ryan Seacrest agreeing to book Mendes on his morning show after Dallas DM’d Secreast on Twitter to make the request.
Additionally, Mendes’s MAGCON tour mates Jack and Jack (comprised of Jack Gilinskis and Jack Johnson) announced that same week they would be touring with The Digitour beginning in August. It only took one nigh for all VIP passes ($85 a ticket) to sell out for every city.
Most recently (as in this week) Jacob Whiteslides, a new addition to the tour, released an EP titled 3 A.M. which charted at peak position number 2 on iTunes. To be fair, of all the MAGCON members, Whitslides only had Mendes promoting him. (There appears to be a war between old MAGCON and new MAGCON, although newbie Sammy Wilkinson appeared to have no trouble being accepted by Generation 1)
There is something to be noted for the grassroots way all three acts from the tour have found digital success. Their exceptional fanbase can be accredited to the majority of this; MAGCON girls (or the Magcult, according Tumblr) are rabid. They furiously retweet, DM and spam Twitter pages to get the boys’ attention. And like any young, green fandom they are quick to defend when a few of the boys get exceptionally messy on Twitter. (See: Nash Grier and Taylor Caniff’s disgusting homophobic videos) But what is this saying about our culture and about music in general? For one, these “celebrities” are much more accessible than just about any past pin-up boy. There are thousands of YouTube tributes, Tumblr fan pages and Twitter fan accounts made specifically to get the boys’ attention. There’s also more than enough boys to go around for every girl. So you don’t have to share. Secondly, the boys call themselves a “family”–a term christened by MAGCON creator Bart Bordelon. This family extends beyond just the boys though; the fans–“their girls”–are included too. Scroll through any of their Twitter feeds and you’ll find an insanely flirtatious relationship between fan and idol. There is a huge amount of power at play though.
Take for example this lovely set of photos featuring the boys kissing girls at meet and greets:
Yes, that’s right. For $150, with the right looks and charisma, you too can kiss your favorite MAGCON boy. I say the right looks and charisma because I’m going to wager a) a boy would never get kissed b) a girl who is overweight would probably also get a pass or just a kiss on the cheek. (A visual survey of these girls who got a kiss on the lips found all were thin and pretty) Interestingly, Bordelon insisted in a Gawker feature that the Family is wholesome. “I wanted to start something my daughters could attend,” he was quoted as saying. “This is wholesome, you know?” Wholesome is not the term that came to mind while scrolling through the Fam’s social media pages. Sexualized? Yes. Co-Dependent? Quite possibly. In fact, it’s clear from Twitter interactions that the boys need the girls just as much as the girls need them.
So what, if anything, makes these boys stand out? The Fam’s girls insist their love goes much further than their looks. It’s the way they connect with their fans and the content they’re making. And in this way, I can understand. The boys are on the frontline of teenage culture. They know how to appeal to teens because they ARE teens and they’re self-producing all of their content. This is much more relatable than middle aged men writing for television shows. They also know that sex sells. All of them post plenty of shirtless pictures and there is a large amount of sexual tension between the fans and the boys interacting with each other.
Like most teenage boys, though, there is also a cocky self-awareness and offensiveness in everything they do. Watching videos from the tour, one can almost see the sheer satisfaction the boys get from seeing how far they can fuck with their screaming fans. Cartoonish stereotypes about race and sexuality abound. The word “ratchet” is dropped frequently, as is other black vernacular. The boys frequently twerk to rap songs (or try their hand at rapping; see Caniff’s “Buckwild”). It’s important to note then, that the Family is entirely white and their fanbase is predominantly middle-class suburban white girls.
Interestingly the last time the MAGCON Fam was embroiled in heavy fire, for the god-awful “What Guys Look For In A Girl” video (example: “I like girls who shave. I don’t want to kiss you and feel peach fuzz above your lips. That’s just gross. Shave it off.”) their followers tripled. There seems to be something slightly dangerous in putting a large amount of social capital in teenage boys barely old enough to vote. (Dallas is the oldest at 19) There’s something even more dangerous in girls giving them that power when the boys are telling them how to look, act and dress.
Recently, YouTube star Tyler Oakley deployed a video of Nash Grier declaring AIDs is only a gay disease. The unearthing of the video (one Grier claims he deleted upon realizing how offensive it was) sparked a new round of social outrage from critics and fellow social media stars. For boys with such a large following and influence, it’s shocking that more PR training has not been given to the young stars on how to keep their brand clean.
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On April 30th Grier and Dallas appeared on Good Morning America. Dallas seemed at ease and a bit in awe; Grier appeared nervous and bored, often coming across as rude. The boys had an announcement to make: they would be starring in a movie. About Vine. And they were signing a deal with Awesomeness TV. The hosts of Good Morning America seemed to represent what just about any American over twenty was thinking: who the fuck are these kids? Dallas handled most of the questions with charm, sometimes picking up for Grier’s flubs, but there was a strong sense of tension. MAGCON had insulated them in a way that national media will not.
Times are changing fast for the MAGCON Fam. Many of the original members of the tour have left. Mendes will be supporting Austin Mahone this summer on tour; Grier and Dallas are doing their own appearances (they started a riot at Digitour NYC); Jack and Jack have their own tour. This leaves many of the fangirls depressed and sullen. “They’re not going to be our secret anymore, you guys”, one wrote glumly on Tumblr when it was announced Mendes would be Mahone’s opening act. This seems to be the fandom’s biggest fear too: that the rest of the world will take notice and also fall in love with their boys. This also explain the meteoric success of the Fam: for the moment, they are still a secret. Only the initiated know who these guys are, and their girls would like to keep it that way. The boys are accessible; they have a relationship with their fans and for the moment, they could be just like the boy you loved most in high school.