When the first two boys appeared on stage at the Highline Ballroom, their enthusiastic, albeit heavily-rehearsed, voices cut through the sound of pop music blaring from the speakers. Unable to make out their names in the combination of shrill cries and parental exasperation that came from the audience, I asked the young girl in front of me who those boys were.
She came up to about my shoulder and couldn’t have been more than 11 years old, and so her mother peeked over to check on her. “That’s Nathan and Blake,” she told me, giggling ever so slightly at my ignorance.
Hundreds of kids filled the venue to witness Digitour Winter, a showcase for up-and-coming social media stars. The audience cheered as each act took the stage, some completely enamored with the young men and women. The performers were a mixed bag of teenagers just a few years older than the audience of 11 to 13 year olds, with Blake Gray and Nathan Triska the Instagram stars among them.
As these social media personalities bounced around in the glow of purple and yellow lights and engaged the audience with simple, interactive games, I tried to gather how they could possibly transform the acts that gave them this early taste of fame into a live performance.
As with the content these young stars are known to produce, most of their acts were short-lived energetic bursts, with the next act following promptly afterward, like the quick succession from one YouTube video to the next. While some of those who took the stage simply interacted with the audience, others performed catchy pop music in a combination of covered and original material.
During the show, this space was dominated by a tightly packed group of young fans, their parents hanging far behind towards the back walls.
Digitour showcases performers from social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and musical.ly whose content attracts fans in their preteen or early teenaged years, so as much as this arrangement allowed the audience to jump along to the music, it created complications for their guardians who squeezed into corners, carrying the belongings of their enthusiastic kids.
The showcase’s format catered to fans approaching their teenage years. The fast movement—from introduction to a short act, musical or otherwise, followed by a friendly photo op and prompt exit—was a pattern that every performer or group of performers made sure to stick to.
It seemed, from the bright screens onstage and the pop music blasting through the speakers at a throbbingly loud volume, that maintaining the energy in the room was essential. However, more striking was the emphasis placed on the relatability of those on stage.
The first musical act came from a 16-year-old pop singer named Sophia Kameron, who, with her casual dress and sweet, almost nervous speaking voice, exemplified this aspect of relatability. Before she left the stage, she told the audience to raise their hands in a heart shape and smile into the camera of her cell phone, her face displaying a look of utmost gratitude.
She was a real kid just like them, accessible despite being up on a stage. She was humble even with her talent and early success, and with that, the audience connected.
This young woman stood out because she was so connected to her audience and consumed with emotion. The other acts were charming in their own right, but at the same time lacked the free flow of emotions that Sophia Kameron had. Her early performance was a great way to set the mood.
The progression of Digitour from act to act became predictable after a while. Nathan and Blake, the young men who appeared after Sophia, appeared onstage with enthusiasm and well-rehearsed confidence, as would most of the other acts that followed afterwards.
The nature of this showcase of young stars in the world of 10-year-olds with iPhones was in itself unremarkable. The acts were cheerful and full of energy but fairly uninspired. The music was upbeat; the performers had energy on stage but lacked originality.
However, Digitour provided a glimpse into the world of entertainment aimed at young consumers. This world is one dominated by charismatic, good-looking, trendy teenagers posting selfies, music videos, and other forms of easy-to-consume content on mobile apps.
These new celebrities are not without talent, but the platform on which they have grown their fame is one that doesn’t transfer particularly well in the world of live shows. Furthermore, the simplicity of this social media content will likely produce quick turnover of a currently thriving fanbase.
In spite of this, it is clear that for young audiences who have grown to idolize these social media personalities, Digitour provides an exciting taste of what the entertainment scene could be as young fans go deeper into their teenage and adult years. In that sense, Digitour successfully melds more mature elements, such as the venue and energized atmosphere, with the youthful, relatable entertainers to provide a well-rounded experience for adoring fans.
Below is a slideshow of photos taken by Allison Eng.