Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Stardom's as easy as 1-2-3-4-5-6 on Vine

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Forget 15 minutes of fame on the Internet — six seconds will do.

That's the maximum length of a video on Vine, the social media app that lets users capture and share looping short films — and is spawning an entire crop of celebrity names unlikely to ring a bell with anyone over 18.

There are high school friends Jack Gilinsky and Jack Johnson of Vine duo "Jack and Jack." In a fit of boredom a year ago, the two posted a clip called "Nerd Style Vandalism." They dressed up in thick-rimmed glasses and button-up shirts and wrote "=16" on the Gilinsky family's SUV to the right of the "4x4" logo.

Now, they have 3 million followers on Vine. They've called off plans for college this fall, and armed with a hit single on iTunes, the two began an 18-city concert tour this month that's sold more than 100,000 tickets.

Their die-hard fans: tweens and teens who are more likely to take their cues from Vine and YouTube than what's on prime-time TV. Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 watch fewer hours of traditional television than any other age group. At the same time, more than 75 percent are on Facebook and 25 percent are on Instagram, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.

Teens said they identify more with YouTube celebrities such as comedians Ryan Higa and Smosh — a Saturday Night Live-style singing, rapping duo — more than Hollywood A-listers Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen, according to a recent poll commissioned by Variety.

And like YouTube, Vine — which is owned by Twitter and has 40 million registered users — is spawning celebrities who are increasingly being picked up by mainstream media.

After the folk pop duets by Michael and Carissa Rae Alvarado went viral on Vine last year, the singers, who are married and perform as Us the Duo, were signed by Republic Records, the label that represents big stars including Nicki Minaj and Jessie J.

Vine also introduced the world to Jeffrey Eli Miller, a 13-year-old baby-faced Boston-area middle schooler, who has been compared with Justin Bieber. With a braces-filled wide grin, his 6-second soulful cover of a Beyonce song in May drew 1.2 million followers and landed him on Good Morning America.

Vine, which is based in New York, was founded by Dom Hofmann, Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov in 2012. Hofmann, who left the company late last year, told Wired that at first they tried different time limits for Vine videos, ranging from five seconds to ten seconds. Then they added a loop to make things more interesting. Four months after the company was founded, it was acquired by Twitter — before the product had officially launched.

Vine quickly caught on — and not just with teens. A user uploaded a short looped video of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 that quickly became iconic. The app has also been used to show the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, this month. And companies such as Dunkin' Donuts have capitalized on the format for their ad campaigns.

Vine says 100 million people now view its videos each month, amounting to 1 billion loops a day.

Vine has rated its app for people 17 and older, but many users are far below the suggested minimum age. Young smartphone and tablet users are flocking to apps that help them discover new personalities, music and fashion shared by their peers and not handed down through glossy marketing campaigns.

Vine can feel like the highlight reels from MTV's Jackass, TLC's What Not to Wear and an open-mike show at the county fair. The six-second limit for clips forces video creators to tell a story or joke as efficiently as possible.

Vine's stars are attracting entertainment industry opportunists, including record labels, talent agents and advertising executives eager to capitalize on the latest craze.

Jack and Jack won't say how much they've made as Vine celebrities. They are represented by United Talent Agency and were headliners this month at the pre-party for the Teen Choice Awards hosted by DigiTour, which runs events attended mostly by teen and tween girls and regularly sells out 2,000-seat venues.

"We came from the traditional side of the music business and saw things were really changing," said Meridith Valiando Rojas, a DigiFest co-founder who recruited Jack and Jack for events. "Teens were spending more time on mobile devices and social networks versus radio or watching TV, and they were forming intimate fan relationships online."

The two Jacks don't want to be pigeon-holed as one-hit wonders of six-second comedy. The two know that their continued success depends on staying relevant by continuing to post Vines, photos on Instagram, YouTube videos and tweets to promote their appearances. "We want to cover the whole spectrum, like Justin Timberlake," Gilinsky said. "Like, he'll be in a movie and have a number one song."

When Jeffrey Eli Miller uploaded a cover of Beyonce's XO, Vine's editors found the clip and promoted it on their home page. The clip quickly got 600,000 likes and revines. Soon, talent scouts reached out online and Miller set up a business Gmail account that his parents carefully vet for unscrupulous offers.

It's made for a surreal summer for the soon-to-be eighth-grader. Miller, with an sweet tenor voice, gets embarrassed when he's compared with Justin Bieber. "I don't know what to say about that. I'm Jeffrey," he says, laughing.

He was shocked to see thousands of screaming fans — some with signs bearing his name — at a recent "meet-up" for Vine stars in San Diego.

Jeffrey wants to do "this" — the quest to become a social media-to-mainstream crossover star — "for a living," said his mother, Cynthia Miller.

Meanwhile, DigiTour Media's Rojas is already looking at new platforms. There's Instagram — the photo-sharing site that's particularly popular among young girls — as well as Snapchat, a social media app where photos disappear seconds after being viewed.

Are disappearing social media stars the next step? It might defy logic, but Rojas think it has a chance.

"I have my eye on Snapchat," Rojas said. "It will do interesting things."

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