If you have been on Twitter in the past 24 hours, chances are your timeline has come alight with talk of a possible ~vibe shift~ in mainstream culture. According to Twitter’s pop culture enthusiasts, this elusive shift is all-encompassing, affecting anything and everything from fashion to music.
Though we have a vague understanding of what a “vibe shift” does, a broader question remains unanswered: how will this current vibe shift affect pop culture— or more specifically, internet culture— as we know it?
A “Vibe Shift” as a Cultural Reset
The phrase “vibe shift” originated in trend-forecasting Substack 8-Ball, authored by Sean Monahan. As Allison Davis writes for The Cut, “A vibe shift is the catchy but sort of too-cool term Monahan uses for a relatively simple idea: In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated.”
Put simply, a ‘vibe shift’ is the end of a cultural era.
According to Monahan, there have been three significant vibe shifts since entering the 21st century. The first saw the rise and fall of Hipster and Indie culture from 2003 to 2009. Replacing Hipsterdom was the “Post-Internet/Techno revival” of the early 2010s, which saw the beginnings of the internet’s effect on consumerism and branding. Most recently, we have witnessed the rise of Hypebeasts and Woke culture.
With this shift dated around 2016, it’s safe to say that most of us remember when streetwear became the epitome of fashion and political activism entered the mainstream.
Whether the next impending shift represents the impact of the pandemic in pop culture, Gen Z starting to dominate mainstream trends, or even a mixture of the two, it is clear a vibe shift is coming and not every social phenomenon will survive.
Cancel culture, as we know it, is a case in point.
Irrelevancy as the New Marker of Cancel Culture
Cancel culture has changed significantly since it first burst onto the scene in the early 2010s. While keeping people in power accountable still sits at the heart of cancel culture, the consequences of ‘cancelling’ public figures have seemingly started to shift.
Removing the power and platform of someone after they had committed severe wrongdoing seemed to be the original by-product of cancel culture. Think, when Laura Lee and Manny MUA were dropped by sponsors amid the original Dramagedon ‘cancellation’. Or even when former-President Donald Trump was “permanently suspended” from Twitter after the Capitol Riot on January 6th, 2021. With these instances in mind, cancel culture has historically pushed for the active removal of wealth and influence for the celebrities and creators in question.
But it seems we are on the cusp of a new wave of cancel culture, one where “cancellation” is more fleeting. ‘Cancelled’ public figures may lose sponsorships, be de-platformed or even be forced to apologise for their actions. But suppose they can maintain an active supporter base and relevance throughout it all. In this case, it is only a matter of time before they can re-enter the mainstream, with their career essentially unscathed.
Consider David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad as an example. After the YouTube collective faced allegations of sexual assault and providing alcohol to minors, David has returned to posting on his channel, with each video continuing to receive support and millions of views. This is hardly the look of an influencer who has been ‘cancelled.’
Removing access to a platform or wealth is no longer the hallmark of a ‘cancellation’; instead, the vibe has shifted.
Now, the 2022 marker of a ‘cancelled’ celebrity is when they become irrelevant.
While relevancy is subjective (especially in the case of public figures who still have massive fan bases), a creator arguably becomes ‘irrelevant’ for one of two reasons.
First, their career organically fizzles out. This is often because the creator is unable to adapt and evolve their content to suit trends and their audience’s changing interests. YouTubers like Tyler Oakley and Lisa Schwartz— both of whom were once wildly successful and highly relevant— fall into this category. Many of these creators continue to post content and work as full-time influencers, but their views are down, their sub count is stagnant, and their names rarely make headlines.
The second reason a creator may become irrelevant is due to a genuine loss of support after a scandal or ‘cancellation’. Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson are two examples of this. As two of the biggest creators in YouTube history, Jeffree and Shane’s inability to take accountability for their problematic behaviour over the years came to a head in 2020 when the two were accused by Tati Westbrook of orchestrating the takedown of James Charles. Tati’s accusation led to an onslaught of criticism of the creators who were already embroiled in controversy, sparking one of the biggest internet cancellations of all time.
Though Tati’s accusation was the final straw for a lot of fans, Jeffree and Shane’s ‘cancellation’ was ultimately the result of mounting fatigue over YouTube drama— and that’s where the ‘vibe shift’ comes in.
In previous years, a disgraced creator could return to the internet following a cancellation with relatively zero long-term consequences to their career. Sure, they may have lost a few thousand (or million) followers and the majority of their sponsorship deals, but these consequences were temporary. In fact, a cancellation could actually raise a creator’s profile in the long run, as was the case with James Charles following 2019’s BYE SISTER.
However, Jeffree and Shane’s inabilities to bounce back post-2020 speak to the shift in cancel culture from a temporary blip on a creator’s radar to a long-term consequence that may permanently impact the trajectory of their career. Again, we see a similar trajectory for James Charles who has struggled to recover from his 2021 cancellation after he was exposed for sexting minors.
After years of feeling scorned by some of the internet’s biggest creators for consistently being The Worst™, audiences are exhausted with scandal. Instead of revolting, fans have simply stopped engaging, with both the drama and the influencers themselves. Thus, these cancelled creators quietly slip into irrelevance.
While Monahan’s ‘vibe shift’ is generally neutral, this feels particularly positive for the future of online content creation. It encourages audiences to use their views for change rather than their keyboards, and empowers people to spend their time and energy on creators they genuinely enjoy instead of those they feel the need to keep up with.
With this, irrelevancy as the new marker of cancel culture may be the cultural reset the internet needs to take us back to the days when quality content trumped follower counts and “drama” was a high school class.
Bring on the Golden Age of YouTube 2.0.