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|Nash Grier has a tendency to wreak havoc on malls. One time in Iceland, a single tweet about his whereabouts brought 5,000 girls to a shopping center in search of Nash and his sidekick, Jerome Jarre.
"The mayor of Reykjavik said they'd never seen that, even when The Beatles came 30 years ago," Jarre said later.
Then there was the incident in St. Louis. One minute, 16 year old Nash, his 14 year old brother, Hayes, and his 19 year old best friend, Cameron "Cam" Dallas, were jostling each other through a sleepy mall that looked one "for lease" sign away from closing. The next moment, flocks of teenage girls, summoned by some unspoken signal, descended in a swarm of outstretched arms to gawk at three Internet celebrities they'd only ever seen on cell phone screens.
"You're so hooooottttt," someone wailed.
Girls brought their phones to their faces and stared at Nash through blinking iPhone cameras, as if gazing directly at his highlighter blue eyes might be as dangerous as gaping at the sun. The shop clerks, all older, seemed at a loss.
If you think One Direction might be a rehab clinic, chances are you've never heard of Nash. Among smartphone carrying girls from 12 to 20, however, he's already being compared to Bieber.
A little over a year ago, Nash, a rising junior from the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, used his iPhone to do what millions of American teenagers have done: He joined Vine, a social media site launched by Twitter to share looping videos that are up to six seconds long. He started posting bite sized clips filmed in his bedroom, or, for something truly exotic, the local Wal Mart. These mini movies, with titles like "When you can't find your phone in your pockets" trade on the mundane minutiae of high school life, and they drive girls wild. In that particular clip, Nash rummages through his pockets for his phone, finds nothing and hurls the pillows off a sofa. "You are awesome my inspiration every day ," gushed one of the hundreds of thousands of comments posted to videos like that one.
Nash's Vines have rough edges that make them look as though they've been shot by a bunch of high schoolers messing around. Because frequently, they are. There's Nash shimmying on a snowboard, and Nash riding a shopping cart. His most popular Vine, which has 1.3 million "likes," is a selfie filmed in his parents' SUV. cheap nfl jerseys He records himself looking quizzically at his kid sister as she mangles the lyrics to Lorde's pop hit "Royals" "You can call me queen bee" transforms into "You can call me green beans."
"Really. Green beans?", posted November 2013
Like chugging a Red Bull laced with Pixy Stix, the videos hit female adolescents with the emotional equivalent of a sugar high. They're carefully edited, six second jolts of humor that are big on action, short on subtlety and long on relatability. Jarre, who co founded a Vine marketing company that previously worked with Nash, calls it "snack content." And it's true: The videos may not be particularly good for you, but to his target audience, Nash's Vines are as addictive as junk food.
His 9 million followers have earned him the top spot on Vine, ahead of bigger names like Jimmy Fallon, Ellen Degeneres and yes, even Bieber. (Vine, which has over 40 million members, declined to wholesale jerseys share the age breakdown of its audience, but marketers who work closely with the service say it skews young, toward people Nash's age.) Add Nash's Vine following to the number of fans watching him on Instagram (6.2 million), YouTube (3.3 million) and Twitter (3 million) and you've got a kid with higher social media ratings than the White House. Startups, salivating after Nash's devoted audience, have offered the teen shares of their companies in exchange for a retweet, according to his managers. Nash's team also confirmed that major brands will pay the star between $25,000 to $100,000 to plug their products in a six second clip and share it with his fans.
Nash has reached those heights in spite of several major controversies that have already plagued his short career. He's been called sexist, racist and homophobic in connection with a Vine telling girls how to be attractive; another video mocking Asian names; and a clip in which Nash suggests only gay people are afflicted by HIV, then shouts "fags!" while barely hiding a grin. Nash apologized for the HIV clip, claiming he'd been "in a bad place" when he posted the video, since deleted, in April of last year. Yet that "bad place" seems to have been more than a few month phase: He's also purged multiple pejorative tweets about "homos" or being a "damn queer" that once littered his Twitter feed, as well as a post from May 2012 that read, "Gay rights? Nahhh."
Those uploads, whether they reflect Nash's beliefs or are merely the thoughtless mumblings of an immature teen, run counter to the "clear eyes full hearts" image Nash tries to foster. The goal of his Vines "is really to make people smile," he said. And for a certain class of adolescent, if you tried to design the world's most viral human, you couldn't do better than Nash.
He's got prom king good looks and magnetic, made for selfie blue eyes. He's hilarious, at least according to the teens watching him, who happen to be among the most wired people on the planet. He's a relentless self promoter. And he's mastered the art of "authenticity" that combination of staged closeness, strategic imperfection and calculated self deprecation that's the key to charming the web.
Earlier generations of celebrities grew their fame exuding an aura of glamorous inaccessibility. Nash, however, has built his on distilling the utterly unremarkable into blink and you missed it clips, starring a seemingly available kid as matinee idol. He's the good looking class clown millions of girls dream of knowing. And, if they have a smartphone or an Internet connection, they can feel like Nash is their pal. "And people love it. They share [his videos] over and over again."
The whole boy next door persona can seem contrived among celebrities of a certain stature, but Nash genuinely gives off the impression of someone who's still more 16 year old kid than groomed child star. He favors Vans sneakers, enjoys crossing hallways by skateboard and has little overt interest in humoring reporters who might have flown in from New York to follow him around for a weekend. He'll stay up late having a pillow fight in his hotel room, and get excited when he sees posters emblazoned with his name.
But Nash, of course, is not average. Nash is famous. As he ducked away from the screaming throngs at the mall, leaving them with nothing more of himself than the same digital images, an uncomfortable truth became clear: The closer you get to Nash, the farther you feel from him. On Vine, Nash can post a single video and make millions feel he's talking directly to them. In person, you can feel lucky to get a full sentence. At the dinner table, waiting for his takeout, he stares at his phone. He slips easily into the clipped, non committal generalities of the disinterested teen. (How much has your life changed since you started making Vines? "A lot. A lot.") And he now has a PR company to manage who gets access to him. The most intimate moment most fans get to share with Nash is taking a wholesale pro bowl jerseys selfie. All this raises a few questions: How precarious is stardom built on the mirage of a personal connection? Can Nash keep an aura of availability as his celebrity grows, or will he travel further out of reach, only to be replaced by a nearer star?
Nash is, after all, only the latest in a string of nobodies who've become sponsorable online somebodies by bypassing agents and taking their talents directly to the web. In its short life, Vine has spawned a suite of homegrown celebrities who are creeping toward six figure salaries thanks to an exceptional and exceptionally strange talent that until now had little marketable value: the ability to capture attention with six second bursts of humor or skill. They include Viners like "KingBach," a 26 year old actor who has landed a role on Showtime's House of Lies, and "BatDad," a father whose Batman alter ego helped him land a lucrative gig pimping laundry detergent for Tide.
Like other Vine sensations, Nash hopes six seconds of fame will be the gateway to something more lasting than 15 minute stardom. He "isn't really monetizing right now," according to Alan Spiegel, one of Nash's three managers including his father. Instead, having conquered the smartphone, Nash is going after larger screens that can put distance between an idol and his fans.
A year into his Vine venture, Nash has nixed his college plans and dropped lacrosse, which he once counted on as his ticket to a school like Princeton or Penn. His new dream, he said, is to be "the first, like, George Clooney or Leonardo DiCaprio who starts from the Internet." According to the logic of a plucky teen who's excelled at most of the things to which he's set his mind, going Hollywood is, despite its risks, purely the most logical career route.
"You can play professional lacrosse, but they make less than a teacher's salary now. I always thought about that. And it's a very difficult career, a short career, as a pro athlete," Nash explained. "I was like, 'I can be an entertainer until I'm 75!' So logistically, it seemed better. And I liked it better."
Nash recently landed a deal to appear in a yet to be specified movie produced by Dreamworks owned AwesomenessTV and the director of Varsity Blues. This spring, Nash also moved out to Los Angeles with Cam, a Vine star and aspiring actor Nash met through the social media site, so the two teens could be closer to their agents at William Morris Endeavor. Nash's father, Chad Grier, declined to share details about their new living arrangement, as the boys "are stalked on a fairly regular basis as it is."
Depending on how you look at it, these milestones could be harbingers of future success or evidence of how precarious six second celebrity really is.
"There's always someone coming, always someone funnier, cuter, more engaging, which is why [social media] stars today are seeking out professional managers and agents," said Brian Solis, a digital analyst and anthropologist with the Altimeter Group, a research firm. "They have to fight for relevance. And they have to be able to monetize the popularity while they have it."
A few months ago, Nash flew to St. Louis to enjoy another new perk of fame that had come only recently: the ability to charge people to meet him in person. He, Hayes and Cam Vine sensations with a few million followers each were making their first appearance at Wizard World, a fan convention that seats its talent behind bouncers. For $150 plus tax, "VIPs" would get a photo with the guys, an autographed headshot and entry to a Q panel with the three Viners. The tickets well over 500 in total sold out.
On Friday, the group's first day in Missouri, Nash showed up half an hour late to a radio interview. He was wearing sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt. "I can't breathe," whispered Julia, a 13 year old fan, as Nash, Hayes and Cam approached the station. Julia had set up the talk radio appearance by messaging Nash's father on every one of his social media accounts. As the trio entered, she rearranged her sweater and smoothed her hair. The guys shuffled past her, taking little notice. At someone's urging, they turned around to pose for the obligatory photo, then settled themselves in a small circle with their backs to their fan. Julia stared at their huddle, but failed to elicit a reaction.
Nash has a collection of catchphrases including "Nashty," "or nah" and "zayummm" that his fans repeat themselves and sport on T shirts.
When he does open up, Nash can sound like a male Miley Cyrus who's spent too much time with televangelist Joel Osteen. A great song is a "banger," a babe is a "bae," sketchy stuff is "ratchet" and Nash's trademark expression (which, in fact, his managers would like to trademark) is "nashty." In the next breath, Nash will say he is "so blessed" to have such loyal fans, and argue what's holding back many Viners is the "filth" in their videos more specifically, the "f bombs," "cuss words" and "racial stuff." The Grier family attends what Nash's father calls "rock 'n roll church," and Jesus Christ gets occasional shout outs in Nash's Vines. (Nash himself regularly consults a Bible app on his iPhone.)