“Something so outrageously artificial, affected, inappropriate, or out-of-date as to be considered amusing; a style or mode of personal or creative expression that is absurdly exaggerated and often fuses elements of high and popular culture.” - ‘Camp’ as defined by Merriam-Webster
THE LOW DOWN: A THEME FOR THE TIMES
In its essence, the Met Gala is a serious moment. All eyes are on the attendees and the creations that they wear. It not only provides entertainment, but genuinely appears to have influence over pop culture debate. For this reason, young people we spoke to thought the theme was a relevant sign of the times:
“In general, fashion and art institutes like the Met are seen as very serious… So to do something camp is saying that actually, being frivolous and fun is just as culturally important and influential as being serious. The beauty of campness means that it doesn’t actually need that validation - but the fact that it’s getting it anyway is kind of huge. It speaks a lot about how we see pop culture today.” Elly, 27
To sum up the theme, Fabio Cleto, a co-author of the exhibition’s accompanying book says: “It really means something that’s over the top in its concept, that wouldn’t go unnoticed and [that has] a sense of humour about it; but it’s not mainstream, and it’s joyous and out of the ordinary …” It has been associated with homosexual associations - and been reffered to as ‘queer parody’ - but, because there is no straightforward answer to what it really means (it’s impossible to completely sum it up in a sentence), the theme was a catalyst to displays of spectacular creativity.
While each year the theme allows attendees to ‘go big’, this year’s theme sparked talkability among youth because of this question around what ‘camp’ actually is, and what it means. Twitter exploded with rich discussion about which attendees nailed the concept of 'camp' (Lady Gaga, Jared Leto and Billy Porter), and which did disservice to people’s understanding of ‘camp’ (Kylie and Kendall Jenner). One notable thread by @southldntabby, began:
“Usually do not care about the #MetGala, but as someone who was routinely bullied for being camp and has gone on to do a PhD in queer theory, I have a lot of thoughts about last night. Mainly: What is camp? Why did so many celebrities miss the mark?”
From this perspective, in our “woke”/”post-woke” era, the theme did the event a great service among a youth audience, who engaged with broader cultural conversations around its spirit, origins and meanings.
EXPERIMENTING WITH CAMP: THE LEARNINGS
So what can 2019’s Met Gala tell us about marketing specifically to youth in 2019? While certainly celebrities going “all out” with style experimentation and costume dress is bound to drive talkability among fans, there are elements of youth engagement with it that are worthy of note:
- While ‘openness’ is a defining Millennial political value (80% of US Millennials agree that “openness to people from around the world is essential to who we are”), they still love to judge. The ability to express personal awe, envy, wonder or disgust at intentionally over the top costume choices online, is, it seems, a critical element of the event. While only 500-600 people actually attend the event, there are over 1 million posts on Instagram using #MetGala.
- While young people are embracing authenticity and acceptance, the appeal of a ‘spectacle’ (and self expression) is enduring. There is magic in the moment where a familiar individual puts their own stamp on something in a collective context, without holding back.
- The power of collaboration cannot be overstated. Anticipated designer-celebrity duos and partnerships continue to surprise, impress, inspire and broaden conversation year upon year at the Met Gala.
And learnings from the camp aesthetic? Thinkhouse Creative Director of Film & Photography, Kevin Goss-Ross’ take on the ‘camp’ theme, is that it’s reflective of more than just these Met Gala moments - it’s an indication of an aesthetic trend that has re-risen to fit and provide a welcome antidote to, the realities of modern life:
“In a world where young people are continuously being told that they're f*cked (if not by the climate sins of their fathers, it’s the existential risk of technology), it's no wonder that an aesthetic which celebrates a departure from seriousness is reemerging. Combine that with a social environment where we're all thirsty for likes and all of a sudden a super glam fab-as-f*ck aesthetic is due a reemergence.”
Looking at the qualities of this year’s conversation-driving essay by Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” there’s endless creative inspiration to take:
- Camp is playful. Its art is often decorative, emphasising texture and "style at the expense of content.” Sensory elements can enhance the positive energy behind an experience.
- Camp is loud, outlandish and exaggerated - never mediocre in ambition. Good creative is not necessarily about good or bad - pretty or ugly - but about commitment to a look, statement or a goal.
- Under certain conditions, camp can be good because it’s bad. Content, context and intent can create something hugely impactful from something considered traditionally “un-premium.”
Aesthetics are largely subjective. A big mistake is to make something mediocre, and hold yourself back for fear of turning people off. This is a disservice to your time and energy. Experiment with embracing your version of camp. How could you take ‘silly’ seriously? What would you do if you had the courage not to hold back at all?
None of us have all the answers. A provocative question - like ‘what is camp?’ - can be really powerful catalyst for new ideas. In an industry obsessed with coming up with answers to briefs and challenges, think about how you could switch up your thinking with a question-based approach.
“Fashion is the armour to survive everyday life.” Bill Cunningham