The Youth Lab



This week’s 52INSIGHTS presents five lessons for youth marketers inspired by the big pop culture moments from the Grammy music awards that everyone was talking about.


Bad Bunny’s Spanish-language album made history at this year’s awards by becoming the first to score an album of the year nomination for an album completely in Spanish. For context: “...the Recording Academy produces two shows that are separate but, frankly, unequal: the Latin Grammys, which recognize the best Spanish-language music in the world, and the “gringo Grammys,” which recognize everything else. The latter, despite its American and white bias- even in categories rooted in Black history and heritage, such as hip-hop - has traditionally set the bar for who has, and hasn’t, been accepted into the American mainstream as pop-culture royalty.” Xochitl Gonzalez, The Atlantic. His opening act was deemed a milestone moment for Latin music, historically left on the back burner on ‘music’s biggest night.’

Why should brands take note? Language and nuance matters. Embracing different languages and cultures inspires new ways of driving meaning and connection with audiences. This is true even with languages that are not widely spoken - the process of discovery through language brings about new perspectives and important connections. We know youth are tapping into this - it’s reported that Indigenous language speakers doubled among youth in the past five years in an attempt to reject the negative impacts of colonization on culture and wellbeing. Language learning app Duolingo is also opening up new avenues for youth to explore. It’s helping the Irish language have a moment - Irish is reported as the fastest growing language on the app. There’s even virtual schools like Scoil Scairte popping up. There is a huge opportunity for brands to embrace this appetite for cultural learning and discovery.


Harry Styles won the coveted Record Of The Year award. This was controversial for Beyoncé fans (who is now the most Grammy-award winning artist of all time but has yet to win Record Of The Year, and whose very presence increases viewership), but his speech provided even more material for lament. The kicker? Styles’ finished his speech sayingThis doesn’t happen to people like me very often.” The criticism that followed was quick to point out how this completely overlooked his privilege as a white, wealthy male. Twitter user @emilybernay commented: “harry styles saying “this doesn’t happen to people like me very often” as a white, british man who has a history of dating only the most categorically stunning women in hollywood and whose biggest act of rebellion is wearing sequins and nail polish is extremely rich.” While the speech may not have had negative intent behind it, Styles failed to read the room or recognise his own bias - he has been accused of queerbaiting (see definition here) in the past. On the other hand, Beyonce’s album was a celebration of Black and queer culture, which she made sure to note and celebrate.

Why should brands take note? Youth will call out and lose trust in brands who don’t read the room with an understanding of bias. There is growing expectation today for brands to ‘check their privilege’ and never co-opt culture - those looking to engage in or with subcultures or minorities need to be genuinely supporting, celebrating, and appreciating youth, never tokenising or appropriating. One solution is to collaborate and drive real participation with the communities you aspire to work with on a longer-term basis - this starts with listening and being open to doing things in different ways.


Kim Petras made history as the first openly trans-woman ever to win a Grammy award in its history. The talented artist took to the stage with Sam Smith to accept their award for the ‘Best Pop Duo/Group’ award for song ‘Unholy’. In her moving acceptance speech, Petras paid homage to those before her - “I just want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me, who kicked these doors open so I could be here tonight.” In 1970, the first (and only other up until now) trans-person to win was Wendy Carlos, who was closeted at the time. Historically, trans-woman often lived in fear - Petras’ win is a huge positive moment for the LGBTQIA+ community. The moment is especially important as currently anti-trans legislation is on the rise in the US.

Why should brands take note? Equality and equity are increasingly important values to young people across the world. Statistics show a sharp rise in Transgender youth in the US. This has both cultural and political significance - it’s not just about representation in communications, but about genuine impact on societal change by supporting groups and individuals who are marginalized in today’s world.


It wouldn’t be a live event packed full of famous faces without birthing plenty of memes. Ben Affleck became a viral sensation (again) as Grammy viewers zoomed in on his disinterested expression throughout the night. The actor, despite being seated next to his superstar wife Jennifer Lopez and in the company of some of the world's best musicians, looked miserable. Gen Z related and appreciated this - a relatable moment of wanting to check-out (a mindset shared by many as we found in our latest Youth Culture Uncovered).

Another unexpected meme of the night was the opulent charcuterie boards on everyone’s tables. The luxe spread featured in countless photos and clips from the night and people were left wondering why no-one was eating it. One twitter user said “NGL if I was at the Grammys right now, I’d be very invested in those charcuterie boards on the tables. You’d see me eating in the background of all the crowd shots. I’d be like, “excuse me Harry Styles, are you going to finish that?””

Why should brands take note? There are always new memes coming out of big events which can create a perfect opportunity for brands to get attention by hacking a meme. Global viewing events like the Superbowl and the Oscars are coming up so prepare to react and join in on the conversation where it feels relevant. It’s less about predicting what will happen and more about being ready to react and respond to what’s trending.


The music industry is no stranger to moments of moral panic. At this year’s Grammy awards, conservatives jumped on the opportunity to slam Sam Smith’s Satan-esque costume/performance to express outrage at popular culture and push anti-vaxx theories. Republican Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted “The Grammy’s featured Sam Smith’s demonic performance and was sponsored by Pfizer…American Christians need to get to work.” Ted Cruz called it “evil” and even Elon Musk had something to say about it, tweeting “End of days vibes” under a clip of the duo. This isn’t the first time musicians are being accused of satanic messages, Madonna’s Like A Prayer received similar reactions. These theories spread through conspiracy theory groups like QAnon. When Madonna introduced Sam Smith and Kim Petras to the stage, she said “If they call you shocking, scandalous, troublesome, problematic, provocative or dangerous, you are definitely onto something.”

Reflecting on these moments of moral chaos, writer and podcaster Sarah Marshall pointed out what these performances mean to young fans: “Youth can find strength in being exactly who you are, whoever that is.” Many conservative narratives come from a place of fear and are perhaps reacting in this way as a response to more transgressive, powerful youth culture moments.

Why should brands take note? Culture wars are persistently driving political and social debate at high speed, with online discourse in particular dissecting every element to prove a point. Brands need to think deeply about what they’re putting out into the world - everything from the colours, the language used, style, backgrounds, context - and also to not be afraid to stake a strong stand one way or another. You are always going to alienate somebody in today’s cultural climate, so the wisest advice is to be steadfast and assured in your own values.


  • We’d like to invite our 52INSIGHTS community to support the earthquake relief efforts. Read here for inspiration on organisations and brands responding to the tragedy.
  • Last week we launched a new podcast series THINKING OUT LOUD. With host Keith Walsh, it features 20-minute long conversations between THINKHOUSE and marketing leaders that care about people and the planet. Listen to the first episode with Wojech Bogusz, Marketing Director at Heineken Ireland here.
  • Listen back to The Youth Lab talking about Youth Culture Uncovered on Dublin City FM and Newstalk.