Instagram bills itself as a place where each user can express themselves and their view of the world. But spend five seconds scrolling through your feed and it's instantly apparent that the point of view of many of the influencers, brands, and even individuals you follow is strangely similar.
There is a lot of perfect blown out hair, swirling on beaches, avocado toasts, and Millennial pink. Call this look the 'Instagram aesthetic.' Gen Z (aka those born after 2000) are sick to death of it.
Expect your Instagram to get a whole lot weirder and uglier.
"Every trend has a shelf life, and as quickly as Instagram ushered in pink walls and pastel macaroons, it's now turning on them," writes Taylor Lorentz in a fascinating new Atlantic article charting the rise and fall of the Millennial-driven "Instagram aesthetic." What's the next generation replacing it with? Something a whole lot weirder and uglier.
"Fast-rising young influencers such as Emma Chamberlain, Jazzy Anne, and Joanna Ceddia all reject the notion of a curated feed in favor of a messier and more unfiltered vibe. While Millennial influencers hauled DSLR cameras to the beach and mastered photo editing to get the perfect shot, the generation younger than they are largely post directly from their mobile phones," Lorentz writes. "In fact, many teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse."
Lorentz isn't the first to notice the move away from perfection. Here on Inc.com, Instagram's in-house marketing experts highlighted the shift back in 2017.
Still, the article makes fascinating reading for any entrepreneur or brand trying to keep up with young folk's ever-shifting tastes, and it's well worth a read in full (especially for its many visual examples and Gen Z quotes). But is this shift in Instagram aesthetic Lorentz describes actually a sign of a deeper generational shift in worldview?
The rise of "domestic cozy"
That's the contention of offbeat and always thought-provoking blogger Venkatash Rao. In a series of recent posts he's speculated on a generational shift happening as Gen Z starts to take the reins of more public culture. The move is away from Millennial's "premium mediocre" (think seaside avocado toasts captured with DSLRs) towards something called "domestic cozy."
Most millennials (born 1980-2000) grew up in a relatively untroubled and prosperous world. No such luck for the post-9/11, climate change generation. How have Gen Z responded to their youth being basically one long series of shocks and horrors? By turning inward and leaning heavily on family and family-like connections, Rao argues. They're moving away from projecting perfection out into a turbulent world, and towards building themselves small, safe, relatively BS-free spaces.
Domestic cozy "finds its best expression in privacy, among friends, rather than in public, among strangers. It prioritizes the needs of the actor rather than the expectations of the spectator. It seeks to predictably control a small, closed environment rather than gamble in a large, open one. It presents a WYSIWYG facade to those granted access rather than performing in a theater of optics," writes Rao.
"Instagram, Tinder, kale salads, and Urban Outfitters are premium mediocre. Minecraft, YouTube, cooking at home, and knitting are domestic cozy," he continues. "Steve Jobs represented the premium that premium mediocrity aspired towards. Elon Musk represents the relaxed-playfulness-amidst-weirdness at the heart of domestic cozy. Premium mediocre looks outward with a salesman affect, edgy anxiety bubbling just below the surface. Domestic cozy looks inward with a relaxed affect. A preternaturally relaxed affect bordering on creepy."
Rao's posts on the topic are a fascinating dissection of the difference between the generations that are sure to be of interest to marketers as much as sociologists. Is his vision true? Time will tell. But there is one thing everybody seems to agree on already: your perfectly staged Instagram posts are not the way to win Gen Z fans.