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Collage by Lia Kantrowitz; Images via Author
Entertainment

MySpace's Scene Culture Isn't Gone—It's Just on TikTok Now

Teens are reviving the online subculture known for teased-and-dyed hair, studded belts, and neon clothes—this time for likes instead of Top 8s.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
February 20, 2020, 12:00pm

Nineteen-year-old Mad Molly was too young for MySpace, which hit its peak in 2008, but that might not be clear from her style. With colorful hair worn in a distinctive swoop, neon clothes, and a selection of studded belts that she wears all at once, Mad Molly—who chose the name because it "sounds cool"—looks like the platform's iconic scene queens, whose dyed-and-teased hair, brightly colored clothing, and angled selfies set the standard for a new niche of alternative teens online in the mid-00s to early 2010s. Instead of racking up friends to organize into her Top 8, however, Mad Molly has made her mark on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

On Instagram, between pictures of Gloomy Bear, Molly posts selfies that prompt obvious comparisons to Avril Lavigne. On YouTube, like the scene's old sage, she shares videos like "How to Be Scene in 2020," My Scene Hair Timeline," and "Scene/Emo Outfits: Summer." But TikTok is where Mad Molly has really taken off, picking up over 350,000 followers at time of publication. On the music-focused platform, she makes videos of herself dancing to Brokencyde with colorful racoon stripes in her hair and poking fun at the question "Why would you want to be [a] scene queen in 2020?"

In the absence of MySpace, scene kids are less visible, but Mad Molly wants to remind people that they're not gone. "All the original scenes have seemed to move on from the scene culture to go onto other types of fashion or just to get a job, or maybe they just didn't like that look anymore," she told VICE. "Either way, there are still scene kids even in 2020. We aren't extinct yet!"

Mad Molly has become one of the most visible faces in the scene revival on TikTok, with one of the largest followings in the niche. There, the hashtag #twentyninescene notably made the rounds last year, though it has since given way to the #rawring20s, which has earned over 12 million views; scroll through TikTok's For You page, and one of the two will probably pop up. MySpace died, but the scene didn't: Scene kids and scene queens simply found new platforms.

While TikTok is best associated with the e-boys and e-girls who mark "the future of subculture," as The Goods by Vox's Rebecca Jennings once put it, the platform has also created a magnifying glass for online subcultures of years past, especially for people who were too young to experience them the first time around.

Molly first saw scene kids at—where else?—Hot Topic. "They had dyed, teased hair and rainbow tutus with skinny jeans and I thought those girls were the prettiest people I had ever seen," she said. At the time, she was around 13. From there, watching hair dying videos on YouTube led her to Jeffree Star, a scene icon before he was a YouTube beauty mogul, and MintyOreos, who made hair tutorials; the bright colors, skinny jeans, and "kandi jewelry" of scene culture appealed to her, and music like Millionaires and Breathe Carolina put her in a good mood.

TikTok is now Molly's primary way of making her scene style visible. "I would like to help people that are younger that don't understand the difference between scene, emo, and e-girl/e-boys, because it was a part of history in fashion and music and it may become popular again in the future like how the 90's came back into fashion," she said. "Being scene has been so fun for me just because of the way I can express myself and find other like-minded people."

The scene might seem smaller than it was 10 years ago, but Mad Molly isn't alone in rediscovering it.

Under the username @midnightalone_21, 18-year-old Gaby—who picked up scene style when she was 13 in an attempt to get the attention of her crush—makes TikToks of herself lip syncing to Bring Me the Horizon and Black Veil Brides and joking about her dyed hair. According to Gaby, scene is starting to come back, especially on Instagram and TikTok. That's backed up by her following: She now has over 30,000 followers on TikTok and 35,000 on Instagram, many of whom she guesses follow her mostly for her style.

"The look is really interesting, I find it amazing. [...] I have tried going for different styles but I can’t change; I always go back to scene," she told VICE. "My favorite thing about it is the hair. Hair is what makes me look scene and attract other people."

Eighteen-year-old Sara, who goes by Sara Skellington on YouTube, told VICE that although she was familiar with scene kids from MySpace, she also didn't participate due to her age. Instead, after having been introduced to it by friends when she was around 10, she "grew up" in the scene. Like Molly and Gaby, she uses a mix of platforms to show off her style and her "lifestyle as a scene kid/scene queen, especially since MySpace isn’t as popular as it used to be," she said.

Together, Sara and Gaby are even part of a collaborative YouTube channel called "The Sinn Kids," which posts vlogs, TikTok compilations, and song covers revolving around emo, scene, and alternative culture. "We wanted to be a group of people that people in the community could look up to," Sara said.

For Molly, Sara, and Gaby, there's a thin line between "scene kids" and "scene queens." Though Gaby identified with both interchangeably, she suggested that being a scene queen implies being a bit more "extra" than simply being a scene kid. To Molly, there's little difference, save for the fact that scene queens are usually "a famous scene girl on MySpace," she told VICE. "I suppose I like to pretend I am a scene queen just for fun."

In the mid-00s, any kid with enough hairspray and Manic Panic could be a scene kid, but "scene queen" was a rarer and more aspirational title. On MySpace, early internet icons like Audrey Kitching, Kiki Kannibal and sister Koti, Hanna Beth Merjos, Raquel Reed, Zui Suicide, and Jac Vanek were unavoidable: highly-friended and heavily-imitated for their over-the-top-looks and music world connections. With fewer social media platforms, scene queens felt like one of the biggest subcultures on the internet.

In the current era of influencers and online platforms, MySpace's scene queens feel quaint. Internet fame was the end goal on MySpace, where the most one could really do was try to accrue as many friends as possible. Though Kitching, Merjos, and Vanek surely prompted copycat purchases of bandanas, tiaras, and gold lamé bikini tops from American Apparel, scene queens weren't pushing much more than an aesthetic. That type of influence now seems so innocuous.

Gaining a following online is now far more attainable, and influencers have proven that you don't need a bold look or big persona to make a brand and to reap real life rewards from online success. Influencer culture might even suggest, to the contrary, that being as basic as possible yields the most success. With their early entry into online fame, however, it makes sense that former scene queens have now become, by today's terminology, proper influencers.

Kitching sells "sustainable luxuries" through the brand Crystal Cactus, a business that has prompted allegations of fraud. Kiki Kannibal, whose experience online was much scarier than fans and haters alike might have realized, occasionally makes YouTube videos, while sister Dakota Rose now models in Tokyo. Hanna Beth Merjos promotes teeth whitening kits and beauty boxes on Instagram, and Jac Vanek sells graphic tees and hosts a podcast.

The internet is much more crowded than it was during the 00s, and in the presence of so many different online cultures, being a scene queen today seems more like a self-identifier than the mark of internet status it used to be. For today's scene queens, however, platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube provide a place to play with their identities and style, and to be themselves and find community.

"What it means for me to be a scene queen is that I’m not afraid to be different and I’m not afraid to put myself out there," Sara said. "People say a lot of hurtful things, but at the end of the day, you just gotta ignore it and being scene makes me feel happy and that’s all that matters."

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