MySpace is a punchline now—just another failed social network, like Friendster, a cesspool of pedophiles and bullying and cluttered profile pages designed by emo teens with moodswings. But how would you feel about the site’s demise if you were one of those people who spent all of your free waking hours adding “friends” and tweaking your page to the point where you were legitimately, kinda internet-famous? What if, in other words, you were a Scene Queen?
For those of you non-gay seventh graders who spent too much time on MySpace in the mid-aughts, the Scene Queens were a group of teenage girls who became absurdly prominent on MySpace around 2005. Before they discovered social media, they were just scene girls—losers, confused kids whose bangs overshadowed half their faces and who wore awful conglomerations of clothing from Sanrio, Pac Sun, and Hot Topic (cat ears, neon bikinis, and leather boots).
In previous generations, if you were stuck being a social outcast at school, you’d have to tolerate the mockery of your peers, slouch in a corner, and dream of fleeing to some larger city where you could ditch your humiliating coming-of-age years and finally get appreciated. But with MySpace, these girls could take on new identities with just a keyboard and a digital camera.
In 2006 Kiki Ostrenga, a young girl in South Florida, took on an alliterative nickname, Kiki Kannibal, and decorated her page with cat pictures and softcore porn self-portraits. The clash between Hello Kitty and lingerie attracted hundreds of thousands of teenage followers (and, presumably, some dirty old men) to her MySpace page, transforming her from a scene girl into Scene Queen.
Since this is the internet, it only took a year for thousands of her “friends” to call her a slut and thousand of others to create their own nicknames and copy her scene style in real life—first came Kiki’s Florida brethren— Hilary Haywire, Rainbow Kittie, and Melissa Malice—and then a wave of others nationwide.
The Scene Queens spent their time as microcelebrities gossiping about each other in chat rooms and occasionally taking photos together, which they later posted on MySpace. Whether the gossipy, backstabbing frenemy dynamic was cynical pro-wrestling-style fakery or just the way teen girls normally behave, it bred controversy, which brought more kids to the MySpace pages. And the more popular they got, the more people talked about them, which made them more popular, and so on. The teenaged girls, unsurprisingly, loved the attention.
Pretty soon, the girls were trying to monetize their unearned fame: Kiki Kannibal started selling jewelry and making music, while Hilary Haywire declared herself a model. At the time, Lily Allen had just turned her MySpace notoriety into a recording career, fangirls referred to the Scene Queens as “MySpace icons,” and several of the girls hailed from South Florida, the same region that raised famous weirdos like Johnny Depp and Janice Dickenson—it seemed semi-plausible that the girls would become the next Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.
Alas, the internet is fickle. Except for Hannah Beth, who became a blogger, and Victoria Murder, who works as a tattoo artist model, the Scene Queens made no money off their fame. In 2007 and 2008, as MySpace users switched to Facebook and Twitter en-masse, they failed to bring their obsession with the Scene Queens with them. (Or maybe they just grew up.)
The girls tried to adapt, but it didn’t go so well. For instance, in 2007, Hilary Haywire posted a YouTube video of her eating strawberries with Rainbow Kittie, a lesser-known scene queen. It’s only gotten 20,000 views, which is nothing compared to most “fat people falling” videos, which have two million hits. It’s also incredibly unentertaining. “We’re basically going to sit here and do nothing, cause that’s what we do best,” Hillary says to the camera.
That same year, Kiki Kannibal migrated from MySpace to Stickam, a webcam chatroom site (and sex crime playground), where her channel has received two million views. By that point, most of her followers loved to hate her more than they loved her, but she still attracted a bunch of teens to the site, some of whom became internet-famous themselves.
In 2008, entrepreneur and all-around sleazeball, Christopher Stone, saw the attention the Stickam celebrities were getting and founded StickyDrama, a gossip site that chronicled and mocked their online exploits. By that time, it was pretty clear that being famous for nothing so young was pretty awful, and Rolling Stone turned Kiki into a cautionary tale in an article that’s complete with icky sexualizing photos from her MySpace and a comment section that had to be shut down for “inappropriate comments.”
Today most Scene Queens have dropped off the internet entirely. If MySpace didn’t delete their profiles for cyberbulling (even though the Scene Queens were usually the bullied), they erased their MySpaces themselves, just like everyone else. If they have a Twitter, like Victoria Murder, they have 1,500 followers at best.
I reached out to some Scene Queens to find out what they were doing now, and none of them would talk to me. Hilary Haywire’s model mayhem account lists her occupation as a hairstylist, and Victoria Murder responded to my request for an interview with a tweet: “Oh dear, I wouldn't consider myself an internet celebrity.”
I understand their reticence. If the internet treated you the way it did the Scene Queens—bullied you, sent you death threats, made you infamous, and then left you without the book deal now afforded to every half-clever popular Tumblr and Twitter account, without even a Wikipedia page—wouldn’t you just want to drop off the grid and forget about the whole thing?
The thing is, the Scene Queens did have a lasting influence—Hot Topic still sells “scene” clothes to all of those teens who want to look like that for whatever reason. And they provided a template for anyone who dreams of becoming “famous” via social networking—just throw yourself out there, and keep throwing yourself out there, until enough people love you or hate you that you become “famous.”
I reached out to Marie Calloway, the young writer who’s certainly put herself out there—she accepts Facebook friend requests from strangers, posts a photo or status update every hour, and tries to ignore the trolls—though with a bit more self-awareness than Kiki Kannibal et al. Over Facebook chat (of course), she told me she doesn’t see much of a link between her and the Scene Queens—she never participated in scene culture or MySpace but she believes the internet has helped young women. “I think the internet has helped girls express themselves, ‘cause there are girl-only spaces or at least girl-dominated spaces which helps girls create, to some extent, their own culture, art,” she said.
The Scene Queens as feminists? It sounds a little bit ridiculous, but they did have a notable (OK, arguably negative) effect on the culture using just laptops and shitty webcams. What have you done that’s so impressive?