That’s the lead I’m using for a piece about Gen Z’s struggles and rapidly developing generational identity.
Gunna makes vlogs.
They’re weird. They’re artificial. They’re boring. They’re pretty much exactly what you’d expect. But something about Gunna’s nonsensical, wealth- and self-obsessed tour diaries capture the core of the decidedly modern and strangely divergent development of self-labeled Zoomers. These vlogs, while mostly just a lifeless presentation of a man who’s most difficult decision every day is which diamond-studded watch he’ll wear, sometimes feel surprisingly genuine. At their best, they show Gunna and his team making beats, laughing, and playing video games. They show fans—despite the, well, quality of Gunna’s music—willing to let loose for a good night. They show people unafraid to be themselves, unafraid of the immobilizing reality of sincerity. These videos present lives authentically lived. While drenched in often meaningless slang, obsessed with the artifice of designer brands, and rarely ever highlighting significant events outside of celebrity cameos, these vlogs shed the ever-present irony that touches all aspects of Gen Z’s existence.
Frankly, that’s important. As the newest generation to reach adulthood, Gen Z is the first group of people to spend their entire conscious lives fully immersed in the internet. Social media, streaming services, and the immediate availability of effectively all of human knowledge are not innovations for teenagers and young adults: they’re facts of life. Not to mention, for many Zoomers in the United States, they grew up in a stagnating American Empire, whose defining childhood conception of the nation likely came from the Iraq War. The atrocities of that conflict, the lack of accountability after the 2008 financial crisis, the renewed exposure of systematic racism (especially prevalent today), the fear stemming from global climate change, and now the realities of an economically devastated world post-COVID-19 have coalesced into a generation defined by “post-.” Those moments and their demonstrated lack of concern for human life eroded Gen Z’s faith in established institutions—from governments, to corporations, even to formal education. For Zoomers, nothing is above criticism, and everything is past its prime. Nothing is sacred. Everything is corny.
While this may sound like a recipe for universal apathetic depression, at its best this mindset inspires intense critical thinking. Gen Z clearly seeks to call out the agents of hatred and immorality in the world (as evidenced by the admittedly problematic prevalence of cancel culture) and bends towards a kind of populist justice informed outside of established institutions. Just look at Twitter. More than just stans and memes, it now provides a platform for a kind of hiveminded, volunteer investigative reporting staff, ready to expose injustice and provide important information at a moment’s notice. The work done during the recent protests has brought together a shockingly dedicated community of young people who value human life above all else.
But the implications of a generation raised in disillusionment are personally devastating. That aforementioned apathy is often the default state of mind. With so few trustworthy channels, Zoomers reflexively reject, and even in acceptance they rarely do so without some form of ironic humor. Without forums for genuine self-expression that validate in the same ways as social media, personal identity and mental health become extraordinarily difficult to maintain. Even depression jokes have become some kind of cliché. These are the societal consequences of a generation that has fully embraced postmodernism as its ideological crutch. Faced with a world that barely hides its gross injustices, Zoomers—rather than shout, fight, or try in vain to tear it down—smirk and walk away.
Now though, with Gen Z reaching maturity and entering positions of power, their defining generational artists are hijacking the “ironic” channels of social media to preach a new way to live in this batshit world. Artists are turning back to sincerity and are doing so with a deep appreciation for their craft. This respect for tradition feels surprising for Zoomers, whose idols were praised for their rejection of convention. Take the work of pop reconstructionists like Charli XCX and ROSALÍA who turn abrasive sonics into deeply personal and unabashedly catchy accounts of uniquely modern life experiences. Or the new crop of rappers like Kenny Mason and Brian Brown who subvert the toughness of trap to lay their souls bare in their music. Or the recent album from Phoebe Bridgers who captured the emotional resonance of Gen Z’s plight better than anyone on the song “I Know The End.” Or even the absurd but pointed comedy of Eric Andre and Zack Fox. Fueled by almost crippling self-awareness, these artists no longer fight to tear down establishments—those are long gone. Now Gen Z-minded artists try to explain the strangeness of life in a modern world devoid of trustworthy institutions and consequently place supreme value in authenticity, human connection, and the beauty of daily life. Though often through internet-minded and absurdist refractions, their best work is always emotionally honest. They have begun reconstructing genre.
That reconstruction, stemming from a rejection of systems and institutions, therefore necessitates a deep appreciation for the individual. But unlike the neoliberal idealization of individuals as potential agents of change within larger systems, Gen Z’s artistic output re-emphasizes the simple value of human life. From the self-contained vignettes and stories of reality in shows like High Maintenance and Euphoria to beautiful mundanity in the folkish songwriting of Courtney Barnett, creators now idealize individuals simply being. As tragic and seemingly inevitable realities like global climate change loom over Gen Z’s future, their art seeks to reaffirm control and power in the minutiae of daily life, demonstrating how change can start with just a few people. This individualist sentiment counteracts the hollow, unavoidable loneliness that comes from staring at the modern world too long. However, this importantly isn’t a rejection of desire for social change or a loss of ideals, but it rather exemplifies this generation’s new set of principles as embodied by the struggles of everyday people. Authenticity shines much brighter through the cracks of a society built upon superficial structures.
This return to sincerity, a proposed movement first popularized by David Foster Wallace in his 1993 essay on television and mass media “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” comes as a rejection of critique. Take this quote:
“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction.”
These artists no longer just seek to point out the strange new problems presented by life in the modern world. Now, especially in the wake of a global disaster, is the time for solutions. And in a world where the devaluing of life lurks in every corner of society, visible moments of true humanity resonate more deeply than ever, conveying meaning in their simplicity. Gen Z no longer offers solutions in the broad strokes of radical change (though those may follow implicitly). The forefront of their art recognizes the hopelessness of an uncaring world and its systems and rejects it by asking people to care more deeply and earnestly about those around them.
The Gunna vlogs capture that spirit. While his music certainly doesn’t break cutting edge ground like the work named earlier, the authenticity in those videos falls firmly in line with these new ideals—ones of realness and community. Gen Z’s newly complex identity will ultimately be shaped by picking up the pieces of broken systems and putting them back together into something beautiful and human and real.
But mostly Gunna vlogs just made for a good lead.