After a year and a half without fashion’s biggest event, I loved seeing everyone’s interpretations of the 2021 Met Gala theme, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. Along with our usual roster of stars, though, this year’s red — or beige — carpet seemed especially full of new Gen-Z appearances. More specifically, influencers.
Influencers have been a part of the cultural zeitgeist for long before they started getting invited to red-carpet events. I remember being glued to the computer screen in 2014, watching saturated footage of Bethany Mota’s outfits of the week. I wanted to dress just like her, imitate her bubbly aesthetic, live her life — as did every other member of my fifth-grade class. It’s no wonder the likes of her kind began to rise through the ranks. New names emerge every year, their influence and fame growing more and more prominent. Emma Chamberlain, the D’Amelios, Addison Rae: they’ve become so much more than just another drop in a schoolyard conversation. They are now Met Gala attendees.
The Met Gala is an annual event to raise money for the Costume Institute, situated in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first one, held in 1948, was a midnight dinner with $50 tickets. At the start, attendees were mostly local high-society elites and members of the New York fashion scene. But, in the 70s, the gala opened itself to global figures and soon enough it turned into the blockbuster celebrity event we know it to be.
Remember 2019, when Rihanna wasn’t in attendance, and hell broke loose? Right after she destroyed the competition the year before with her lavish silver Maison Margiela ensemble for Heavenly Bodies?
The issue of who is in attendance at this event is always a heated one, and at this point, the Gala is as much for its audience as it is for the Costume Institute. It is an opportunity for designers old and new to share their work with the world, and it’s an opportunity to recognize people who have had a true impact on mainstream fashion and culture. That’s why when we see a celebrity on the carpet, we expect them to turn a look, especially if they’re new to the scene.
What’s more, there is always some protectiveness over the Gala and who “deserves” to attend or not. When this fake seating chart was released on TikTok, viewers had, well, reactions. Another rumored guest list spread on social media included James Charles, Jeffree Star, Nikita Dragun, Noah Beck, Bretman Rock, Bella Poarch, and more. This, naturally, sparked the same intense backlash. None of these people were actually in attendance, but it didn’t stop everyone from growing angry at the sheer idea.
Getting an invitation to the Met is like a seal of approval, an indication that Vogue and the committee see you as meaningful and important to fashion and pop culture. Watching influencers, who often experience shorter periods of fame and are at times regarded as talentless, getting this kind of recognition irks people to the core.
What’s more, in recent years, Anna Wintour and American Vogue have been losing credibility among younger audiences. Diet Prada and other Millennial/Gen-Z-oriented fashion accounts routinely call them out on boring, uninspired work, and there’s a long-rumored race problem at Condé Nast. Gen Z as a whole is more interested in the new, different, and socially progressive: American Vogue is falling behind.
So, do these internet stars really deserve to be at the Met Gala, or could their invites just be cheap shots at appealing to the younger generation?
At this point in the Met Gala’s evolution, I want to see artists and innovators at the event. People that make meaningful and thoughtful contributions to society, and have the insight to pull a strong look on the carpet.
Yes, Dixie and Addison are huge names and take up a lot of space in today’s pop culture conversations. But they just, well, fell into it. Nothing they do, now that they’ve reached the positions they are at, seems to emerge from their own passions, but instead stems from the need to take advantage of the fame they have now. Their dry Met looks reflect that. Their invites felt cheap, as if the committee spent a few minutes researching, saw their follower count, and decided that they must be important enough to attend.
On the other hand, NikkieTutorials, Emma Chamberlain, Jackie Aina, Eugene Lee Yang are all creators with prolonged influence and a clear passion for what they do. Their fame and recognition was built up by years of contributions — not out of convenience, but out of authenticity. The fact that someone is an internet star can often cause them to be taken less seriously by the masses, but it shouldn’t. In an age where the internet dominates so much of popular culture and discourse, web stars are more than relevant enough to be at the Met. What matters is the waves they make and their genuine contributions.
Feature image from Instagram, @hunterabrams