1. “You need a gimmick”
The video ended, and Geneva felt her life was ending with it. All she wanted to do was play it again right away, but Naomi was waiting. It was Naomi who had shared the video, TimTom’s latest, and she was hanging online, awaiting her friend’s reaction.
Geneva lay back on her pillow and clicked to Skype. “Oh my God! I am so in love with TimTom!”
“I know,” Naomi said. “He’s pretty amazing.”
“He’s everything,” Geneva said. “I think he’s my absolute favorite YouTube star right now.”
Naomi paused. “Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far.”
“Naomi! You just said he’s amazing.”
“I know, and he is,” her friend agreed. “But do you like him more than, say, BadassBranford?”
And here we go again, thought Geneva. It was going to be another one of their patented silly conversations, the kind that might go on forever and accomplish nothing but somehow made life with Naomi so much fun. Thursday they had spent over two hours Skyping about comic book movies; God, we’re such total geeks! But it was hilarious…and she’d discovered that for some bizarre reason her friend actually liked the DC universe more than the Marvel one. She’d always known Nay loved Wonder Woman, so in some way she understood, but really? Overall? No way!X-Men, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy? And don’t even start about Deadpool! What did DC have? Aquaman? Yeesh.
“Well, Branford’s really funny,” Geneva allowed.
“Just ‘funny’?” Naomi said. “His editing alone may be the best on the net.”
“Sure, he’s good at some tech stuff, but he’s just not as talented as TimTom. Plus TimTom’s way cuter. I could watch him forever. ”
Naomi paused thoughtfully, assessing her friend’s position. “Well, I’ll certainly give you the cute thing. But you really think he’s the most talented?”
“Of course! Don’t you?”
Naomi was not about to lose a second consecutive argument. Besides, she had an agenda and she needed to find a way to swing the conversation to where she wanted it to go. There was a reason she’d sent that video, and it wasn’t just her friend’s love of TimTom.
“OK,” she said, “devil’s advocate here: he sings really well and all, and he’s undeniably good looking, but why hide behind the split personality gimmick?”
Geneva was taken aback. She’d never heard her friend diss TimTom before. “Hey, I thought you liked him!”
“Oh, I do, I do. I’m just surprised that he’s your absolute fav, that’s all. What about AcaManics? They’re completely awesome in their singing, and their videos are brilliant and creative and funny too. And you turned me onto them.”
AcaManics were actually one of Geneva’s favorite music groups; she’d even seen them live on tour a few months back when they came to town as an opening for Kelly Clarkson, who was pretty great herself. And Kenny, the super gay member of the group whose voice was a higher soprano than Callie, their one female singer, was so cuddly she wanted to take him home.
“OK,” she admitted, “maybe I’m over-reacting. AcaManics are probably better.”
“Wow, did I just win? That was way too easy. But you weren’t over-reacting, Girl,” replied Naomi. “You were reacting with hormones instead of synapses.”
They both laughed, and they both knew she was right. TimTom was not only hot as a YouTube artist with his quirky videos that featured his tenor Tim half dueting and comically fighting with his baritone Tom half; as both of them acknowledged, he was undeniably “hot” as a teen sensation as well.
“Yeah, well,” Geneva said, “you wouldn’t kick him out of bed either.”
“Hey: gay here!”
“Oh. Right. Sorry,” Geneva said, chastising herself for the momentary lapse. But Naomi just laughed.
“Kidding! I may be gay but I’m not blind. I just acknowledged his good looks, right? Of course I’d hold onto him, if for no other reason than to call you up and get you to my house as quickly as possible!”
After they had calmed down from that one, Geneva asked, “Well who is your favorite?”
“My favorite Youtuber?”
“No, your favorite porn star. What have we been talking about?”
“Oh," Naomi replied. "Well, my favorite porn star is Peter McLongdick.”
“Cute." Geneva raised her eyebrow. "Anyway, I’d think your favorite would be his sister…”
“True, but guys’ names are more fun. Brenda Bigboob just doesn’t have, you know, the same zazz. As for my favorite Youtuber…” She hesitated. She thought she was out of the conversation when she won the argument, but of course Genny would turn it around. It was a favorite tactic on both sides, and one of the things that made their long conversations so much fun. Agendas will need to wait, she thought. Choosing a favorite from all of the Youtubers she watched regularly, though, was hard. “I guess it would be a tie between AndyReid and Kalana.”
AndyReid was a very popular artist who made videos featuring pop music that he had rearranged into multi-part a capella harmonies, sung by multiple boxed versions of himself. Some of the “Andys” beatboxed; some of them sang the various choral parts. Sometimes he costumed his various “selves” and made the entire video into a sort of choral dramatic presentation of the song’s story. Always, however, the singing itself, in Andy’s pitch perfect voice, carried the video and made it work.
Kalana’s work made use of multiple versions of herself as well, but the structure changed from one video to the next. She was a mimic, capable of making herself sound like practically any female artist and quite a few male ones. She had two main kinds of videos: the first involved her, in elaborate costumes and sets, singing a popular song split among 20 or so “artists,” shifting smoothly from one set and costume to the next as a new artist picked up a new set of lines; the second had her using the boxed screen structure that AndyReid used and having many cartoon, fictional, or real personalities in the boxes doing essentially the same thing.
Geneva replied, “Well it’s easy to see why you can’t choose between them. Both great, and so similar. I kind of like Kalana better.”
Aha! An opening! Naomi thought, and she pounced on it.
“Of course you do,” she said.
Geneva was puzzled. “What does that mean?”
“Just that you’re probably attracted to all of the Disney stuff and the other cartoon characters she does.”
Something about that sounded like an insult to Geneva. “So? Why does it matter that I like them? I mean I like TimTom too, and not in a childlike way.”
Naomi shook her head. “I didn’t mean anything. I think it’s cute how much you still like to hang onto your childhood. Marla Houston couldn’t wait to throw hers out the window.”
“Marla Houston? That slut? She’s slept with half the junior class. Why bring her up?”
“Because she’s probably the only one in the class who’s as small as you, except Jori, and Jori’s a dwarf.”
This time Geneva did feel insulted. “So because I’m smaller than other girls I should, what, assert my adulthood by dressing like Marla Fucking Houston?”
Naomi knew it had been risky to mention Marla, but it was necessary. “Hey, hey, I’m sorry. I really wasn’t trying to be insulting, but I can’t seem to say right things tonight. You know I love you, right? I mean you’re my BFF. I would never want to hurt you.”
Geneva paused a moment and then said, quietly, “I know.”
“So, OK, then. All I was saying is that you still openly like that stuff. A lot of us do. Hell, Miley Cyrus made a video in a onesie sucking on a pacifier holding a teddy bear. Cuteness is in. I just meant that it also probably shows a bit of personal strength when someone who is cute and quite a bit smaller than her classmates does it.”
“I don’t suck on pacifiers.”
“You know what I mean.”
It was time to slow down and see where the conversation went naturally, Naomi decided.
Geneva, for her part, was through being angry at her friend. She shifted her position on her bed so she was more comfortable, and then said, “Well being short and “cute,” as you say, isn’t exactly helping me in life, you know.”
Naomi looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve told you this before. Boys don’t really take me seriously, as much as I want them to.”
“Right,” Naomi said. “You said they always seem to treat you like a little sister or something.”
“At least it feels that way. Maybe I’m just imagining it because of my size and general lack of breasts. But I know what I’m not imagining, and that’s the parts in the musicals: I’m the best singer in the class—you know I won that competition—and a good dancer, but I never get anything other than chorus parts. They can’t see me as a lead.”
“Yeah, that sucks.”
“It does. I wish there was something I could do about it.”
Annnnd…Naomi thought, we come to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. She let herself appear pensive for a minute and then said, “What about your own YouTube videos? How are they doing?”
“About as well as any girl-with-guitar videos do. Which is to say I get some likes and some good comments, but I’m no Kalana.”
“Yeah. You need a gimmick."
This time it was Geneva who was confused. “Didn’t you just say gimmicks are stupid?”
"They are, but they work. People like Kalana make millions, you know.”
Geneva stopped. “Wait. Millions?”
“Hell, yeah. You didn’t know that? YouTube is a freaking printing press for money. You know that idiot girl who yelled at the audience of that talk show last month?”
“The one you can’t even decipher because her accent is so awful?”
“Yeah, that one," Naomi said. "I read she’s monetized that one stupid line she said to the tune of a million dollars.”
Geneva was shocked. “Are you kidding me? That total moron who can hardly speak a complete sentence? A millionaire?”
Naomi shrugged. “That’s YouTube.”
“Wow,” Geneva said. “Well that just sucks." She was quiet for a moment: life was just unfair. “Anyway” she said after a bit. "I need to go. I still have homework, and Mrs Stiles doesn’t like late papers.”
“OK. Take care.”
“See you tomorrow. And thanks for sharing the TimTom.”
“No prob. Love you!”
“Love you too! Bye!”
The two girls logged off their Skype session. Naomi was certain she had piqued her friend’s interest in her videos once more. Her channel had been dormant for several months, with nothing new added, and all Naomi ever heard from Genny were these complaints about being overlooked. And it was true: the girl had so much talent, and she was terrifically underappreciated at the school. It was shameful. Naomi had been her friend since elementary school. Back then, when everyone was her size, Geneva had indeed received the majority of the leads in anything the school put on. (Naomi smiled remembering the production of Annie they both were in, the one during which they had first met. Naomi had been one of the anonymous orphans; Genny had, of course, been Annie.) But then middle school came and everyone else started to grow, and soon the parts were handed out to other girls, girls who had taken second and third leads before, girls who were objectively not as strong as Geneva, but who looked the part better.
And for years now Naomi, as Genny’s best friend, had listened to her growing bitterness about her lot in the Bensington High School drama world. Ever since the Freshman Play, Geneva Whitmore had been relegated to the background, where both of them knew she didn’t belong. And when she won that blind voice competition last spring, they both saw it as almost a kind of “Fuck You” to the teachers and directors and fellow actors who had not believed in Genny. And they both had thought things would change. Of course, they didn’t: this year’s casts came and went, and Genny once again was where she’d always been.
Naomi, however, believed she had finally come up with a way to get her friend’s talent out to the masses and let her voice be heard. And if she could make them both some money in the process, all the better. If she played her cards right, Genny would see it as a good idea as well, even though there were a few things about the idea that she might have to work through first.
Geneva rolled off of her bed and headed to her desk with her laptop. She’d tried doing her homework lying down many times; it didn’t work. Lying down was internet play time; sitting up made it work time. She opened her online English folder to find the assignment. Not too hard; that shouldn’t take long, she thought, and started typing. But for once the bed/desk separation wasn’t helping her. The conversation with Naomi kept replaying in her mind, and she found herself staring for long intervals at the blank screen instead of writing about Oedipus.
She couldn’t fight it, and she didn’t feel like lying down again, so she let herself violate the sacred desk space and clicked YouTube open once again. She looked up the moron girl (which, amazingly, she found when she typed in “moron girl on Dr. Bill show”) and watched the video of her interview. She was there with someone else—her mother?—and Dr. Bill was asking her something about her life. Why was this girl even on the show in the first place? She mumbled something unintelligible in that absurd accent of hers, and someone in the audience responded to it. And then she turned to them and said the line that kept getting replayed, the one that sounded like “Meshew ousside n saydat agin.”
She’s getting a million dollars for that? Life was really unfair.
Geneva clicked to her own home page and called up one of her videos. 397 likes: not bad, certainly, but it wasn’t going to make her a star. Probably all people who knew her at school.
She let herself scroll down the comments section. Predictable. Mostly her friends saying how much they loved it. A few trolls sexualizing her; she skipped those. A bunch from people she didn’t seem to know who just enjoyed the video and wanted to say so; that was nice. But there was another group that interested her. It wasn’t a large group, certainly, only maybe six or seven comments scattered throughout the thread, but they were there, and when she double-checked she found they were all from different accounts. They weren’t trolls; in fact, they were complimentary about her playing and singing. What stuck out in these posts was that each of them seemed to assume that she was a whole lot younger than her 17 years.
“You are absolutely amazing for someone so young,” one read. “You’re going to be a star when you grow up.”
Another, in a similar vein, said, “Geneva is such a pretty name, and you have such a pretty voice. I hope to hear more from you when you get to high school.”
The others were like these. And when she checked her other videos she found, on each one, similar comments. Some were from the same users, but others were from new ones. In all cases the commenters loved her but thought she was a little girl with a huge talent. It wasn’t the first time people had made that mistake, but it got her thinking.
“You need a gimmick,” Naomi said. Well, that would definitely be a gimmick, but she had no idea if it would work, or if she even had the guts to try it.