Top image credit: Bandwagon
From the magazines we read to the cafes we buy our coffee from, everything now looks like it jumped straight out of an issue of Kinfolk.
This was first said to me in 2013. The last time it was said to me was just 2 days ago. And these complaints are always the same: blah blah blah minimalist crap blah blah blah design fatigue blah blah uninspiring.
Then just over a week ago, Lazada, together with Youtiao666, dropped an ad for Mother’s Day. The ‘Buy Me Shit’ video went viral almost instantly, and not just because of its badass rapping and swearing Muminem. It was also the mashup of ‘80s granny chic and the whole grainy tape recorder malfunction thing that was going on—all thanks to Vadbibes’ cool-kid-turned-influencer Jasper Tan.
Back in April, Cherry Discotheque launched Cherry TV, with local director Jacky Lee, a series of fictional ‘Cherry’ product advertisements made in the style of Mad Men era TV spots. Where vivid pinks and technicolour Merlions punctuate ‘Buy Me Shit,’ the reds and yellows are the ones that pop amidst the sepia toned hues of Cherry TV. Prior to this, Jacky worked on the neon tinted music videos of Singaporean duo TOMGIRL.
So what does this all mean? Is colour now in? Are white spaces no longer relevant?
2 days ago, The Sam Willows debuted the music video for their latest single. A paddle pop explosion of colour featuring what could have been the stars of now defunct Japanese FRUiTs magazine, the MV looked like a throwback to “creature” or animal populated children’s shows like Sesame Street and Teletubbies.
Gone were the meticulously curated visuals that are the bread and butter of every social media celebrity’s Instagram feed. Gone were the slow motion antics. Gone was the romantic lighting framing pained faces in half-shadows.
Instead, cue solid pastel blues, pinks and yellows. Cue loud and unapologetic artistic direction.
At the same time, it’s not just colour that makes all this feel new. It’s also the eccentricity—the effect that takes you from “Wow” to “What the hell” before you realise how good whatever it is you’re watching is. In the case of the Lazada ad, the aesthetic would have meant nothing without the Rich Chigga imitation.
So for me at least, the interesting question is: Is this just the next step in the life cycle of relevant trendy aesthetics?
After all, it was clear to me, twenty seconds into Keep Me Jealous, that this was not a very good song. As stunning as the visuals were, the lyrics made me want to stab the walking pom pom in the video by the time I reached two minutes.
From thinking that this was super cool, it went very quickly to me feeling like I was on a date with someone who’s clearly faking their personality. In other words, it felt like aesthetics for #aesthetics’ sake.
If anything, this emerging love of colour reminds me of when the recently deceased Lucky Peach first launched. When the first issue came out, everyone went nuts over its irreverent graphic design. It was a breath of fresh air in an industry where every publication had begun mimicking the Cereal Magazine look.
Over time, however, Lucky Peach also became the magazine people read to set themselves apart. People started caring less about the quality of its content and more about how unorthodox it would make them look when they name dropped it as their favourite publication.
In fact, I think I’ve actually lost track of the number of times I’ve heard a designer say, “Let’s do something different and edgy! Like Lucky Peach!”
Then again, maybe this is exactly how the pre-production meeting for the Sam Willows video went. Someone must have said, “Let’s do something different!” To which someone replied, “Harajuku vibes!”
And the next day, there was colour.
Today, it is still natural light and VSCO filters that dominate a lot of what we see on social media. It’s stuff that’s just nice to look at, but ultimately not very energetic.
So while content like this continues to saturate our feeds, we might soon start to see a lot more colour, a lot more analog or retro influenced production values, and a lot more sensory stimulation. And this stuff will work simply because it will feel fresh and different, not curated and unrealistic.
To be fair, guys like Jasper and Jacky have been developing their attitude driven and colour saturated styles for years. However, with the new Sam Willows music video, it’s safe to say that these “new” styles are now finally entering the mainstream, and that there’s now a shift away from traditional Instagram-worthy aesthetics.
Whether this will all turn out to be just another meaningless trend remains to be seen.