TikTok figured me out, quick. I still feel conflicted about how fine-tuned the content is for me here over any other place on the internet. I find myself inundated with videos that speak to my interests; an abundance of content speaking to art, history, architecture, food, design, philosophy, science-fiction, film, and sonics. To the point where I am learning something in each video that feels valuable and educational in ways that I still do not find on the internet.… I mean the app even tells me to get off and I listen. We’ve reached a moment where we’re all aware of what’s happening but still subscribe to it, and in this era, I’m so happy to have met people like @cyberexboyfriend, aka Laura Lisbon.
I found myself tapping through the gauntlet of social fandom, from feed to profile, and consuming an hour of content there before hitting the follow. Big day. And it was one of those early follows that really flourishes right before your eyes. You know the type. Your freshly downloaded platform and the early creators that get some of your first follows. I bet you can recall some now from an era past.
To me Laura is a perfect indication of the times, sharing the content that speaks to us as a generation... sure, there are many tech rabbit-hole conversations this article could go down, but we’re not here for that, we’re here for this modern-day content Picasso who has a knack for mixing punchline humor with education covering high fashion, design, music and beyond.
The thing about Laura's content is his takes aren't just hot ones — they're honest ones too. When something's intriguing, or under-appreciated, he explains how he got there while in the same breath admitting it also looks like a hotdog at first glance. Laura is holding the door open for those who want to learn, to comfortably enter and experience curated taste without the pretentiousness. Accessible art education.
What I was curious to talk about with Laura was this newfound sense of authority. What’s it like to now have people be interested in how you feel about something. There’s so much content, that we rely on people to catch it all and set the table nicely for us to eat. I’m always interested in the tastemaker, and what references and influences are shaping the landscape for the next generation…
What the cultural zeitgeist searches for in celebrity, who we choose to give our attention to, what standards we hold them to and what our preferred aesthetics are, have been questioned, broken down, and rebuilt in just a couple of years.
Often times we consume content from people who research, report, and divulge their opinion without ever getting to know them. This interview serves as an anthropological waypoint to mark the storytellers who disseminate information and celebrate the work they’re doing as they inspire and educate a new generation. After speaking with and fostering a friendship with Laura over the course of this article coming to fruition, it was made abundantly clear just how self-aware he is of the algorithm, and the confined parameters he must operate within, while simultaneously strategizing ways to break it down and extend his reach beyond.
Ryan Blackway: Your TikTok channel is one of my absolute favorites. It removes the pretentiousness that can come with art and culture education. Was this a void, you felt compelled to fill? How did this come to be?
Laura Lisbon: Yes and no. Partially, yeah, ‘cause like my girlfriend got tired of me just talking about random stuff, and so did other people in my life. It's just like one of those things when you're online and you watch content and you, look at content, you can look for validation or wonder if people feel the same way as you do about certain things and certain aspects. I want it to be my own soapbox, but be the soapbox for people who are looking for a soapbox, I guess the voice for the voiceless, so to speak. Just the fact that I'm a visual learner and there's not a ton of content online about more hoity-toity stuff like that. You can find content about Marvel very easily, but, you can't really find a ton of content on like Krzysztof Kieślowski films.
RB: When it comes to understanding trends, movies, and albums, you make it feel so effortless. How much of this is done from research versus like an opinion or intuition that you have from within?
LL: It's all an amalgamation. You see somebody talking about something and you're like, okay, I'll check it out. And then, it reminds you of this, this, and this. I'm very fortunate I grew up on the internet, whereas a lot of people only had that locality. People from the internet have more access, a greater repertoire and they've been in conversation and interacting with this kind of content for a longer time. So they have a baseline understanding, the base floor of understanding has rows, but the ceiling has gotten much higher.
RB: There seems to have been an influencer monopoly that's been broken and it’s been deeply needed. Can you expand on what this new era entails and why we all want it so badly?
LL: People are just kind of tired of “influencers,” so to speak. It's been what, 3, 4, 5 years of that. It's very clean cut, but it's not a lot of influencing, you know what I mean? It's more so people showing you the same things that you've seen before. Whereas influencing is you pulling from the depths, putting people onto the small and you didn’t really see that until recently. You've watched a shift in a more honest portrayal where prior to that, outside of TikTok, it felt like everything was becoming like television traditional media once again.
RB: It's worth noting at the date of this interview you've amassed nearly 200,000 humans that want to hear what you're talking about, and you’ve become an authoritative figure in the process. This algorithm seems to be flipping who that authoritative figure is on its head. What's it been like to earn that trust and, what kind of community have you formed or have you been able to find within this space?
LL: I definitely have people that I talk to, it's crazy to me to think that, yeah, I could be the reason something sells out, you know what I mean? Cause I've watched that happen to other people. I haven't really seen it for myself, but it's crazy to think that, you know, you talk about something and then somebody's Spotify plays go up. It's not even so much that it's pure blind trust, but it's the fact that you end up being a tastemaker now, and back in the day, if Rolling Stone Magazine said an album was wack, the album was then considered wack. Right? And to think that I am potentially part of that now…
RB: Hmm. I'm sitting with that for a minute. I would be remiss to not talk about how the new era of tastemakers aren’t trying to reinforce something as “cool” due to group approval. You're letting things be unapologetically what they are and celebrating that versus pushing this forced narrative. How much of that is fueled by what you're nostalgic for versus where your taste has evolved to today?
LL: I'm into breaking down authority and cultural authority. So it's a double-edged sword where I'm like, let me watch this movie from back in the day. It's cool. It's great. And then I can also be like, yeah, this movie's wack. You can skip this. This is not it. And part of it is me doing that for the sake of breaking down the walls and breaking down the perception – to change the perception that people have and switch it up.
RB: You’re not the type that strikes anything down just for the sake of it either. Your content is shaped by unfolding or unpacking this forgotten piece or this other connection to something else that connects all the dots to emphasize just how special it is. Always illuminating.
LL: I try my best to find something that I like in everything. I can be in my head and one on one, I am a very harsh critic, but I also understand that online, harsh criticism gets views, but at the end of the day, if you're known for harsh criticism, it becomes really hard. Being such a harsh critic of any and everything you have a tendency not to enjoy doing it. I hate that kind of attitude where people focus on that and people's whole platform is built off of putting stuff down.
RB: If you look back in history, pop culture history, anything that ever got a one-star review, the people that led with, “it’s the death of,” marked the renaissance or birth of a new direction. The criticism of Lil B, the criticism of Lil’ Wayne, or Jay Z's, “Death of Autotune,” all serve as these catalyst moments.
LL: That's really interesting cause TikTok traditionally has broken that ceiling. The ceiling has to do with age. For the first time you’re really seeing people under 24 years old, the youth, actually curating while being the youth. Rather than having an A&R, doing focus testing and lobbying a radio station. For a single to hit then, you’d have 30 singles to choose from, so single 27 is the one that hits it big, but today you have kids digging and pulling from everywhere and I think that's very important, especially with the globalization and the democratization of taste.
RB: What do you feel like is the current zeitgeist and where do you feel like we're headed and are we better for it?
LL: We're in post-postmodernism, which is hard to describe it's like post-post irony, irony comes from a point of sincerity, post irony is being sincerely ironic about something, but post-post irony is, “I like it. I hate it.” Shrek is a good example where everybody saw like Pacino with the Shrek phone case. Supreme did the Shrek logo shirt and like Balenciaga does like the DHL logo or they do the bags that look like cat food, where it's like it's camp everything's camp, everything's fun. It's abstraction. I'm sure Pacino didn't know, but he did know because his phone case was upside down. So like that was a moment to show like I'm weird, I'm different because it's showing that you don't care by not caring while also caring at the same time. It's weird.
RB: What do you feel like your content is building towards or what else is happening in your brain?
LL: I wanna do something with TV, movies and maybe make more music, curate music. Right now I'm just kind of taking it one day at a time, there's stuff in my head, those ideas that you hold somewhere in your brain? I have a ton of those and I'll pull 'em down when I need 'em when the opportunity arises, you can't just walk into HBO with a script and be like, “Hey, produce this.” It'll be fun to see what happens next.
RB: I know TikTok is such a powerful platform, but it doesn't necessarily always take kindly to self-promotion, but we don't have that rule here so let’s get this out into the universe, let’s get some HBO energy going, you know?
LL: All right, let's go, let's go.
RB: What was one film that made you see the world a little differently after you watched it?
LL: I wish I talked about this more in my YouTube video, but House. The 1977 film by Nobuhiko Obayashi broke the way I thought about movies and what could be done and like how to have fun. It's why I very much view everything the way I do, because House is such a well-made intelligent film from a cinematic standpoint. The consequences of World War II from a Japanese man with the dichotomy of very tonally unserious, but like super, super dark. It makes you think about how you watch Spy Kids, Shrek or Scooby Doo and you approach them very differently. You learn to genuinely have fun without that fear of being like, I'm too good for this. It taught me you can be sincere and smart and still have fun in your own way.
"I'm into breaking down authority and cultural authority."
RB: I love that. Is there a film to you that has just incredible replay value that you would watch time and time again?
LL: Perfect Blue. I can watch it for hours. I've seen it a million times. The Virgin Suicides a lot, it's a sleepy movie. It's cozy. It's very warm. It's very blue. You can fall asleep to that movie. It's not very loud. It's not like Sailor Moon. Midsummer. I like slightly morbid films, but not incredibly morbid. I like to be visually challenged and stimulated, but I do like cozy films. I love a good RomCom. Um, now I have to think of a RomCom. But I'm a Cheerleader — a classic. What’s the one with Jennifer Connelly in Target? Career Opportunities. Cozy simple movies, Love And Basketball, I don't know. There are so many movies.
RB: Which video game has the best soundtrack?
LL: Jet Set Radio Future for sure, perfect. Cibo Matto was on there, fantastic soundtrack, it was in my head before I rediscovered the game. An earworm that had been stuck in my head from childhood. Even as I'm talking to you now the track, The Concept of Love is already stuck in my head.
RB: Who are a handful of people you'd love to have dinner with that are alive.
LL: Ooh, okay. Spike Lee. Rick Owens. Rei Kawakubo. Sophia Coppola., Francis Ford Coppola. And Dennis Rodman. Can't forget Dennis Rodman.
RB: Incredible. We got IT.
LL: Thank you for having me. Take care.