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Living in a Post-Tumblr World

By Callum Foulds

If you are like myself and in the early-mid 2010s may have considered yourself to be an outcast of society; someone that others will never understand; an unmitigated weirdo; too strange for consumption by the general public, then you might have found solace in a website called Tumblr. Despite being inhabited by millennials and older Gen-Zs of countless creeds, Tumblr was the ultimate arena for those with more specific interests and tastes. Countless blogs were devoted to even the very rarest of fandoms, whilst many used the site as a sort of archive for their most treasured online visual or musical content. Even celebrities used the site: famously, The Weeknd shared Lana Del Rey’s, “Video Games” music video, a significant moment that helped spark her popularity in her early career.

Unfortunately, in the past six or seven years or so, Tumblr has become somewhat of a wasteland of what it once was. I, myself, am guilty of mostly abandoning the site, though from time to time revisit in order to reinvigorate my blog with my current aesthetic tastes. With the significant loss of users in the last few years, I wanted to explore what this very specific culture encouraged back in its heyday what it meant to its consumers, and how it has impacted today’s online community.

In my opinion, the absolute peak of Tumblr’s relevance emerged between 2013 and 2014. In the former, debut albums by modern icons, Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX, The 1975, and Yung Lean were unleashed to the world as pop music that was cool and interesting enough for “real” music fans to get behind. The following year produced some of the biggest records that still retain the utmost relevance on Tumblr even today. These include, but are certainly not limited to AM by Arctic Monkeys; LP1 by FKA twigs; 1989 by Taylor Swift; and arguably the holy bible of the site, from the grand-high mother of Tumblr herself, Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey. On my side of Tumblr at least, this music was the glue that brought everything on the site together. What these records had in common was the mood that saturated them, and I believe that this was responsible for the precise aesthetic sensibilities that users became so discerning about. The visuals these records conjured and produced were as equally important as the music: for example, Ultraviolence was swelteringly hot California weather, cigarettes, and old expensive cars; Charli XCX’s True Romance was glitched out computer screens, glitter in the sink at an afterparty and smudged eyeliner. On Tumblr, the artists’ visuals were synonymous with the music, and there was little room for aesthetic diversion. Due to the strict expectations, Tumblr users had for their favourite artists, consciously or not, I believe that a certain sense of connoisseurship was naturally developed within the scene.

I am a firm believer that discerning fans are as important to art as the art itself, and Tumblr backs up this claim. Not every artist had space devoted to them on the site, meaning that certain artists’ “vibes” were not suited. Ultimately, I think this shows the nurturing of aesthetic sensibilities and appreciation. It was a new way of discovering and consuming art, one that made it easier to collect favourite pieces. I would argue that being on Tumblr at this time was an introduction for many people to art appreciation and criticism.

When I think of how Tumblr has influenced today’s use of social media, I immediately think of TikTok and Instagram. The former’s sub-genres, such as book-tok, music-tok, and food-tok, all celebrate specific interests in a similar way that Tumblr once did. It could be argued that the way in which people interact with their hobbies and interests on TikTok stems from the fact that Tumblr is no longer the place to congregate with fellow lovers of said interests. It could also be argued that TikTok is bigger than Tumblr ever was, even at its peak, and therefore what the latter started is having its flame carried onwards by the former. The constant influx of content produced by TikTok users all over the world means that you are perpetually coming across something you have never seen before; in terms of sheer scale and reach, it could be said that TikTok actually achieved what Tumblr was never able to. On the one hand, this is saying that TikTok is a “better” platform. On the other hand, the fact of TikTok’s perpetual growth could be said to mean that there is a significant lack of connoisseurship on the platform, where anything can be uploaded, viewed, and shared millions of times. Where Tumblr was successful, as I’ve previously mentioned, was its discerning user-ship and sense of considered curation.

However, where TikTok perhaps suffers for its lack of curatorial sensibilities, I believe that Instagram has somewhat turned itself around due to Tumblr’s cultural absence. This isn’t to say that it’s a sufficient replacement, but in the past few years, I have noticed accounts cropping up that are solely focused on sharing art or niche interests, instead of their personal lives. As aforementioned, I think Tumblr’s absence has encouraged past users to branch out to other media in order to fulfil their creative and curatorial needs. Whether any of these claims can be justified or simply discredited, it can’t be denied that Tumblr has had a significant impact on the way in which people use social media today.

I miss being on Tumblr. Looking back at my own blog’s archive, I am nostalgic for the excitement and intrigue I felt for newly discovered artistic and musical subcultures, that these days are a part of my daily consumption; for the absolute glee coming across lists of users, “if you like this album, you might like…” lists; for the endless stream of gifs of Lana Del Rey and Alex Turner smoking in black and white. I could go on for what I miss about this unique scene. Fortunately, I do not believe that it is entirely moribund. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram provide users with the opportunity to create a simulation of what was once the definition of alternative online activity, and although they are arguably not sufficient replacements, I believe that a semblance of the spirit of Tumblr is alive and well amongst those are who are willing to keep it going.


About the Writer:

Callum Foulds is a poet and recording artist based in Nottingham, England. They enjoy good food, scary movies and playing with their cat. They can often be found reading on the couch, or agonising over whatever creative venture they are currently embarking on. @cf_oulds


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