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We started our “best of” practice in 2016, when it struck us that we were all pretty cool people who liked a lot of stuff. Most of our editorial meetings become exchanges of the movies, music, books, articles, podcasts, and tv shows we’re watching and loving. We have had informal office townhalls on Bob Dylan, Roxane Gay, and Beyoncé. We have created lists of the top female vocalists of the 20th century and debated the merits of authorship, discussed the role of fandoms, and every drama — no matter how great or how small — that have arisen in the past three years. The “Best of” post has become one of my most favorite rituals for The Smart Set. First, it allows us to reflect on all the material we’ve come across throughout the year and pluck those texts or people that really struck a chord. Second, it allows us to share that joy. We hope that you find below a few samesies from your personal lists and a couple of new things to binge.

  More… “BEST OF 2018”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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One of the small corners of YouTube not dominated by cat videos belongs to the downright oddest and most dismaying cultural oddities of the 21st century: the YouTube boy-celebrity. They aren’t real celebrities; you’ve never heard of them, the entirety of their careers to date has begun, escalated, and flourished without touching your life in any way. But in their insular world, their experience mimics actual celebrity to an uncanny degree: these YouTube boy-celebrities have publicists, social media managers, endorsement deals, and copyrighted brands. They have flunkies whom they feel free to humiliate, overwork, and confront with screamed demands. They pack tens of thousands of hysterical fans into auditoriums for live events like VidCon and Summer in the City. They know how to hold microphones onstage in Dean Martin-old pro styles; they’re visibly terrified during manager-mandated mingles with their audiences; quite a few have been embroiled in sex scandals; they have, almost to an individual, at some point in the last four years yelled the stereotypical celebrity line, “Do you know who I am?”

We don’t know who they are, and their brand optimization management teams aren’t happy about that fact. The central problem with the kind of cross-branding those management teams yearn for derives from the typical YouTube boy-celebrity origin story: a cute, epicene young thing buys a bargain digital camera, sets it up in his bedroom, and proceeds to vamp for attention. They did nothing else but vamp; unlike all previous incarnations of the teen-boy heartthrob crush, these boys were offering only themselves, only these four-minute windows into their bedrooms. David Cassidy and his brother Shaun had to at least make a token effort to sing and act; likewise the Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, who had serious professional dance coaches to learn those intricate floor shows. Even Justin Bieber (discovered on YouTube) made a pretense of having — or wanting to have — musical talent. Not so the YouTube boy-celebrity: with him, all pretense of purpose is stripped away, leaving only the hair, the eyes, the lips … what you see is quite literally the extent of what you get.
More… “Boy Toys”

Steve Donoghue is a reader, editor, and writer living in Boston surrounded by books and dogs. He’s one of the founding editors of the literary journal Open Letters Monthly and the author of one of its book­blogs, Stevereads. HIs work has appeared in The National, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Quarterly Conversation, among others. He tweets as @stdonoghue.

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Tweets get more press, Youtube clips boast a better market cap, blog rants have nostalgia working in their favor — but is there any mode of expression more suited to the web than the before-and-after photo? TakeTwo, a new iPhone app, allows aficionados of the form to use their “before” photos as visual overlays when composing their follow-ups — thus ensuring close matches of perspective and other pictorial variables in shots that may end up being taken months or years apart.

 

It’s a useful tool, but the truth is the before-and-after photo has been ready for the current era of ruthlessly short attention spans and hyper-efficient communication strategies for well over 100 years now. In an 1897 edition of the Denver Medical Times, a contributor notes how well the “before and after photographs” in… More…

“Would you rather be rich or famous?” It’s one of those meaningless questions you ask when you’re trying to crack open the person you’re all smitten and warm and stupid over, when you’re trying to figure out their capacity. And maybe he has the capability to be both, but you want a value system. You want to know who he is and who he will be in 10 years because you maybe want to saddle up next to him.

A Short History of Celebrity by Fred Inglis. 322 pages. Princeton University Press. $29.95.

“Famous.” That was an answer I had to deal with. He thinks Cary Grant when he thinks famous. I think of Jensen Ackles, a heartthrobbish TV actor from Supernatural who is being stalked by a seriously unhinged 19-year-old girl. She has gone online and posted fake interviews by Ackles in which he claims the two are married… More…