The Boys of Buzznet

4.16.2008

By Japhy Grant

I meet self-described 'gay god' Matthew Lush backstage after the Jared Gold fashion show in Los Angeles's historic Union Station. Gold is a young designer from Utah who designs the sorts of things Marie Antoinette would wear to a Neko Case concert. Matthew's hair is teased up in a powdery-blue bouffant that makes him look like a human Q-Tip, and we're cramped in a tiny hallway that doubles as a dressing room; a steady stream of models, photographers, and glitterati glower at us for being in their way. Nobody seems to realize that Matthew is huge on the Internet.

That changes as soon as he walks out into the crowd. The conceit of this show would never fly during New York's prestigious fashion week, but in L.A. the industry has long been more focused on stars than, well, style. The models at this show are all 'Internet celebrities,' and in an egalitarian publicity stunt, tickets were offered up on the Web. Not that these ticket holders are allowed to get close to the stage -- velvet ropes and separate entrances keep the hoi polloi at a comfortable distance from the usual fashion crowd -- but after the show all bets are off.

This explains why a couple dozen tween girls are mobbing Matthew as their mothers stand around and share bewildered looks. 'Oh, my God, it's Matthew!' shouts one girl, running over for a hug. I ask another why she likes Matthew, and she answers in a breathless incantation: 'He wants to stop global warming, and he cares about people, and he's really nice!' She pulls out an actual pen-and-paper autograph book and waits patiently for her turn.

There are so many reasons to dismiss Matthew Lush that we might as well get them out of the way: He's 19. His primary cultural contributions are online videos in which he pushes PETA's pro-animal agenda or talks about how he won't date boys who are meat eaters. In one clip he attaches himself with Velcro to the walls of an elevator. And he always seems to believe his own hype.

Maybe he should. It's far too easy to call Matthew, Jeffree Star and others like them self-absorbed narcissists -- like, duh. Whatever their other talents may be, the reigning royalty of the Internet are first and foremost experts at self-promotion. The reality is they're very good at it, having quickly become stars to the most-sought-after market in the world -- the tween and teen audience that companies like Disney will spend billions of dollars this year wooing.

But unlike the products of that sanitized High School Musical factory, these stars are outrageously, unapologetically queer. One 14-year-old girl at a time, they're beating the hype machine at its own game.

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