The Montreal-Based Creative On Making Memes that Change the World: An Interview With Gothshakira

We talk to the queen of memes about her process and influence on others

Photo credit Rebecca Storm for SSENSE

As part of “Influence Now”, a series exploring the role of the “influencer” on contemporary culture, we interviewed five people whose work has shaped and influenced their fields in various ways. “Influence Now” will appear in SLEEK 57; subscribe to Sleek here.

Explore the rest of the “Influence Now” seriesKimberly Drew / Jerry Saltz / Emily Segal / Gabriel Held

When SLEEK first contacts Gothshakira, it’s been two months since she’s published an Instagram meme. It’s September, and in lieu of the wry, confessional- style content that her 59,600 followers have grown to love, the Montreal-based creative (whose real name is Dre) has instead posted three iPhone screenshots of content ideas, drugstore shopping lists and a photo of a late victim of transphobic violence. “Sometime after I went viral, it wasn’t fun anymore,” she explains some time later. “But last week I made the first meme I’ve made in months, which is about 69 eons in internet time.”

The silence-breaking viral reads “actually it’s my boyfriend and i only fuck to beach house not me and my boyfriend only fuck to beach house” superimposed over a video still of Britney Spears. Showcasing her ability to intertwine pop cultural relevance with publicised emotional vulnerability, the post proves that despite her brief absence from the fastpaced world of feminist meme-making, she still has it. “As much as I’d like to tell myself the process [of creating shareable posts] is organic, nothing is truly authentic or honest,” she says, “[Mine] is as organic as a late-capitalist simulation allows it to be. God, I sound like such an asshole.”

In February, Dre participated in the LA exhibition “by any memes necessary”, which centred on internet culture as a form of catharsis. Not long after, she was contacted by Gucci and contributed to the viral campaign #TFWGucci. Good or bad, 2016 has seen everyone from Ikea to Alexander Wang capitalising on memes to garner attention. And while Dre is quick to admit the corniness of her art, she believes it has the ability to spark wider discussion on issues such as cultural appropriation. “Big brands co-opting memes is indicative of a certain period and place in space-time that I think we will look back on, even if only to cringe.

That being said, important discussions have been happening regarding ownership over memes, and the extent to which their re-imagination by big brands constitutes cultural appropriation of humour originally conceived by black communities.” Admitting that it’s part of the reason for her absence from Instagram, she says, “One of the most significant things I’ve learned through being Goth Shakira is that sometimes listening is more important than creating. The ethics of content generation in an online culture of mimicry and reproduction is something that I hope we prioritise as time goes by.”

Today, Dre may confidently refuse to follow trends, but she doesn’t deny that there are demands to do so. “There’s a lot of pressure for Instagram content creators to keep up some sort of cohesive aesthetic and brand, even within a femme confessional meme community that is supposedly based on honesty, fragility, messiness and vulnerability. I make stuff how and when I want. But again, now knowing that claiming authenticity is in and of itself inauthentic, I can’t pretend that I’m above trying to keep up appearances online.”

Though she’s back to her old ways of content production, Dre confesses she couldn’t be happier with how her IRL-life has progressed, too. When not on the internet, she spends her time between working at a tech company and singing in a band. So what’s her secret to success? “Live, laugh, love, bonch. What else is there?” Amen.

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