Before “normcore” was a runner up for the Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the year,” before Jerry Seinfeld became the trend’s unofficial brand ambassador, before New York Magazine introduced it to the world, there were just five 20-somethings were on an art project.
Calling themselves K-HOLE, they created free PDFs of their version of “forecasting” trends. It didn’t come from any survey data or calculated research. It didn’t focus on fashion or tech or any one piece of consumerism. It was their collected observations on branding, presented through the lens of New York City artists.
Normcore, their moniker for being purposefully normal-looking, was just one of many observations, but it was the one that went viral. Now the K-HOLE team is trusted by corporations as clairvoyant trendspotters of their generation, and they have released a new report.
Here’s where we would tell you what it’s all about. What the new “normcore” is going to be!
Except, it doesn’t totally make sense.
And they know that.
“The people who are expecting us to have the next great insight are going to be like, ‘WTF? Who are these crazy people, why are they saying this stuff, why are they talking about ‘Magic the Gathering’ and squirrels or whatever?'” said K-HOLE member Greg Fong.
The 36-page report is filled with bright colors, odd photos and ramblings about an idea they call “chaos magic.”
“On a bargain basement level, Chaos Magic lives in the same realm as the cult of positive thinking,” it says. “But it goes beyond making mood boards of high end apartments you’d like to will into your possession. Belief becomes a technology that creates change.”
The five members of K-Hole, Fong, Sean Monahan, Emily Segal, Chris Sherron and Dena Yago, spent a year mulling these observations with each other. The product doesn’t read like any sort of formal report. Instead, it feels a bit like someone’s art-filled acid trip.
Under page headers like the words “HACK YOUR LIZARD BRAIN” superimposed over a photo of an IV in an arm, there are some smart, witty insights (“The facial equivalent of going outside without your contacts in, BB creams promised to smear your face into a blurry little cloud”) followed by confusing poetic musings (“Chaos Magic isn’t just believing in The Secret, it’s deciding to believe in The Secret to begin with”).
It’s hard to imagine the authors sitting in a board room advising companies including Coach and Stella Artois, but that’s the role they find themselves in. As “normcore” — a word they re-purposed from a comic strip — took on a life of its own in popular culture and mainstream jargon, companies discovered K-HOLE.
— Michael Kors (@MichaelKors) January 9, 2015
Startups, big name brands, even insurance corporations want K-HOLE to help them connect with the next generation of consumers.
“They want us to be millennial whisperers,” Monahan said.
Intrigued by the money (they were working day-jobs to support their art) and the chance to see their work on a bigger stage, they morphed their art collective into a legitimate trend-forecasting business. K-HOLE helps companies craft conceptual ideas that will eventually inform their branding and advertising.
At crowdfunding site Kickstarter, they met with employees to discuss the social disconnect that comes from interacting solely online. At the end of a summer of those conversations, K-HOLE put together a PDF of theories about the way people connect on the Internet. Though the report had a works-cited page, there wasn’t any actual data-collection involved.
“It was more observational and anecdotal,” said Michael McGregor, Kickstarter’s vice president of communications. “Like, these guys seem to be the smartest, most thoughtful critical thinkers out there, we wonder what they think about this whole new world we are in.”
Some numbers-driven analysts might be critical of putting trust and money into the observations of a group of artists. Acclaimed trendspotter Marian Salzman uses a mix of consumer data, surveys, interviews and media word-usage counts to inform her predictions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean K-HOLE isn’t credible, she said.
“The question is, are they getting it right?” Salsman said, referencing the group’s understanding of youth culture. “I think they are good storytellers and obviously artful trendspotters.”
Her one concern is their name, K-HOLE. It’s a reference to the out-of-body state experienced by a person on ketamine, a medical anesthetic used as a psychedelic street drug. The artists wanted it to represent the idea that consumerism isn’t something that happens outside of you, it’s something you do no matter who you are.
They weren’t really thinking of explaining the idea to corporate suits when they came up with it.
“There’s always one person in the room, always one guy who is like ‘hah, I know,'” Yago said.
Those clients are likely to be confused by the latest report, especially the main takeaway of chaos magic.
Asking the group to explain the idea doesn’t exactly simplify it: “For us magic became this sort of tool where very entropic, almost random-seeming change can happen, to kind of get us out of our own stuck-ness in some way,” Fong said.
They say they are looking for real, unexplainable magic in the world, not the kind of manufactured magic we are expected to be amazed by, like same-day delivery or impressive gadgets. If they don’t want their magic to be manufactured by brands, what do they want brands — their now-clients — to do?
“We don’t care what brands do with it,” Segal said. “This isn’t about brands. This is about us.”