Welcome to the May 2020 Urban Culture Curve—your go-to guide to what’s on its way in, and on its way out, in urban culture.
Three months into life in the age of COVID-19, and the first wave of rapid-fire innovation is settling, and maybe—changing the way we eat, shop and think forevermore.
This month, we look at the power of positive headlines in a crisis, the industry emerging to serve our newly-formed at-home dining habits, 5G's unlikely place in pop culture, the dismantling of high maintenance beauty and international shopping, and our new-found enthusiasm for a ballet class.
Here's what's on the rise, and on the slide, in May.
- Positive Publishing
- Phone To Table
- The 5G Network
- High Maintenance Beauty
- Traditional Workouts
- International Shopping
ON THE RISE
In the middle of a crisis—perspective is an extremely potent antidote. Not a vaccine by any means, but a powerful armour in the face of destruction. A headline that reads Now Anything Is Possible is far more charged, open and actionable compared to, The Airline Business Is Terrible. It Will Probably Get Even Worse. Both ideas are true, both are important—but in 2020, a new mode of publishing is hoping to give weight to hope in the news. Being informed has never been so critical, but in an era of dire straits for mental health—new wave constructive journalism or “positive publishing” is paving a way forward in the face of big, unwieldy change.
Reasons To Be Cheerful is a US-based editorial project led by singer-songwriter David Byrne. Its essence isn’t to ignore negative news stories, but rather to find the positive angle in the world’s day-to-day, to place solutions alongside problems and to steer a course towards context and perspective. “Now Anything Is Possible” is the project’s series of stories about changes happening through the coronavirus pandemic, and how to go about making them stick. The bottom line here is that negative headlines ultimately breed disengagement—positivity shines a light on action and possibility.
Vogue Italia’s all-white cover for their April issue leant into the title's long history and its fearless wartime editors like Audrey Withers. According to Editor in Chief Emanuele Farneti, white was chosen to symbolise "a blank page to be filled, the frontispiece of a new story about to begin."
"I know that [Vogue's] noblest tradition is never to look the other way," he explained. "Because... to be passive is to consent to the status quo."
At Urban List, culture, curiosity and affinity for change are close to our core. With the reveal of our sustainability vertical, we are hoping to help paint a positive vision for the future, to guide our audience towards positive action for both people and the planet. While we’ve been conceptualising it all for many months, we felt that now—more than ever—was the time to shine a light on living your best life sustainably, encouraging change and new, positive thinking. You can read more about our sustainability vertical here.
Phone To Table
Across the last few months, every industry has had to be inventive and fast to survive. Necessary, rapid-fire innovation has seen some businesses actually thrive in the face of the raging storm. In the hospitality space—possibly the most consumer-facing but universal of all businesses—some new modes of dining have emerged that will, we think, hang around long after this strange, kind of terrifying era fades.
We’re talking about boutique bottle shops gearing up for same-day metropolitan booze delivery, wholesalers switching to consumer models with the aim of better supporting local suppliers, virtual-only restaurants, cashier-less grocery stores and the new, evolving art of translating the DNA of a restaurant to a takeaway, almost-ready or DIY at-home experience.
With over 50 venues in its portfolio—and some of the city’s most coveted among them—Sydney hospitality juggernaut Merivale has fast-tracked an at-home dining idea to adapt. “Merivale at Home” is their answer, but it’s not just a COVID-19 band-aid. The concept is this: iconic, high-end Merivale restaurants giving you all that you need to create the same experience at home. Beautiful, near-ready ingredients hand-delivered by Merivale’s impeccable staff, recipe instructions written by the head chef, and matched wines from Merivale’s master sommeliers. It’s a hands-on spin on your standard lazy takeout, involving actual cooking, but it’s a new way of experiencing the restaurant brand that you know and love.
In New York City, one of the world’s greatest culinary cities and, tragically, one of the most hard-hit by COVID-19, a new class of contactless, "phone-to-table" dining has emerged. Sam's Crispy Chicken is a new virtual restaurant chain, with four outlets in the States, including NYC. Likewise, Krispy Rice is a delivery-only restaurant in LA. Publishers are playing too: Bon Apetit Delivered is a meal-delivery service from the legendary recipe bible, Bon Apetit, available in Chicago only.
The 5G Network
The conspiracy theories around 5G and its (alleged) role in spreading COVID-19 through the network’s radiation have caused a pretty major stir in 2020 (YouTube has actually committed to removing resources that back this idea). Wacky theories aside, 5G has earned its place in pop culture for a few reasons.
First up, if you’re not totally across what 5G is, it basically means “fifth generation” mobile network, much like its predecessors of 4G (which most of us use each day), 3G, 2G and 1G. Each of these epochs of mobile connectivity has gradually meant devices can respond to each other that much faster through a wireless network. This guy has basically been dubbed the “wireless revolution” and the big focus here may mean increased speed and responsiveness of wireless networks. Or, basically—less loading time when you’re cruising around YouTube, better streaming on home-based virtual reality headsets, more wireless coverage in rural areas, automation of appliances around the house, 3D holograms and more integrated wearables.
In Australia, it’s Telstra (which was the first telco to roll 5G out), Vodafone and Optus that have already switched on 5G in limited areas. On top of this, they’re in the process of expanding this network further and 5G broadband plans and phones already exist for consumers to compare and choose from.
Although we’re technically in a more experimental stage of 5G (with the network’s real impact predicted to be felt around 2022), COVID-19 has generated an increasing demand for it. From a consumer perspective, the pandemic has pushed more people online whether that be to keep entertained on Netflix or Twitch, keeping in contact with friends and family through the likes of Zoom and House Party, or even to keep life rolling on through virtual house tours, workouts and virtual gigs.
For governments, the increased demand for 5G will stem from innovating how the fast network could potentially alleviate operational and safety risks with countries like the US, Finland and Germany already investing in 5G for civilian, first responder and military purposes.
ON THE SLIDE
High Maintenance Beauty
Though the general gravity of the economic, social and even emotional impact of COVID-19 can’t be undermined, it’d be remiss to say this rethinking of society’s way of life hasn’t been beneficial in some parts.
Taking a dive into the health and beauty side of things, a shift towards less filtered appearances has been on the up for millennial and Gen Z communities for a while now. Lived out among the beauty hive minds of Instagram and Youtube, an idea that has really gained traction in the face of the coronavirus crisis has been the natural hair movement. With various social distancing and quarantine restrictions limiting consumers' routine beauty appointments, Instagram has been a sharing haven for many who are embracing their real hair for the first time in their adult lives. Hashtags like #quarantinecurls and #quarantinenaturalhairchronicles have garnered thousands of posts with celebrities like Gabrielle Union switching out weaves and extensions to, more or less, take some time to invest in some R&R for their locks.
In a time of crisis, high maintenance beauty feels irrelevant and unimportant. Vanity is a privilege for the time-rich. The economic situation has forced us to reconsider what we truly value. A heavily circulated image of a happily makeup-free Kylie Jenner, queen of the filtered aesthetic, signals a totally new, carefree natural notion of beauty. But will this new-found love of our bare-all beautiful flaws last beyond quarantine? Like we've learned to love restaurants from the comfort of our own homes, we think this one's going to hang around. Maybe in the future—we'll lean into the idea that makeup is for art and pleasure, not so much a mask to hide behind.
It’s no shock that fitness was a huge priority when COVID-19 restrictions hit—Australia has a sports-heavy, gym-junkie culture. Fitness is a way of life, a symbol of good health and a part of the lifestyle we all aspire to—it's written into the Australian dream, along with backyards, barbecues and beaches. Australia's health and fitness industry was quick to adapt, going totally digital in a matter of days with at-home Instagram Live sweat sessions and YouTube workouts. And while parks and streets in Aussie cities were quickly flooded with a new fleet of joggers, the enthusiasm to test out alternative styles of fitness, from the safety of our loungeroom, has totally peaked in the age of quarantine.
At Urban List, articles around alternative forms of fitness have garnered tens of thousands of page views. Like 80s-style aerobics classes (the search term “90s aerobics videos” has also spiked around 200% since mid-March on Google), Sydney Dance Company’s virtual dance classes and The Australian Ballet’s free online workshops. The ability to try your hand at pirouettes and jazzercise in the comfort and privacy of your loungeroom is seeing people jump out from the shadows and dive in. This mass eagerness for weird and wonderful workouts may never translate to real-time studio attendance post-corona—but a case for virtual fitness in great variety has definitely been made.
A rally cry to support local brands, businesses and retailers is growing louder and louder as 2020 rolls on. Aside from the more practical limitations COVID-19 has created—like slower delivery schedules, shuttered borders, less cash to burn, battered industries and closed-down warehouses—new-found community connectivity has brought with it a desire to shop local.
Summer's devasting bushfires inspired initiatives like Spend With Them and Empty Esky. COVID-19 brought with it fresh challenges for many of the same businesses and many more, inspiring similar Instagram call-outs, like #WeWearAustralian—a joint initiative supported by Klarna of Australian fashion brands to help ensure the industry’s survival through this unprecedented time, with brands choosing to donate a portion of proceeds to sustainable eco-fashion initiatives Thread Together and Dress For Success. Participants included The Daily Edited, Bassike, Matteau, We Are Kindred and Le Specs.
No doubt, COVID-19 has curbed spending in Australia, but as restrictions ease from state to state, consumer confidence is returning (retail spending was up 70 percent in Queensland in the last week of April, according to Kepler Analytics). But 2020's reign of terror won't be quickly forgotten, nor will the blooming sense of community in its wake.
Stay connected with all things urban culture right here.
Design credit: Kate Mason