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March 29, 2023 30 mins

In this episode, Joanne delves into how MySpace—like reality TV—became a vehicle for celebrity in the aughts, and gave way to the culture of influencers. She catches up with people who built a fan base on the platform. 

Special thanks to our guests Bridget Todd (host of There Are No Girls on the Internet); Taylor Lorenz (technology columnist for The Washington Post); and Hanna Beth (one of the first people to become MySpace Famous).  

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:10):
This is an I heeart original. If the beginning of
Tila Tequila being on my radar as this, like, you know,
my Space influencer for being a queer woman of color,
if that was like the promise of the Internet. The
day that I saw that image of her in my
hometown in DC doing a Nazi salute at a restaurant

(00:31):
with a bunch of alt right dirtbags, that was the
nail in the coffin. And so I feel like that
moment for me really crystallized where we started and unfortunately
where we wound up. I'm Joanne McNeil, and this is
main accounts the story of my Space Episode three, MySpace Famous.

(00:55):
In this episode, we're going to discuss how MySpace, like
reality TV, became a vehicle for celebrity. The people who
became famous through the platform gave way to the culture
of influencers. MySpace felt like a party. I've heard a

(01:15):
few people make this comparison when I've talked about the
platform with them. Recently. Julia Angwin said it in the
first episode of our series. My Space was definitely a
party atmosphere, and my friend Dorothy Santos said it too
when we were reminiscing about it the other day. So
I wasn't really seeing my Space as a professional platform.

(01:38):
I saw it as this kind of digital party that
just would I could pop in anytime. Well, what's something
people usually want to know about a party before they
show up? Who is going to be there? The answer
was Tila Tequila was that very mind you go, Miss Tila. Also,

(02:02):
Tila was the party before my Space. Tila was a
model and playboy and car shows. In two thousand and three,
she appeared on Surviving Nugents, a reality show on H
one hosted by Ted Nugent on his Texas ranchmen. I
can't handle this moral. But it was social media that

(02:27):
made Tila famous, the very first MySpace kind of influencer
celebrity that I was very, very interested in, and like,
she was on my Top eight and it was this person,
Tila Tequila. When I think about, like, who was the
first MySpace big account, it was her. That's Bridge Todd,
host of the podcast There Are No Girls on the

(02:49):
Internet on my Space way back when. Bridget was one
of Tila's hundreds of thousands of fans. One of the
notable things about her is that she was openly queer,
and you know, I'm queer and she's a person of color.
I'm a person of color, and I remember thinking like, wow,
how cool, Like this famous person of color, you know,
has a platform around the fact that she's queer. Tila,

(03:14):
the daughter of the Enemy's immigrants, was no heiress like
Paris Hilton. Her parents didn't have a lot of money.
She had to hustle to get her name out in
the world. The Internet was part of that hustle. I
haven't an indiction. Theis yes, okay, So my therapist is

(03:36):
that I have a highly indicted personality, and you know
I do. So it's I'm indict So I'm always sweeting
on my life, trying to fans. I do this, do that,
and I'm indicted to shopping, I'm indicted sex, you know whatever.

(03:56):
This is how people came to know Tila Tequila. She
sent friend requests to hundreds and hundreds of people. First,
she did this on Friendster, and Tila ran into some
trouble doing this because Friendster, compared to my Space, did
not feel like a party. Friendster was pretty rigid about rules.

(04:25):
In the summer of two thousand and three, friends started
cracking down on accounts known as fakesters, accounts that represented
anything other than a user's real identity. So you might
have seen a Marilyn Monroe fakester that was a user
impersonating Marilyn Monroe on Friendster, or you might have come

(04:49):
across a snowy Owl fakester and people obsessed with birdwatching
would have friended that account. The fakesters became sort of
like community pages, but Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams hated them.
He hired a bunch of moderators to remove them all.

(05:15):
A group of these outlaw fisters came together and wrote
an open letter protesting Friendster's policy. The ringleader was someone
who went by Roy Batti on frintster, you know, like
the Replicate and blade Runner. The corporate masters at Frinster
should be thrilled that they have such a vibrant online

(05:38):
community as they now have on their hands. What they
forget is that a living community, by definition, has a
life of its own. Deleting the photos indoor entire accounts
of fasters is going to rudely, terribly backfire against the
management of this site and will ultimately take the entire community,

(05:59):
real or parodied, down with it. The rumblings of decept
are already grown, getting outer by the minute. If Friendster
wants to see all of the good will, an excellent
word of mouth and is generated go down and scorching,
smoking very public flames, then they can go right ahead
with their little extermination campaign. The Internet is a big place,

(06:23):
and we can easily take our party somewhere else, to
a site where we are not only tolerated, but enthusiastically embraced.
You know where they took that party my Space. I mean,
of course, the faxters went to my Space. Friendster was

(06:47):
so aggressive about kicking out fasters that it impacted people
using their real identities on the platform too. This happened
to Tila Tequila. She kept getting kicked off Friendster for
adding too many friends. Tila knew about my Space because
Tom Anderson had been an flying acquaintance. He sent her

(07:09):
a bunch of invites to join MySpace, but she declined
it wasn't cool. In Tila's mind. MySpace wasn't a party yet.
The site had just launched, and no one was really
on MySpace yet except for euniverse staff, and they're immediate friends. Still,
it was a hassle dealing with Friendster mods. Each time

(07:31):
Tela's account was deleted from Friendster, she'd have to rebuild
her list of friends manually add all of her friends again.
And in September two thousand and three, when Tila got
kicked off Friendster for the fifth time, she'd had enough.
Tila finally took Tom up on his offer, and Tila

(07:53):
didn't just sign up for MySpace, she invited everyone she
knew on Friendster to join her there. At this point,
after months of strategies to evade Friendster mods, she had
tens of thousands of friends on friends to earth, MySpace
exploded with thousands of new users. By two thousand and six,

(08:16):
Tila had over a million MySpace friends. It's possible MySpace
never would have taken off without Tila. If she had
declined Tom's invitation, social media history might have gone another way,
and without MySpace we probably never would have heard about
Tila Tequila. Tila was a new kind of star, someone

(08:40):
who became famous because of the Internet. Sure, on MySpace
you called each other friends, but what Tila and many
other Internet celebrities were collecting, we're really just fans. Something
about her really represents the sort of duality of all
of our Internet experiences, and what happened next in Tila's
career feels representative of how social media itself has changed.

(09:05):
I think about her all the time. It's just such
an interesting case study for what social media and the
Internet can do to people. On the one hand, it
can be this like fabulous way to connect and to
like see yourself and be seen and build a platform
around that. On the other hand, it can be so dark.

(09:30):
You had these people that kind of became known from
my space and from this particular scene and had a
very like definitive aesthetic and sort of cults around them.
That's Taylor the Runs, a technology reporter at the Washington Post.
Those people today would be just regular influencers. What actually

(09:53):
is an influencer When we use that word, what are
we talking about? I think of it as somebody who
creates content and sort of monetizes that content through social
platforms or build an audience through social platforms. So they're
almost independent media companies where there are people that have
a lot of times developed an audience for around their

(10:15):
own personality, but it can also be around a certain
interest or style or whatever, and then they monetize that
online audience basically, I guess someone who builds and then
monetizes an online audience. Taylor makes an interesting distinction. People
figured out how to get famous on MySpace, but it
wasn't exactly a business, not like what you see with

(10:40):
internet celebrity is on Twitch or YouTube or Instagram these days.
MySpace was pretty like embedded in sort of the music industry,
not quite the way TikTok is now, but music was
a strong culture of MySpace, and so you had a
lot of people growing audiences on the platform and using
that to get a record deal, you know, or sell

(11:01):
out shows or promote themselves. And then you kind of
had these more like individ jewel figures that I think
seemed like kind of like party type of people. And
then you of course had celebrities using it as well,
like you know, Katie Perry again, because it was sort
of like music adjacent, and Jeffrey Starr started in music.

(11:24):
Jeffrey Star, like Tila Tequila, was another larger than life
MySpace superstar. He had an iconic look, mac makeup, hot
pink hair, a look that you could instantly identify in
a thumbnail profile picture. He got famous for creating drama

(11:45):
and feuding with other MySpace celebrities. But to be honest,
Jeffrey Stars deal, I don't get it. Hello, Hey god,
it's Jeffrey Star. Yeah. Well if it have Fox with me,
they canna die? Okay, love too by Why does someone
follow up? Or something like jeff Freestar, Like, what do

(12:07):
the users who follow the page of a celebrity on
MySpace get from that interaction? Well, a lot of it
was like aspiration around kind of like emo culture or
like esthetics. It was like people with a certain esthetic,
and you would follow these people because they were like
a lot of modern day influencers or content creators, they

(12:30):
were kind of aspirational figures for that era where they
were kind of leading this cool party girl lifestyle or
they had like, you know, awesome tattoos and makeup and
this aesthetic that people really gravitated to. On MySpace, people
could advertise themselves. Users would post comments like thanks for

(12:52):
the ad when someone added them as friends. The visibility
was in a way its own reward. Jeffree Starr could
get gigs for his band through MySpace. Tila Tequila found
modeling and acting opportunities through it. But this happened informally,
and mind you, most people on MySpace were not trying

(13:15):
to be Tila or Jeffrey. My Space was never really
like pushing you to like become a creator. You mostly
just like looked at other people's pages. The stakes were
so low for the average user, and nothing on the
internet feels that way now. And if he did become
famous on my Space, it wasn't entirely clear what that

(13:37):
would even bring you. I never had a strategy because
there was no such thing as being an influencer back then,
so like I literally was just posting my life and
I guess people enjoyed it, so then I kind of
built a following. That's Hannah Beeth. She wasn't an influencer,
but she was definitely my Space famous. I never had

(13:58):
like a plan where I was like, oh, yeah, like
I'm going to do this and like that's how many followers.
I literally just did it because I was having fun,
and then a following through from that, and people seemed
to enjoy to watch me and my friends kind of
live our lives. So Hannah Bath was in high school
in southern California, where she ran in similar circles with
Jeffrey Starr they were in each other's top eight. Hannah

(14:21):
Bath had an offbeat fashion sense, which came through in
the picture she posted to my Space. When I first
started on my Space, when I was probably like around
fifteen or so, I was very into like kind of
like a vintage like punk look. I was listening to
a lot of like late seventies punk bands. My cut
my hair really short, and I just like it was

(14:42):
kind of like a vintage punk golf look that I
was going with. But I'd wear like all these like
wild vintage clothing, like a vintage wedding dress or something crazy.
Hundreds of thousands of people visited her page just to
look at her, and then it kind of went from
that to like, as I was getting older and kind
of finding like who I was, the whole kind of

(15:03):
like scene kid thing was starting and I had made
friends with a few other girls that were also kind
of like my Space people, and I guess we started
the whole kind of scene girl look or vibe, and
then that was just that took off. I mean, I'd like,
like look at the photos now and like I feel
like it looks ridiculous, But like back then, like I

(15:25):
don't know, we thought we looked like so cool. My
space became a huge part of handabouts daily life. She
even traveled across the country to meet friends she met
on my Space. So I think I was like fifteen
or sixteen. I met this girl who lived in Minnesota,
and like she had messaged me because I always wore
like these like blue in extensions because that was a

(15:46):
big thing back then, which was horrible for your hair.
And she was like, yeah, look, i'd loved it. It's
like you did my extensions. And I was like, yeah,
for sure. So if my dad got me a ticket
to Minnesota, so about to meet this random girl. I
ended up staying with her for like a week or
like maybe two weeks even, and I made all of
these friends. In Minnesota, I met someone else that I
knew from my Space, and it was like such a

(16:08):
fun and awesome time. I feel like my space could
kind of bring you together like that. Like I feel
like now there's maybe like more danger going on on
the internet, but back then maybe because it was so new,
but I'm sure there was danger there as well. I
don't know, everyone was kind of like in this scene
and everyone kind of knew everyone, or there was just
some kind of like you felt more safe just meeting
up with random people. Part of what drew her to

(16:29):
connect to people online, even travel across the country to
meet people, was that her offline life could be rough.
On my Space, Hannah Bath was glamorous, a scene queen.
At her high school, people made fun of her for
dressing the way she did. At that time in my life,

(16:52):
I was like getting bullied really bad. I was dealing
with like self harm, and I was just like very
depressed and all of that. And I was very open
about all of my struggles through like my blogging and
my rioting, so the people I was connecting with knew
like the real me, and I feel like that's why
I was so drawn to it. I just started like
posting like things I liked, and then people like like

(17:14):
that as well. And I love being able to like
express my fashion through my Space because I feel like
I got bullied a lot for like how I looked
in my style, and then on my Space people like
loved how I look looked up to me and like
loved my style. So it was like a whole different
thing for me because I was like, I'm such a
loser at school. And then when I'm like online, I

(17:35):
was becoming this like my Space girl, and I don't know,
it was just it was a trip with the attention
she garnered from my Space, Hannah Beeth built a career,
first as a blogger with Buzznet and later working in fashion,
including a spot on the reality TV show House of DBF.
A competition to become a brand ambassador for Diane von

(17:57):
Furst at Berg, Hannah Beeth won. Hannah Beeth was never
Kardashian style famous, but people paid attention to her in
a way that didn't really happened to ordinary people before
the Internet. There are blogs dedicated to MySpace stars, and
these people were kind of covered in other Internet like
subcommunities and forums places like Sticky Drama. But for other

(18:23):
MySpace celebrities, the Internet was a double edged sword. They
faced harassment online where they built their fate. People would
set up blogs about MySpace stars and they would sort
of speculate on different things. They would try and find
information on these people, and a lot of the comment
section would be other fans and they would kind of

(18:44):
all Sometimes it was really positive, and then obviously some
of it turned extremely dark, where you had kind of
the worst of Internet comment culture attacking these people, and
they had stalkers and harassment and safety problems. Unlike movie stars,
the MySpace famous probably didn't have the money to hire

(19:06):
body ards, they didn't have representation agents, managers invested in
their career longevity, and it all came at the cost
of privacy. All of that stuff was so niche and
so misunderstood at the time, Like now we have this
concept of online safety. There wasn't that in the two thousands,

(19:28):
So you know, these a lot of women were kind
of like building audiences, getting micro fame and had this
like dedicated group of people on the Internet that was
obsessed with them, But there wasn't like there weren't really
like guardrails around any of it. They were almost like

(19:48):
too accessible to their fandoms. Like now there's this like
you think of influencers as celebrities, so you kind of
almost respect them a little bit more, whereas back then,
I think my Space stars felt almost like too much,
like like they were too kind of on the level
of normal people alomost and so like average people just

(20:10):
felt entitled to be horrible to them. The visibility the
users like Tila Tequila could attain on MySpace was like
a hyper popularity I think, the most popular kid at
high school times a thousand and in some ways it

(20:31):
could be more invasive than a traditional celebrity experience because
my Space, like every social network, was designed for looking
at others, surveilling others. People clicked on other people's profiles
and assessed them from a distance, and there was no

(20:51):
blueprint for it, Like there was no understanding of online
fame at that point, so people people, I think, had
less boundaries. And then also, you know, the mid two
thousands was kind of like peak reality fame and kind
of like this really toxic type of celebrity, Like that

(21:13):
was like that whole Britney, Paris Lindsay era where it
was like this culture of access. No other form of
entertainment defines the aughts like reality television. Survivor and Big

(21:38):
Brother both debuted in two thousand and shows like The
Bachelor The Osbourne's an American idol arrived shortly after. These
programs could be made cheaply. New software had just made
it easier to edit down large quantities of video footage.
Producers didn't have to hire professional actors or screenwriters. It's

(22:03):
no coincidence that the reality TV boomped while this screen
Actor's Guild and later the Writer's Guild, we're negotiating streaming
royalties with reality TV. Celebrities projected the illusion of living
ordinary lives, while ordinary people projected the illusion of celebrity.

(22:26):
It was a lot like the immediacy and intimacy that
early online celebrities like Tila Tequila offered their friends on MySpace.
Tom Anderson even said in an interview once he thought
of MySpace as the reality TV of the Internet. It
felt inevitable then that Tila Tequila would leverage her online

(22:47):
popularity with a reality show of her own. In two
thousand and seven, a Shot at Love debut, Tila Tequila
began her quest for love. I'm a bisexual this season
on A Shot at Love. It was the first reality
dating show featuring a bisexual person. She got a reality

(23:11):
show on MTV called Shot at Love with Tila Tequila,
and the confit was that you know, she's a queer
girl looking for love and that the house was going
to be filled with both women and men because she's queer.
Me and my friends, like my queer circle of friends.
When I say that we watched this show religiously, like
we had parties what we thought. It was so earnest.

(23:32):
It was one of MTB's biggest releases that year and
ran for a couple of seasons. Tela appeared to be
doing really well in the late odds. She made music
and published a book, and she made some savvy business
decisions to monetize her fame, working with Joe Francis, he

(23:53):
of the Girl's Gone Wild franchise. She set up a
website called Tela's hot Spot, where she had a blog
and webcam and basically posted the kind of content she
had on my Space, but on a website of her own.
Tila even appeared to be settling down. In two thousand
and nine, she was engaged to Casey Johnson, the Johnson

(24:15):
and Johnson Heiress, but then tragedy struck. She was young,
beautiful and an heiress to an empire. Now Casey Johnson's
sudden death has many asking how and why. At the
end of two thousand and nine and the beginning of
two and ten was very hard for me, And as

(24:38):
you can tell, during those times, I made lots of
headlines of meltdowns, and you know that was my way
of like when you lose someone and I didn't know
how to cope. Casey died of diabetes complications. It was
only a month after they announced their engagement. Things went
down help from there. In two and twelve, Tila was

(25:01):
hospitalized after a drug overdose and a brain aneurism. It
had been a suicide att In twenty fifteen, Tela prepared
to come back and joined the cast of Celebrity Big Brother,
then post resurface of Tila two years earlier in twenty thirteen,
defending Hitler on her blog and posing a Nazi regalia.

(25:24):
She was kicked out of the house because of it.
Tila apologized. Tela called it a terrible mistake. In a
statement posted to social media, She mentioned her suicide attempt
and said she suffered from severe depression and addiction. In
her words, I felt worthless and unloved as that pain

(25:45):
continued to grow, causing me to further spiral out of control.
And then she reiterated that she is absolutely, one hundred
percent not a Nazi supporter. Tila's apology sounded heartfelts, and
maybe it was. But two months later, Tila posted a

(26:06):
photo of her baby daughter with a Hitler mustache and
for Bridget, who had followed Tila's career for over a
decade by that point. It was heartbreaking. And I remember
watching her trajectory from being this person that I loved
and really admired as like a queer woman of color,

(26:27):
watching her go from someone who like that was her
thing in my mind to the way that now she
basically was like radicalized on the Internet and via the
alt right. In twenty sixteen, Tila's photographed giving a Nazi
salute at a conference with white nationalists in Washington, DC.
If the beginning of Tila Tequila being on my radar

(26:50):
as this like my Space influencer for being a queer
woman of color, if that was like the promise of
the Internet. The day that I saw that image of
her in my hometown in DC doing a Nazi salute
at a restaurant with a bunch of alt right dirt bags,
that was the ail in the coffin. And so I
feel like that moment for me really crystallized where we

(27:11):
started and unfortunately where we wound up. But those early
days were so full of promise, and then that picture
is like burned in my mind of because of platforms
like MySpace, this was a person who allowed me to
see part of myself that I was still getting comfortable with,
and then where we wound up was so dark and
so sad and so heavy. For others, fame on MySpace

(27:37):
came as easily as it went. You had people like
Tila Tequila go on to become a reality star because
that was the only kind of attainable access to quote
unquote like mainstream fame in the two thousands was like
reality shows. But even then, like going on a reality
show doesn't mean that you yourself profit very much. So

(27:58):
I think all the people from that era kind of
fell off and never really were able to capture the
true value of the brand that they built back then.
A few MySpace celebrities dropped out of the public eye
by choice, including Hannahbath. I think just like as I
got older, I just started to enjoy like having like
my privacy a bit more now, and I just don't

(28:20):
love social media like how I used to love it.
So it's just like it's not one of my top priorities.
But for others who became famous on my Space, those
years were less than idyllic. It was a horrible time
to be famous, Like it was so toxic and so
bad tabloid culture ruled. It was really playing out on
the Internet in small scale through blogs, and so I

(28:43):
think a lot of my Space stars just kind of
like got chewed up by that system, and you see
them now like into crystal healing, or they've totally reinvented
themselves or their like super offline, or you have people
like Jeffrey who just leaned one hundred and fifty percent
into it and kind of became this like internet villain

(29:04):
because he literally thrived in that type of toxicity. The
blowback to visibility online that Taylor describes wasn't only impacting
people like Tela with hundreds of thousands of friends on
social media. People with small followings and relatively ordinary lives
aced harassment and bullying on a social network that had

(29:28):
quickly become the center of their social life. More on
this in the next episode of Main Accounts. Thanks for
listening to Main Accounts, The Story of MySpace and iHeart
original podcast Main Accounts. The Story of MySpace is written
and hosted by me Joanna McNeil, editing its sound design

(29:50):
by Mike Coscarelli and Mary Do. Original music by Alice McCoy,
mixing and mastering by Josh Fisher. Research and fact checking
by Austin Thompson, Jocelyn Sears, and Marissa Brown. Show logo
by Lucy Kntinia. Special thanks to Ryan Murdoch, Grace Views

(30:10):
and the head Frasier. Our associate producer is Lauren Philip,
our senior producer is Mike Coscarelli, and our executive producer
is Jason English. If you're enjoying the show, leave us
a rating and a review on your favorite podcast platform Sadly,
my MySpace page is no longer around, but you can
find me on Twitter at Joe Mick. Let us hear

(30:32):
your MySpace story, aunts check out my book lurking main accounts.
The Story of MySpace is a production of iHeart Podcasts.
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