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The Vine Stars Are Alright

A mostly optimistic conversation with Miel, who made the app totally random and randomly great

Instagram/Ringer illustration
Instagram/Ringer illustration

Meet Miel, and do it fast. Her Vine account has more than 328 million loops. Is that a lot? Maybe? Not a Teen Sensation number, or a New Yorker think piece number, but it plays. Silly voices, oddball character sketches, sight gags, fake crying, boisterous shouting. No theme but a roiling, charismatic, Looney Tunes Valley Girl subconscious. Vine is shutting down, as you may have heard. I will miss her the most. We met up at the Whole Foods in downtown L.A. last week to work through our respective grieving processes. Her mood: “Super sad, angry, kind of confused, and also I feel like a fire just lit under my ass.”

There was no joy quite so bizarre and rewarding as when you’d discover a new Random Vine Person. Not a famous one, or even a particularly fame-aspirant one. Viral enough to catch your attention, sure, but not so overexposed that your parents are on board. Just an arbitrary, flamboyantly everyday human, amplified by the internet, reduced to an endless series of beguilingly weird six-second loops.

Miel moved to L.A. at 19 from a “tiny island” in Washington state, tried both music (which she soon realized was “not really a viable career choice for the most part, especially in 2008”) and cooking as full-time careers, and grew enamored, after many an exhausting 12-hour workday, with Vine’s cheerful outcast vibe. So she endeavored, slowly, to climb that treehouse ladder. “If you looked at it long enough, you kind of became a part of that community, and you wanted to be a part of that community, so I started posting,” she says. “I was bad. Obviously, I was terrible. It’s one thing to be funny; it’s one thing to know how to seem funny on the internet. Very different skill sets.”

It didn’t start as a career move. “I started meeting people who were weird like me,” she continues. “All of a sudden, there was context for like, how strange I was, and it wasn’t strange at all. It’s just that I found my tribe, you know?” She made Vines about her dog biting her face (and the Enya-based aftermath), about her polarizing love of improv, about No Doubt, about the Cribs episode devoted to her body, about the dick pics she would rather not receive. Her two ongoing series, “Babe, look at me” and “You’re not Jeffrey,” are fan favorites; that their appeal is hard to explain is a big part of the appeal.

Same goes for all of this. Miel’s weird, she’s fearless, she’s unafraid to be loud or look ridiculous. That’s it. That’s enough. This is (was?) an underrated part of the beauty of Vine: It’s engaging enough to establish personalities, but quick and abstract enough that they can’t harden into Brands. No time for exposition. Just roll with it.

People started to roll with it. Miel skulked around Viner meetups, she went to London at Vine’s behest, she made lifelong friends. “I got invited to go to the Star Wars world premiere to make Vines last year,” she says. “The world premiere! The red carpet! I was right there! What? What? I just make videos on my phone. That’s crazy.”

So it will end, happily, as a career move: She has management now, and a few branding deals, and more auditions, and sufficient motivation to “continue working my ass off,” which is nice. “Yeah, it just kind of snowballed from there. And now I’m able to act and make videos and write full-time. And it’s kind of the stepping stone, really. It’s just been a gateway to the dream career that I never thought was even an option.”

Vine’s demise still has Miel currently vacillating between anger and acceptance on the Kübler-Ross “five stages of grief” model. This hurts, personally and professionally. A great Vine account splash page is a remarkably efficient way to get immediate six-second insights into someone’s vibe, which makes its imminent death particularly crippling from a self-promotion perspective. “Just because Vine is essentially a digital résumé for a comedy writer or an actor, right?” she says. “I mean, anyone potentially looking to hire you can just scroll through it, kind of get a scope of your vibe and see if they want to hire you or not. And if that’s going to be removed, I mean, does that translate to YouTube? You know, I don’t think so.”

The bad news didn’t exactly catch her by surprise, though the severity of it did. “I mean, you read so many Forbes articles being like, ‘Vine is dying, Vine’s effectively dead, Vine is bleeding money,’ and you’re like, ‘OK, shit, I get it,’” she says. “Did not in a million years think they would just shut it down. I mean, if Myspace is still able to exist, I guess I just didn’t really anticipate that this was an option.”

The drumbeat of doom was such that most of the app’s biggest names, after attempting a remarkable shakedown, had long migrated to Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and such, mostly only using Vine now to advertise that exodus. Miel has followed suit, to a degree, but worries that the appeal won’t transfer — her appeal, or the medium’s. Vine was never quite as craven — or quite as specifically teenaged — as the media attention made it seem. It prized, and perfected, a very specific and impressively bizarre and wholly universal thing.

The other platforms can’t quite compare. Twitter for Miel is a branding exercise requiring too consistent a tone, and YouTube even more so, dependent on personal revelations she’d maybe rather not make with the larger, goonier internet. “I’m sure myself and other creators are gonna do just fine,” she says. (The bigger, smugger stars, at least, are taking it in stride.) “I mean, we were creative before Vine, and we’ll continue to be creative after Vine. And a lot of us have built followings that truly want to see what we’re doing, you know — fans or friends or whoever. But there’s something so magical about six seconds and the looping. No other app can loop like that, and God, so many of my musician and artist friends that are big Viners — I mean, they’re unbelievably talented. Like I said, they’re going to be successful, but that magic — Instagram doesn’t loop perfectly. YouTube? No one’s going to watch YouTube for a six-second video. And that kind of — being able to just scroll through and watch — I would have never gotten into this if it wasn’t so easy.”

There is no plan now, for her and plenty of other lesser-is-greater Vine stars, per se — there never was. That’s the bad news, but also the good news: “I have managers now and I go on auditions now, and that was something my first few years in L.A. I was dying to do, and I could not find the right platform,” she says. The loss of that platform — or that platform’s atomization into half a dozen other, less ideal platforms — is unfortunate but survivable. “It doesn’t really matter how many followers I have if I’m making good stuff. I gotta tell myself that every night. ‘Followers don’t matter, followers don’t matter. Make good shit.’” The skill set she learned doesn’t translate exactly, maybe, but nor is it utterly meaningless now. “I’m sure that at some point, my finger dexterity for recording audio will come in handy.”

She’s heartened by the huge outpouring of love for Vine as a whole in the past few days, though it only makes her angrier at the app’s inept management and more suspicious of its ultimate legacy. “There’s also the Harambe effect,” she cautions, “which is like, everyone’s fucking freaking out when you die, and then four months later, you’re a joke.”

That is, blessedly, doubtful. What made Vine transcendent, in the end, was how guileless and effortless it seemed, no matter how much genuine guile and exhaustive effort any one post required. “I had one I was trying to do — God, it was so bad,” she recalls. “It was supposed to be a process server serving Guy Fieri. And the reveal ends up being, they’re serving him a gift certificate to Billabong and a pound of brisket.”

An admirably surreal joke concept mired only by her apparent lack of athleticism. “I was trying to make it seamlessly match up perfectly so that when I flip my head up, I was no longer this process server character, I was this badass surfer bro, I guess,” she continues. “And that spin, I think I spent about four or five hours just on that one frame. I don’t know why I wrote that in, ’cause I am not a graceful person. I smacked my head on the wall, literally full speed — hit my head on the wall probably a dozen times. And I deleted it within a day.”

That’s Vine: The means justify the ends, even if you delete them, and even if the whole app deletes itself. That one above is a brief excerpt from her histrionically tearful eulogy video from Thursday, which many of her fans took as genuine (and disturbing). The six-second excerpt gets both the mild pathos and the extreme silliness across a little better: It’s punchier, stranger, and, crucially, much shorter. That’s the internet at its best. Pointless, irreplaceable. I will miss this account dearly. The memories will fade, but the head injuries are forever.