Generation Z is the 20-and-under crowd of actresses, musicians, artists, and entertainers on the verge of ruling Hollywood. Meet the freshest faces in the industry and get ready to root for them as they rise to the top.
As peppy synth beats play in the background, Luna Blaise steps to the middle of the screen. Wearing ripped jeans, Converse sneakers, and a white T-shirt that says “Tokyo,” she launches into the opening lines of “Over You,” her first single. The music video, which is shot entirely in black and white, is simple: There are no theatrics or over-the-top costumes — it’s just Blaise singing and dancing. (Midway through the clip, she changes into a baggy sweatshirt with "No Filter" printed across the front. This sort of in-your-face irony is not lost on Gen Z, a demographic known for being extremely self-aware.)
Though the 5’6” Instagram star looks older than 15, her lyrics about falling in love for the first time are fitting for someone her age, full of references to prom and dreams of the future. It’s the stuff all great teenage years are made of, except that it’s unlikely Blaise is writing from firsthand knowledge: She explains that she has been homeschooled by her mom since she was 13 years old. This gives her the flexibility to turn her social media success into an acting and singing career.
“Trust me, I wanted to have the classic high school experience,” Blaise says. “But I guess that was not my path.”
Has sacrificing locker gossip and school dances been worth it? Over the past two years, Blaise has developed a loyal following of over half a million Instagram followers, an impressive number by any rising star’s standards. But that figure hasn’t translated to YouTube yet , where “Over You” has only accrued 243,700 views since being released this past February. There are also the personal challenges. With Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, constant contact between a star and their fans is expected and the lines between Blaise's job and her real life become increasingly blurry — something that's not easy to navigate as you're just coming in to your own.
“It’s work, doing social media," Blaise says. "Every day you have to make sure you post on this platform and that platform, and you have to make sure you’re active with all of your followers. It is a major job.”
Blaise explains that she never planned on being a social media star. When she was younger, she modelled for companies like Target, Macy’s, and McDonald’s, and transitioned into acting at the age of 12. In 2015, Blaise earned a recurring role as Nicole on the ABC comedy Fresh Off The Boat. At that point, her PR agent suggested she take her accounts public. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the primetime network TV sitcom that made her Insta-famous. It was the 2016 music video for a song anyone older than 16 has probably never heard of: “Sweatshirt.”
The single, recorded by Musical.ly star and Gen Z heartthrob Jacob Sartorius, is a throwback to a kind of John Hughes-style of teenage romance — boy sees girl, boy likes girl, girl is shy, boy professes love, boy and girl fall in love. (The sweatshirt part of the romance comes in on the chorus, out of Sartorius’ concern for his dream girl’s temperature: “Girl you can wear my sweatshirt, cuz you're the only one I hold and I don't want you to be cold.”) The music video currently has over 45 million views on YouTube. Blaise, who was only 14 at the time, doesn't sing or speak in the clip.
“I didn't really know how social media worked at the time, so when the video blew up, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy, this is intense,’” Blaise says.
Blaise is unique because unlike many other pre-teen and teen stars, who have gotten their start through their YouTube channel or Musical.ly, she has largely grown and maintained her following through Instagram. One unfortunate side effect of Insta-fame was the flood of negative feedback, which was fast and furious as the video went viral. Blaise attributes it to appearing as Sartorius’ fictional love interest: he’s “this cute, little kid in social media [with] millions and millions of little girls who love him,” she says, and that wasn’t a recipe for winning fans. Teenage girls attacked her. Almost two years later, it still comes up: Google “Luna Blaise,” and one of the top related questions that pops up is “Who is Jacob Sartorius girlfriend?”
Instead of getting defensive, Blaise took the high road. Once people saw more of her on social media, they concluded she’s “not someone who is mean and involved in drama,” she says, and their comments took a turn. Now, Blaise, whose Instagram largely consists of Kylie Jenner-style selfies and posed snaps in front of colourful walls, reads mostly positive reinforcements below her photos.
Case in point: In response to a photo Blaise posted celebrating 500,000 followers, one girl commented, “Can you believe I used to hate you but now I love you??”
Blaise is Insta-famous, but she’s not your typical influencer. She’s not working with any brands, a key part of an influencer’s business. Right now, she doesn't make any money off of Instagram. When you consider that influencers with the same number of followers can make £1,500 to £2,500 per sponsored post, this is significant. Instead, Instagram is more of a tool for building her audience. Blaise's end goal is to become an established singer and actor, and while she isn't against brand partnerships, she wants to make sure she links up with ones that align with her image.
When asked what that image is, Blaise hesitates. This is fair — how many 15-year-olds can describe who they are, let alone talk about their personal brand?
“My brand is very...very teenager,” Blaise says. “Very light and happy, but then I also have my moody side. I don't really know.”
She turns to her mom for help, and Angelyna Martinez-Boyd chimes in with a more fully-formed answer: "Luna has an edgy looking side to her brand, which is completely who she is. Weirdly enough, she's got more of a New York edge as opposed to an L.A. edge."
Blaise has no plans to leave Hollywood for New York, but it could happen. Since she’s homeschooled, she isn’t tied to a specific school district. The majority of her friends are ones she’s met through the entertainment industry and on social media. “It’s literally like our high school,” Blaise says, explaining her friend group of fellow influencers on Instagram. “One person will start following the other person. You'll DM them and maybe one of your friends will be friends with them. You'll just click and connect.”
Still, for all of her success and the community she’s developed on Instagram, there are times when she thinks about what it would be like to have normal teenage years. The same goes for considering life beyond high school. When asked if she ever wants to go to college, Blaise says she does, but probably won’t.
“If that’s a job, being on my phone having fun, then that’s probably the best job I could ever ask for.”