😲 how to survive a scandal in 2021

seeking the gen z stamp of approval

You are cordially invited to this week’s brew of High Tea, your dispatch of 🔥 internet culture served piping hot. This week: planting industry seeds with TikTok’s “most hated” trio and a very British crisis over cake.

Drink up! 🐸☕

p.s. if you’re not a paid subscriber, here’s what you missed from this week’s Bucks Fizz: our Thursday dispatch covering the best of TikTok’s unsigned and emerging talent.

🥂Natasha Bedingfield, Digga D & Ella Jane


what we’ve been sipping on:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...for a brand scandal in 2021. We’re no stranger to scandal here at High Tea, covering Charli D’Amelio’s snail’s pace social fallout on the cusp of hitting 100 million followers, Handforth Parish Council vs. Jackie Weaver (you just had to be there) and “that blonde girl” from Olivia Rodrigo’s record-breaking hit. But this week, we’ve been struck by scandal nouveau: a lawsuit involving a cake in the shape of a caterpillar and trial by TikTok over faux riotgrrrlboss band, TRAMP STAMPS. Buckle up, this is a cautionary tale for how to survive a brand crisis...and what happens when you make a mockery of Gen Z. 

Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss! 

We did it Joe, we did it. We’ve finally made it to our first TikTok music takedown of the season. If you’ve so much as opened TikTok this week, we know you’re already deep in the TRAMP STAMPS drama which has taken over our fyp, to say the very least.The scale of this scandal? With 19.3 million views for #trampstamps and counting, she’s huge...she’s a mammoth, of course. So, who are they and why should you care?

Let’s start with the basics, TRAMP STAMPS are the new kids on the TikTok (cutting) block so to speak. At first glance, they’re just another DIY pop-punk trio trying to confirm their place on your fyp and swiftly onto Spotify’s New Music Friday. The band is composed of lead singer Marisa Maino (purple hair, fyi), drummer Paige Blue (blue hair, would you believe!) and guitarist Caroline Baker (pink hair, fwiw). According to the band, they’ve been together since February 2020, though they weren’t active on social until November, where they suddenly appeared with matching dye jobs, fresh piercings and fishnets (don’t be suspicious...don’t be suspicious). Nothing to see here, right? Well, thanks to the TikTok detectives, all is not what it seems. 

The band had enjoyed relative success up until last week, growing a following of 383K on TikTok, with 283K monthly listeners on Spotify. Plus, a remarkably polished social presence across platforms that includes a Music Spotlight on Tumblr, impressive looking website, merch store, newsletter, and starter packs (featuring just girly things like plan b, adderall and flaming hot cheetos) for each band member. Not to mention their Spotify playlists; “songs to send to ur shitty ex” and “PUNK IS 4 GIRLZ”...because, you know, that’s totally normal for an “emerging” band less than 6 months old. 

But despite the questionably manufactured aesthetics, it wasn’t until this week that TRAMP STAMPS became the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. It was during promo for “I’d Rather Die”, their third original release of 2021, that the gals found themselves at odds with, well, exactly the demo they were trying to market to: Gen Z. Newsflash girlies, having a bio that reads “make tampons free” and lyrics that allude to dodgy encounters where intoxication and consent (or lack thereof) are the main characters...ain’t the the #feminist girlboss statement you thought it would be.

“I’d Rather Die” lyrics, via Genius 

Despite the audio being removed from the original promo post for “I’d Rather Die”, which has since been viewed more than 5.1 million times, the song’s release went ahead on Wednesday, in spite of the onslaught of clapbacks and a dislike ratio as scary as the song itself. On the same day, the troubled trio addressed one TikTok comment that reads “y’all brought race into this for what?”, with a sit down TikTok apology, giving off major white-YouTubers-apologizing-for-their-racist-tweets-circa-2019 energy. The band has not posted on TikTok since. 

Did someone say...industry plant? 

Now, you can catch tens – if not hundreds – of eagle eyed TikTok creators pitching in by the minute, with increasingly sceptical revelations about this “DIY” band, including their associations with Dr. Luke’s publishing house, Prescription Songs, as well as their well-documented industry connects, found at the scroll of a thumb. Of course, combing socials to find a breadcrumb to fit your “tea spilling” narrative ain’t new, but the backlash against a group masquerading as newcomers on TikTok – the hottest domain for *actual* new and unsigned talent – feels like a cautionary tale fit for the TikTok times. 

Looks like everyone is suddenly *very* interested in getting a lower back tattoo, right? Google search results in the US for “tramp stamps”, past 30 days 

So, why is this important for that future of music on TikTok and what we, as consumers, can learn from this ill-fated scandal du jour? Well, if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that you don’t mess with Gen Z when it comes to authenticity and harnessing the power of your fanbase by cosplaying “relatable” quirks for views. Clickbait may have launched careers on YouTube on a mild day back in the 2010s, and still does for the likes of the Hollywood Fix’s Fletcher, but we’re not talking about paps hiding in bushes when it comes to the power of a ~legitimate~ Gen Z audience and the power they hold over making, or breaking, a career. 

As for using the for you page as the litmus test for what you *think* us girlie pops will love and fall for, maybe read the (TikTok) room next time? Oh, and one final thing – it’s probs not advisable to start your notes app apology with “hi fuckers”, no matter how punk you are. 

M&S get their just desserts

If you’ve ever experienced a Great British birthday, there's no doubt that you’d have run into Colin. A chocolate caterpillar cake ubiquitous across generations, not just for being a deliciously good bite (ooh-er), but also a cheeky character that we’ve grown rather fond of over the years. 

Since debuting in 1990, and with 15 million cakes guzzled, multiple family members launched (Connie, anyone?) plus a Macmillan charity partnership under his green belt, Colin has existed largely unchallenged – until now. Now High Tea pals, we must add here that Colin has not been immune from others masquerading as his likeness these past years; his maker, British food giant M&S, has been keeping a close eye on supermarket rivals cooking up copycat(erpillar)s, but none have ever cut it – from Asda’s Clyde, who sounds decidedly un-delightful; to Waitrose’s Cecil, who you just *know* has read the standing orders; to Sainsbury’s Wiggles, which the least said about him the better. That is until German supermarket Aldi launched its own version of Colin the Caterpillar. Enter: Cuthbert, a cake so uncanny to Col, it was the icing on the cake for supermarket M&S, who this week launched an intellectual property claim to protect Colin from the rival sponge. 

In response, Aldi took to social media and really said...hold my folded napkin. Unafraid to have its cake and eat it too, Aldi’s social media took the hefty IP case in their stride launching an online campaign with the hashtag #freecuthbert. Please see exhibit A below: 

And exhibit B:

Aldi did not stutter, 12 tweets were the talk of British news this week with the top three receiving to date over 100K likes and over 15K retweets. Rather than shrinking into the shadows, Aldi became a bombastic brand sensation overnight, taking on the IP trial with tongue-and-cheek references to win over the hearts and minds of the Great British public – and it worked. Haunted by the image of an indisposed Cuthbert, many headed straight to Aldi to purchase the £5 cake to show their support. Even supermarket Morrisons waded in with a comment on their caterpillar cake likeness and how M&S “still suspect nothing.” Brilliant. 

Ofc, it wasn’t just the supermarkets that got in on this cultural moment. Meme aficionados were quick to compare the rivalry to the infamous Meghan and Oprah interview last month, to which we lost our heads: 

And if you’ll remember our “we’re all jackie weaver” 🐸☕️ edition you’ll love: 

tl;dr move over Colin, everybody loves Cuthbert

In a move we never thought would occur – it's Cuthbert who wins the public vote. Powered by the meme movement, Aldi leaned into the messy M&S case to get followers to empathize with its plight, and galvinize support. Will M&S retract its suit? With #freecuthbert the talk of the town, the meme makers have forced the big wigs to weigh up the potential pushback if Cuthbert is forcibly removed from shelves. Personally pals, we think Cuthie is here to stay and Aldi’s social media manager deserves a raise. 


kettles on: ones to watch

  • we were featured on Colin and Samir’s TikTok! This week content creator big timers, Colin and Samir, took to TikTok to chat all things Victoria Paris, after being inspired by our last dispatch TikTok 2.0 and the future of vlogging. Even Victoria herself recorded a response and we were ~overcome~ :

  • RTFKT x Fabricant. It’s no secret that we’re longtime fans of The Fabricant and we’re stoked that this week their NFT collection in collaboration with RTFKT, Dematerialised and LUKSO was an absolute sell out in 9 mins. If you missed it and are now seeking a consolation prize, it’s possible to try on part of the collection via Snap (code for RTFKT hooped earrings; code for RTFKT creps) – you’re welcome! 


Okay you made it, now you can go back to cussing the fact that Jake Paul’s ego has grown sizeably overnight.

ttyl,

Alice & Faye