The year is 2006.
George W. Bush is president of the United States, everyone is quoting Borat, a little-known country singer named Taylor Swift has just released her first album — and most of our leisure time is spent online on a website called Myspace. There, you can upload the selfie you took on your brand new digital camera, leave a flirty message in alternating caps on your crush’s wall, and set your favorite Taking Back Sunday song to blast every time someone clicks on your name.
Myspace was the creation of a mysterious man known simply as Tom, but by then, it was clear who really ruled the site. This was the era when the Scene Queens were at the top of the world — or, at least, at the top of your Top 8. They controlled the blogosphere with a heavy-hand of eyeliner and a searing hot flatiron, mingling offline with some of the era’s biggest bands, effectively making them the objects of obsession on LiveJournal and beyond. And then, just as quickly as Ryan Ross left Panic! at the Disco, they all but disappeared from the mainstream — or did they? And how exactly did a group of spiky-haired, cartoon-loving teen girls become bonafide celebrities overnight, with nothing more than a dial-up modem and access to Manic Panic and a Hot Topic?
Here, the oral history of the Scene Queens:
“There's this new platform."
In August 2003, a new website focused on social networking was created. Its name? Myspace. While other sites like Friendster and LiveJournal were alive and well, Myspace quickly became the social networking site to be on. From 2005 to 2009, it was the largest social networking site in the world, reaching more than 100 million users per month. A large number of these users were teens finally getting their first taste of freedom on the internet, with Myspace as a safe place to experiment with their identity and find like-minded peers around the world.
Hanna Beth Merjos, influencer, designer, author, model, and former “Scene Queen”: I first heard about Myspace when I was in high school. I was either 15 or 16 years old and I just remember people talking like, "Yeah, there's this new platform." Back when it first started there weren't many people on it, so it was mostly people that were in your area and into the same things you are. I was super into the whole emo vibe, so that's when I got on it. There was already Friendster, but I wasn’t into that.
Alex Gaskarth, lead singer of All Time Low: Myspace was a big part of what launched our band. It allowed people to find out about bands and keep them in their back pockets for a while. It was everybody's best kept secret. It was taste-making but the gatekeepers weren't doing it.
Morgan Freed, co-founder of Emo Nite LA: Myspace was the first place I met people. I met tons of friends that I still talk to, and so I am really happy that it does not exist anymore because there's probably some embarrassing sh*t on there. It was also the first place that you could go, “Oh sh*t, you like this and you live across the world!” It was the first time that you found people that you were in common with, as opposed to your f*cking five-person friend group.
H.B.: I started to notice my count was going up after six months or so. I think I got up to maybe 400,000 or 500,000 by then. Back then, being an influencer wasn't a thing. I would find anyone that was a photographer and meet up with them offline, which probably wasn't safe but I survived. I always styled my own shoots and people were always into my weird fashion and makeup. That's how I got a lot of my followers. I had a hard time meeting people I could relate to in real life, but with Myspace I was able to meet all of these people that I could relate to, and who were into the same things I was. It was a whole new world for me.
"Who the f*ck is Jac Vanek and why do I care?”
As Myspace’s popularity began to grow, so did the follower counts of its most prominent creators — especially those who embodied what was now known as the Myspace aesthetic: jagged, asymmetrical haircuts, heavy kohl eyeliner, various facial piercings, and neon-hued wardrobes. Among those whose notoriety skyrocketed were Jac Vanek, Audrey Kitching, and Hanna Beth, a trio of California-based girls who became friends through their shared taste in pop-punk music — and penchant for dating guys in pop-punk bands.
H.B.: Around when I was 16 years old, I became really close with Audrey [Kitching] and Jac Vanek. We'd always go to a bunch of shows, and we connected through that. Also Jeffree Star; he was in Orange County. We all connected because we lived close and we all were in these very emo hardcore music scenes. I used to go to shows two or three times a week. That whole world was my life.
I didn’t hear the term “scene queen” until I was 17 or 18. I was with Audrey, and we were doing a lot of [events with] this company called Buzznet. We did Warped Tour together, we had poster signings and things like that, and I just remember girls being like, "Oh my God, I look up to you guys, you're like the scene queens." I'm like, “What is that?” We'd wear tutus and crowns, and this messy makeup, and we were always doing these silly shoots. But then it became a whole movement that I didn't even realize was happening. Me, Audrey, Jac, Jeffree — we all had followings in our own way, so I feel like because of all of that, people knew who we were. We kind of were a staple of that whole scene, and then I was dating some guys that played in bands.
Kate Truscott, general manager of Kevin Lyman Group (founder of Warped Tour): I remember when I was like, "Who the f*ck is Jac Vanek and why do I care?” Look at all these kids that are buying these f*cking rubber wristbands!
Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms: We were aware of some of the people, some of the stereotypes. I wasn't someone who grew up shopping at Hot Topic. The first week our shirts were [at Hot Topic], it was the best-selling shirt at the store. It always felt important, and I love that 14 years later, I'm talking to you and it's still going really strong. To me, if anyone identifies with [that scene], that's great. There was of course the element of a trend, and I’m totally able to acknowledge that. But we believed that no matter what someone's introduction was to it, this was ultimately a meaningful conversation.
H.B.: I mean the hair and the makeup was just so bad. I remember having so much glue on my scalp at all times. And also wearing these blue contacts that looked so beyond fake. And just so much makeup! Back then you weren't contouring or blending, so it just did not look good. I see photos of me from high school and I'm like, “Jesus Christ, how was this OK back then?”
M.F.: I do feel like if Myspace was like, "Hey, actually, we're coming back for a week so you guys can go pull all your photos,” that's all we would see [on Instagram] for weeks.
H.B.: It was crazy because I never looked at Myspace as “work.” I just remember being a senior in high school and I was like, “I don't want to go to college.” I f*cking hated school. I'm only 5-foot-2 so I never thought modeling was in my future. Because of the internet and doing all of my shoots and stuff, I was able to start booking campaigns, and I ended up doing a lot of really cool stuff.
“Punk rock summer camp.”
If Myspace was where Scene Queens were born, then Warped Tour, the annual pop-punk music festival, was their raucous 21st birthday party. Between catching headline performances by the likes of My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Paramore, they manned their own merch booths, held meet-and-greets, and got to pal around with the bands that first got them into the scene.
K.T.: I was so blissfully unaware of anything that was going on my first year at Warped Tour because I was so deep in my own sh*t [handling My Chemical Romance’s merch tent]. Nobody knew me. I didn't know them. I never left my tent. I lost 30 pounds that summer. By the end of the tour, I was living in My Chem merchandise because I didn't have time to do laundry. The following year I worked in the production office, and you start to really see how this whole mess comes together. Everyone does their best to support each other. And that's like when people talk about Warped Tour, they always talk about it being a family, and whatever. There's no other way to survive. There isn't.
J.T.: Warped Tour was definitely a community that we were so honored to be a part of. Being out there, we were being introduced to hundreds of young people. Kevin Lyman, who founded Warped Tour, has always been incredibly generous, not only to us but to legitimate charities in general. That scene, that tour, was just vital, in terms of our foundation, and also just relationally, my sister, her best friends, and even her boyfriend can be traced back to Warped Tour. The word “community” gets thrown around a lot, and all these years later, she can look at these relationships that she cherishes. That was really true for any of our folks that spent a significant amount of time on the road for Warped Tour.
A.G.: Back then, Warped Tour was punk rock summer camp. You would meet all these dear friends and step away and come back to it the next year. We did it several years in a row, and Jac, who is a friend, was always out doing her thing with either clothing or branding or whatever it may have been. We spent several summers together, and that was rad.
H.B.: I did Warped Tour a few times. We’d do signings and meet people. It's such a big part of my life. I always had such a good time. I loved it because I was just around a bunch of hot guys in bands, so I wasn't thinking of it as anything like work [laughs].
K.T.: Some women would be on people's guest list, so they would be around, posting their photos, or blogging, though this was back before it was a thing. No one could be like, "I'm a blogger,” or "I'm an influencer," or whatever. They were just there. But some of them like Audrey or Jac had their own booths. Jac was one of our vendors that would sign up early in the year. She'd say, "I'm going to do the whole tour." She would figure out how she was going to get around. And then she would pay us for her booth every day. She would sell her rubber wristbands, or her flannels that say, "I hate everybody," or whatever. And then she would do signings. It was the early days of influencers.
“Is this what it feels like to be a rapper and understand [who] people are talking about?"
Of course, with their newfound fame came plenty of rumors about their personal lives. Soon, countless blogs started detailing speculations about the personal lives of the Scene Queens and their love lives. For the women dating some of the more famous members of the scene — your Panic! at the Discos and Fall Out Boys — this was a certain subsect of the internet’s gossip landscape.
H.B.: I dated this guy Deryck who was in Sum 41 for about a year after him and Avril [Lavigne] had split, and I remember listening to them when I was younger. So that was kind of a silly thing.
K.T.: I never really knew Hanna Beth or Audrey. Eliza [Siep, ex-wife of Gerard Way] was my roommate for a long time, but I don't know if she was ever Scene Queen really. But this girl named Alicia [Simmons], she was married to Mikey [Way] for a long time, and she and I reconnected a few years ago. I remember she was dating Pete Wentz at some point. It was all this weird overlapping. Whatever the record “Thnks fr th Mmrs” is on, there are large parts of that record that are about that whole scene of people that we hung out with, openly. Listening to it, I was just like, "Oh. Is this what it feels like to be a rapper and understand [who] people are talking about?"
H.B.: Definitely in those years I learned not to be so public about who I'm dating or what I'm going through because people would f*cking lash out. I feel like back then I would get way more hate than I do now from people. If I ever did have a public breakup, everyone would think that they knew everything and would be like, "This is why it happened," and all of that.
The in-crowd drama between the Scene Queens was just as fervent of a topic, with constant speculation about who was fighting whom, who was dating whose ex, and who took whom out of their Top 8.
H.B.: I'm not a competitive person so it never would really bother me, but I think if someone was getting more attention I could see maybe people I was friends with get weird about it or towards me. I think some people get a little more entitled or think they're better than other people.
By my early 20s, that whole scene was dying down a lot. Buzznet was slightly dying, and I was focusing a lot more on fashion design and different work that I was doing on my own. We all were kind of just doing our own different things. I was always closest with Jac and Jeffree, and we don't talk that often but if I ever see them, it's always great. We all just went different ways.
“Back then, it was more about being yourself and having fun.”
By the time Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook available for public access in 2006, Myspace had lost its status as the most relevant social networking site, and inevitably, the Scene Queen moment faded into the pop culture abyss. At least, it did. Today, as TikTok continues to lead the app pack, the scene aesthetic, in all its spiky glory, is slowly making a comeback, despite the new era of glossy Instagram perfection.
A.G.: Everything happens in cycles. It's been cool to see how modern trends in music have rekindled the flames of older trends. Obviously this whole scene was born in the late '90s, early 2000s, and ebbed and flowed from there. What's really interesting is — and I hesitate to use the word emo — but you see a bit of emo revival in hip-hop. I will admit that I didn't really find out about The Cure in a big way until I found out that Blink-182 were huge fans of The Cure. I dove in and realized what a legendary band they were. And in a different way, that’s sort of what's happening here. Kids are going back and looking at where the influences came from and realizing that some of those bands are still out there doing it.
M.F.: We don't ever really talk about scene stuff or anything like that. But I mean, it's obviously a huge part in what made everybody who they are. That was childhood. Kids that grew up in the '50s loved playing baseball on the street. We grew up going to shows and being on [Myspace], learning the internet and figuring out selfies and f*cking finding out about new music.
H.B.: Back then, there were never filters or Facetune; everything was very real and raw. Yeah, everyone’s style was kind of similar, but now I feel like everyone tries to look a certain way or be a certain way. On Myspace, it was more about being yourself and having fun… I never went online and started comparing myself to other girls. I have younger brothers; one's 15 and one is 10, so I kind of hear about their generation and what's going on, and I feel like a lot of these younger girls are very easily influenced and just strive to this unrealistic thing that they need to be. To be completely honest, I just don't enjoy social media as much as I used to because I just don't find it as inspiring and cool and unique.
J.T.: Social networking has always been used for good and bad. We’ve always tried to be careful, to acknowledge both extremes. I think some people wondered if we were trying to create this online utopia, where we could all huddle together and be OK. We loved what's been able to happen online, but we also think it's important to point out, “Hey we also need to close our laptops and put our phone away and look someone in the eyes and have real relationships and real conversations.”
“They somehow have nine lives — it’s amazing.”
And yet, while Myspace may be no more, the Scene Queen legacy still lives on. Vanek’s merch line is still active, and she has parlayed her internet days into a full-blown entertainment career as one of the co-hosts of the popular podcast and former TV show LadyGang; Merjos is now a fashion, beauty, and lifestyle influencer who published her first book Covered in Glitter in 2016 and continues to model. Jeffree Star is, well, Jeffree Star. Combined, the three of them have more than 15.2 million followers on Instagram.
KT: Kevin, my boss, is a professor at USC now. I was on campus for an event and there's some Tender Greens or something on campus. And there was a photo of Jac’s podcast doing a promo for the restaurant on campus. I took a photo of it and sent it to her. I was like, "This sh*t freaks me out. In my head, you're still 17.”
A.G.: Jac was a good friend and she remains a good friend. She's dating one of the dudes from The Maine, whom I love very much. I actually saw both of them not that long ago. It's funny to look back and kind of reminisce on an era that was so quirky and defined by its characteristics. But then you kind of realize that a lot of these people that were sort of associated with that scene went on to do great things and are still doing great things. It's refreshing to see; it's case in point that people continue to grow and change and shift and are dynamic and not just defined by their origin story.
K.T.: It's really crazy that they somehow have nine lives — it's amazing. Each of those girls was smart enough to be their own boss and their own personality and their own director. They didn't have to deal with other band members and arguments. Every decision they made was for themselves. It's f*cking super impressive. Every single one of those girls could have fallen into the trap of marrying a band guy and becoming their husband's shadow. And none of them did. I am very proud of them for it.
H.B.: I feel like that time made me who I am today. My only regret is that I pierced my entire face. Thankfully I see a good dermatologist and he was able to get rid of all my scars. I’ve gotten girls that will message me still that they have a lot of the same hand tattoos as me, which are a lot of my scene tattoos. They're not my favorite, but I love them cause it's such a big part of my life. I'll do throwback pictures on my Instagram, and there's so many girls that are like, "I've been following you since Myspace.” I'm like, “Myspace? That's so long ago!”
In a way, that period really saved me. I was like not doing well with all of my personal stuff I was going through, and the bullying, and I dealt with different things. And I feel like because of Myspace and being able to have this community where I felt accepted and fit in, it kind of gave me my life back. It made me feel inspired and it made me feel like life might be OK.