Malibu: My Experience at an Instagram Influencer Party

All photos and words by Nathan Hostetter for the Phoblographer. Be sure to check out Nathan’s website and his Instagram.

Artists of all kinds go through periods of creative drought (you’re lying if you say you don’t), and lately, I have found myself in a bit of a dry-spell as well. While looking for a weekend distraction, a close friend of mine invited me to a “social media influencer party.” He said it just like that. I’m not naïve, I know what social influencers are, but I was not aware they held events, or threw parties. This was easily the “most LA” event I had ever been invited to. “Do I have to dress up?” “How fancy is it?” “Should I bring a jacket?” I really had no idea what to expect. I reluctantly accepted his invitation and we began the 40-minute journey from my place in Sherman Oaks, to the palace of followers and social influence on the cliffs of Malibu.

As we pulled up, the house appeared much smaller than I expected, until I saw the inside. The front door was wide open with no one manning it; anyone could’ve walked into the party and probably never be questioned. Once inside, what was once a quaint little beach house, opened up to reveal a 3-story mansion, each floor with massive ocean views. I must admit, it took me a second to acclimate myself. My friend, who had been there once before, gave me a quick tour of the two main floors. There seemed to be photo shoots going on in every corner of the house. Since I was still taking it all in, I didn’t think too much of this at first, but more on that later.

Now for the grand entrance onto the party floor, or as most would call it, the giant balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As we made our way downstairs, the first thing I see are a team of chefs preparing what I would call a 4-star BBQ (I give it 4 stars because there is no substitute for good ‘ol fashioned Kansas City BBQ, I don’t care how bourgie you are). As I continue setting this scene, keep in mind this is a party for famous people on Instagram, I can’t stress that enough. Past the kitchen and through the living room, the entire glass wall opens to the balcony. To my right, a craft bar branded with a certain tequila, and only serving cocktails with this tequila (or wine).

Fun anecdote: I showed up to the party with two cases of Coors Light. Cheers.

To my left, is a branded cell phone charging station akin to what you would find in an airport terminal. Right next to that is a boutique clothing line offering comfy blankets, jackets, and other warming accessories to help party-goers survive the brutal summer nights in Malibu, where temperatures plummet into the mid-sixties. How much more can you fit on one balcony you ask? How about a queen-size bed with a canopy right at the edge looking out to the water? Or maybe the opposite corner with a small stage and DJ station with lights and a PA system? Really Nathan, you’re not done? Ok what about the full brick fireplace? Not enough flame for you? How about the circle fire pit surrounded by comfy chairs? These are Instagram stars after all.

By now, I hope you’ve had time to let my sarcasm sink in, so let’s sit down at the giant outdoor dinner table, crack open a nice Coors Light, and people watch.

The party was predominately female; most had their own cliques of 2-5 girls, and one guy with a camera. Throughout the party, the girls would go from one Instagram-able spot in the house to the next, taking basically the same pictures as the last group of girls. Everyone was wearing essentially the same outfits, doing the same poses, and felt like they needed 37 versions of each pose. As irritated as I was by this, it wasn’t what annoyed me the most. With all the “influence” in the room, no one seemed to be having any conversation of substance.

“What’s an “instagram-able spot you say?” How about that perfectly manicured bed overlooking the ocean I mentioned earlier? Or how about some giant block letters that hashtag the company (also looking over the ocean)? These pots are essentially just mini photo sets designed to make for interesting, albeit artificial, photo sets.”

They say with great power, comes great responsibility, but all anyone seemed to care about was how they looked, how many followers they had, and who they brushed shoulders with. Behind the groups of girls and their photographers stood the boyfriends, and I’m honestly not sure if they are social influencers or just opportunistic. After applying a bit of social lubricant, I spoke to a few of these people, and noticed most of them didn’t have what an average person would call a “real job.” They “worked in social media,” they were entrepreneurs, they were investors, or they were artists. Now, I have nothing against being an unemployed artist, but this was a different breed of unemployed artist. These were unemployed artists who wear a Rolex and attend beach house parties in Malibu.

I felt out of place, but not uncomfortable. Is this the new world of art? From a business point of view, I get it; companies don’t have to pay giant advertising costs when they can give these influencers their products and a little cash to post about it on Instagram. It’s kind of brilliant, they are advertising without making it feel like an advertisement. The downside, is that Instagram seems to disproportionately reward these types of posts over those who are using Instagram as a platform for their art. Lately, everything on Instagram is starting to look the same, at least it is to me. Moody portraits that are slightly desaturated, POV shot of a guy wearing a MVMT watch holding a girl’s hand as she walks into the ocean, lifestyle shots with their friends in the least natural poses, and countless curated feeds that filter all these photos into one account.

Are people afraid to get weird and try new things? Does this new economy of likes and followers have us all chasing insta-fame? Maybe I’m just bitter because they are the “haves” and I am among the “have nots,” but it all seems so boring and plastic to me. Everything at this party looked the same in person as it does on Instagram, it was like I walked into the feed of a social influencer. This was not a place for ideas. This was a place for more of the same, and for sucking all the money out of the art.

So, did I leave? On the contrary. I ate all the 4-star BBQ I could get my hands on, drank all the branded craft cocktail drinks I could stomach, wore as many comfy jackets and blankets as I could, shot-gunned a cheap beer on the balcony of a $10 million house, took a $75 Uber ride back to my small apartment in the valley, and got on my high horse to tell you all what I experienced.

Editor’s Note: None of these images were taken at the party.