It’s no secret that Gen Z’s biggest names consistently illustrate what successful branding looks like and fully embrace novel ways to push the envelope when it comes to sending a powerful message.
Here are six icons that Gen Z loves and have become household names for their canny ability to reach the masses. Brands...pay attention.
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X is not just an Instagram celeb, nor is he just a TikTok star or red carpet A-lister. He’s everything and everywhere. Since the debut of his single “Old Town Road” in 2019, the suspected one-hit wonder has been dubbed the master of virality—and rightfully so.
The nearly year-long rollout of his latest album Montero is proof that the country-trap star is no amateur when it comes to the internet. As of recently his viral memes, maternity photoshoot and public celebration of the LGBTQ+ community has also proven that he isn’t afraid to stir up controversy and dance with the devil (literally). He finds a way to spin the narrative to his benefit and keep himself at the forefront of the cultural conversation. It’s clear that social media played a key role in his success. He finds ways to capitalize on every moment and stay at the top of your scroll, and we’re excited to see his next stunt.
As both a musical genius and fashion icon, Billie Eilish carved a distinct path that only she can walk in. Who else do we know who solo headlined Glastonbury and swept the Big Four categories at the Grammys before turning 20?
Unconstrained by traditional fashion gender norms, her authenticity and raw expression (along with her undeniable talent) captivates her Gen Z audience. She talks about issues that matter like climate change and depression, all while rejecting the idea of fitting into a box. An Air Jordan collab and Disney+ concert prove that her interests are diverse.
You may know her as the Youtuber who documented her acne struggles, but a strong online social presence quickly solidified Emma Chamberlain as a Gen Z icon.
While her relatability and authenticity has Gen Z in a soft grip, some believe her lo-fi and rather quirky YouTube aesthetic single-handedly transformed the future of influencers. Rather than putting on an act for the camera or covering up her ‘imperfections’, Emma leverages them as superpowers. She built her entire brand off of real messaging and creative messiness. This brand, rather unique for its time, not only helped her launch her popular beverage brand Chamberlain Coffee, but also helped her work with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, and creative direct a vegan skincare line called Bad Habit.
It’s hard enough to perform under the world’s watchful gaze as the G.O.A.T. in gymnastics, let alone bow out of the world’s biggest sports competition—but Simone Biles did just that. When she stepped down from the women’s gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health, Gen Z was there to champion her right as it seemed she was most vulnerable. This refusal to sacrifice prioritizing her mental health not only connected with Gen Z and their values vis a vis mental wellness, but also challenged outdated ideas of what it means to be an athlete.
Similar to Lil Nas X, Doja Cat is riding the wave of sustained virality. Her fame-making music video “Mooo!” successfully connected with Gen Z as it tapped into their mixed humor of self-deprecation and online inside jokes.
Fans love that she continues to carry this same self-effacing branding through her current embodiment as an alien in her album Planet Her, which may be a note to brands that maybe they shouldn’t come off so polished or serious when it comes to connecting with Gen Z. Haters may say she’s too weird with her galactic aesthetic, but these comments will not stop her intergalactic rule as the space queen of today.
As Gen Z’s very own modern-teen Adonis, Timothée Chalamet captured fans’ hearts with more than just androgynous fashion looks. Through his characters and transparent take on masculinity, Timothée reflects the progressive definitions Gen Z has been giving masculinity, and fans champion him for that. He also comes off as relatable and authentic behind the scenes to the point where it feels as if you were talking to a close friend or, at least, an acquaintance (A girl can dream, OK?).