what it's like to be a teenager in los angeles
It's not all parties in the Hills, young people in LA are supposed to have a conscience too.
The author and friends. All photos courtesy of the author.
Welcome to what it's like to be a teen today! – a series of essays written by teenagers from all over the world. Some things are universal for all young people, others are very much not; and that is exactly what this series seeks to explore. From Seattle to Seoul, Mumbai to Mexico City, London to Lagos, teenagers tell us what life's really like in their town.
9pm. Saturday night. Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. Your destination: a glass house that lets you see straight into it; secluded, yet open to all (as soon as you make it past the gates). You walk in. The sound of Frank Ocean's 'Super Rich Kids' serenades you as you look out over the sweeping view of the nighttime hills. The song builds and the lines “Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends / Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends” incite a craze in the multitude of 16 year olds assembled at one of LA's most upscale addresses.
And you think, in just two lines, Frank Ocean has epitomized the LA teen: self-obsessed but unaware. Dancing with the confidence of Britney and the drive of Beyoncé, but possessing half the talent. Dancing next to people they were bad-mouthing the day before. You know this character all too well; you see them depicted in the media all the time.
But once you take a closer look, you start making out individuals: Young people of different races and sexualities, wearing pink hair, angsty nose piercings, sweatpants, Crocs, black painted nails and with skateboards in hand. All that of course in an attempt to look different. For me, that encapsulates being a teenager in Los Angeles.
There is a certain inclusivity to the diversity of Los Angeles, and it's heightened with people who are my age. Different, maybe, to a town in South Carolina where teenagers stick to the path of conformity, teenagers in Los Angeles celebrate and look up to those who are different. However, if you don’t have anything new or unique to contribute, you don’t have a purpose for those who do. And I don’t know whether this necessity to stand out as a teenager in LA is good or bad, but it makes growing up here distinct to anywhere else.
I think with inclusivity comes something really beautiful. Those differences in people are what we gravitate towards in LA. People who in the past have been put down for their appearance, sexual orientation, race, or even their dreams are celebrated at their most vulnerable time in life: their teenage years. Teenagers in Los Angeles are fine with that vulnerability, and respect the fact that young people are experimenting with who they are. And I think, as a result, LA teens are also active socially – we take part in student-led marches and walkouts and take to social media to laud the political figures we admire, such as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
With this need for individuality, also comes a pressure to be successful (whatever that means). The popular teen in LA is expected to pave a path of their own, a path separate to that of your movie producer mom or pop star dad.
Still, there is an optimism to the concept of successful teenagers: Los Angeles is a haven of sorts for young creators who aren’t interested in academia – those who drop out of school to pursue a career in music or to create a skate brand. I think that is something beautiful and unique to Los Angeles — young people identifying their passion and staking their claim to it. Some might think that arrogant and self-entitled, but I, and the majority of LA-based teens, see having a purpose in life as a basic right.
But what does this precocious teen do on the weekends? We don’t go to sports games or down to the beach for your classic teenage bonfire — unless it’s in Malibu — and there is in no way one place where you can find every one of us. We’re spread out: lunching on Melrose, vintage shopping in Silver Lake, art exhibits in West Hollywood, obscure Indie concerts, Brockhampton store openings, SoulCycle classes, and our infamous house parties. But we wouldn’t be from LA if these excursions weren’t vaguely opportunistic — DJing the party we're at, working on designs for our new clothing brand, blogging about those shopping outings, guest performing at that concert or getting together with friends to talk about our latest business ventures.
It's undeniable that growing up in LA means living in a “bubble” of sorts. And of course that comes with regrets, like not being able to go to Friday night football games. I think about that at times, but I'm quickly reassured by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to find what I love, and pursue it, if I hadn’t been exposed to the cultural (and opportunistic) place that is Los Angeles. The passion that LA is able to spark gives a high better than any post-football party or high school dance I could ever go to.
Would you like to write about being a teenager in your town for i-D? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: "what it's like to be a teen today!"
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