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Tavi Gevinson Explains Her New Website, Rookie

Tavi Gevinson.

Last night, 15-year-old wunderkind blogger Tavi Gevinson launched her much-anticipated new website, Rookie (rookiemag.com). Originally conceived as a joint venture with Jane Pratt and Say Media, the site is now under Gevinson's sole ownership (New York Media is helping with ad sales). Promising honest, funny, and insightful takes on teen life, Rookie centers around a monthly theme — the first is "Beginnings" — and will update three times a day on a typical teen's schedule: after school, dinnertime, and before bed. Fresh from a post-class cat nap, the high school sophomore talked about her new media venture, her evolving relationship with fashion, and how it feels to be hailed as "the future of journalism" by Lady Gaga.

When did you first want to start a project for teenage girls?
I guess it was in May of 2010. Obviously Sassy has been coming up over and over, that was what inspired it. In the beginning, I just thought it'd be a really fun, unique thing, but then when my first year of high school started and, as the year went on, it became something that I felt much more strongly about in the sense of its potential to not only be aesthetically pleasing and have funny, clever writing, but to actually touch on some experiences. It made me feel like this was much more urgent than when I started and I just thought it would be cool.

What experiences, in particular?
Just something like going to [feminist march] SlutWalk — I loved seeing girls from my school who maybe wouldn't have taken part in some fiery history class discussion being so into it. And I think it would've been awesome if there had been some kind of follow-up to that, someplace online for the discussion to continue.

It's interesting that you're actually in the age demographic that this project is geared toward, as opposed to something like Sassy, which was largely done by women in their twenties who were sort of taking on that older sister role.
Yeah, there's something to be said there for sure. But I'm not making, like, an "it gets better" video. That would be kind of annoying from your peer, and I don't have the experience to do that. To me, what I'm writing for the site and how I'm overseeing it, a lot of it is really almost selfish because it's really just what I like or what I think maybe doesn't get said enough. And people are like, "But is Tavi the average American girl or not?" But there are some things that are just universal amongst teenage girls, and I don't mean, like, slumber parties. I mean something like when you first start noticing other people noticing your body, that is a weird experience and is part of every culture somehow. I also don't think the average American teenage girl really exists, I just think that there are shared qualities and experiences.

But you're doing something that's incredibly adult on one level, too.
Yeah, it can feel that way. I guess people know of my blog and they know that I go to Fashion Week every now and then, but I'm in school the whole rest of the year. And I'm not going to be writing about, like, "So, you know that thing when you're a teenage girl and you go to Fashion Week and this happens?" "Yeah, me too, let's talk about it!" Not only do I not want to write that, but no one will want to read it.

You did post something on Style Rookie a while ago about moving away from fashion — has that been the case?
I get kind of sad when I look at all of my magazines and think about how at one time I was much more impressed with a certain fashion editorial, or how I feel like I can't really relate to being that excited about fashion anymore. Maybe it's being jaded, but I honestly like that now, when something's really good, I feel more affected by it. That, to me, is more special.

What about your personal style? It seems very much like you still have a bit of fun getting dressed.
Well that's the other thing, feeling kind of isolated from that culture is inspiring in a sense because I guess you're less conscious of what's trendy. I haven't been as into Tumblr or Twitter lately, and I like looking for inspiration elsewhere. I think it's been much more exciting for me to find ways for fashion to relate to something like Twin Peaks, rather than to a collection I liked. I mean, I would rather dress like a book character — I don't really want to spend brainpower strategizing about [what to wear for] street-style photographers when I go to Fashion Week. I also value being comfortable now more than I used to.

Why did you ditch your glasses? They were a Tavi trademark.
Probably because you could call them something like a Tavi trademark! I was tired of them. I think one of the future issues of Rookie will be themed "Transformation." I'll probably include something that I've been writing about re-watching Juno. I used to be obsessed with that movie, and then I hated it because I hated who I used to be — I was really embarrassed and felt so silly. So it's about re-watching it realizing that it's actually a good movie and making peace with who I used to be. In my favorite Joan Didion essay, "On Keeping a Notebook," there's this amazing passage in which she writes that you have to make peace with who you used to be, because it all comes back and eventually that person will show up knocking in the middle of the night. So I guess I'll make peace with my glasses, eventually.

How would you describe the tone of Rookie?
I've just been thinking about making it different from my blog. It's still my voice, but in our first issue, I haven't written anything about fashion. Also, I want to know that people are interested in it and think it's good without the whole "15-year-old starting a website" pull. And it's not going to be only my point of view.

And what about the content?
A lot of websites run on a system of having to get a post up every half-hour, and a lot of those end up being filler posts because they don't actually have that much to say. Rookie is kind of my response to that because we have three posts a day, and we plan everything a month ahead of time. And I like that. After being in all these meetings with publishing companies and advertisers and stuff, it's like everyone just wants to trick people into reading their website. If the content is good, people will read it — you don't have to create some funny little "trying to be cutesy" gadget or whatever to coax them. We don't really have snappy names for our categories, they're pretty straightforward: "Movies and TV," "Sex and Love." I guess a couple of the more abstract ones would be "Eye Candy," which is a photo story by one of our photographers, or "Dear Diary," in which four of our contributors submit a diary entry each week.

What was the most recent thing in pop culture that you saw that you felt did justice to teens?
There's a movie coming out called Teenage [based on the book by Jon Savage]. I haven't seen it, but I want to. It's about how the teenager was kind of invented and started out as just a market. I think it's important to know that as a teenager, especially a teenage girl, so many people want your money, and that's also often dependent on telling you that you need to improve yourself with all these products. It's good to have that awareness — there's some of that to Rookie, but really more in spirit than straight-up preaching media literacy. And at the same time, we have a shoot of beauty products on messy bedroom dressers, because that stuff is fun, too.

How does it feel to be called out by Lady Gaga as the future of journalism?
I'm flattered though I'm not sure I agree!

Did you know she read your blog?
I did not!

Anything you want to say back to her?
Thank you for the compliment, your "Bad Romance" video will forever have a place in my soul, and read my post where I rewrote your "Telephone" video.

A lot of adults, outside of Lady Gaga, have connected with your writing, too, why do you think that is?
I think people get excited about someone discovering something that blew their mind when they were younger. I think it makes people kind of nostalgic and happy. That's one of the really great things about the Internet, that it can bring people together in that way of just being interested in the same stuff. I love getting emails from women who read Sassy and were really into riot grrrl music when they were a teenager. I think those conversations are interesting, they restore my faith in the Internet a bit.

Were you ever down on it?
No, but there are parts I don't like or moments when I'm like, "Soon we'll all be robots!" And I think that's also why a lot of people always felt there was something fishy about my blog, because we're so used to insincerity, especially on the Internet, so it just seemed weird that, like, a young person was writing.

And it seems some older people are intimidated by those who are using technology in all these new ways.
I think there's this scrambling — that for people to feel like they're a relevant or interesting person they have to be spouting out one-liners on Twitter every couple of hours. It's really interesting how people, how the world, is trying to figure out what it means to have an extension of our identity, or a whole new identity, online. And it's a really unique situation where, for once, it's something that young people understand better than adults in a lot of ways, or are more used to it. But it's such this scary powerful thing.

How would you describe yourself as an editor?
You know, women and girls are taught to ask for things in a way that's kind of especially shy or especially careful. But when we're working on deadlines, it's become easier for me to just, like, straight-up ask for things and say that there's something I would like to be fixed in some article. And everyone's a feminist and understands our crazy schedule so… I think I'm making myself sound more awful than I am!

When this project was first announced, everybody got really excited when they heard that you were doing it with Jane Pratt. Do you still talk to her?
Yeah! Obviously, it's a good story if we had some kind of falling out, but we didn't. She's been a great mentor. I'll still email her for help on just some bigger picture questions.

Do you read XoJane?
Yeah, I like it. And I know that people will be drawing comparisons to Rookie, but I think that is so stupid. It's so counter-productive and antithetical to what all of these websites are about. It's like comparing two riot grrrl bands, the point is that there are a lot voices and a lot of points of view, instead of one official dictating view on what women should be reading. I mean, in a way, women are kind of running the Internet with sites like XoJane, Hello Giggles, Jezebel and the Hairpin.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In my basement on a bean bag chair, watching The Simpsons and eating pizza.

Do you have any plans to go to college?
Definitely. I don't know how long I'll work on Rookie. I think I'd like to be able to do a lot of different things, definitely write, but maybe explore something like movies, too. Which is probably why I'll go to college for something that's just a good, broad foundation of knowledge, like art history.

It's going to be so interesting when you're not a teenager anymore.
I know! I asked my friend, I was like, "What if I never let go of being obsessed with teenagers and become this really pathetic adult who's like, 'Am I hip, you guys?'" And she said — and it felt really accurate to me — that I would move to the woods and become a hermit, which is probably true.

Photo: Tavi Gevinson.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Cut® are registered trademarks of New York Media LLC.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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