At 3:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, hundreds of Instagram influencers descended on Gladstones Malibu, an old-timey seafood restaurant perched high above a pristine California beach.* Their entrances followed a script: One by one, they entered the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, immediately whipped out a phone, and began taking photos and videos. One young woman retraced her steps through the entrance four times as a friend filmed her from different angles. Another held her phone aloft for a selfie while twirling a cloud of cotton candy. Others rushed to the porch’s edge to take yet more selfies. Two boys posed in similar-looking tracksuits before one stripped off his hoodie to soak in the 85-degree weather.
The DJ, Lela B—also an Instagram influencer, according to one of the company’s press representatives—was playing clean, radio-friendly versions of top 40 hits. The crowd wore crop tops, layers of mesh, lots of neon, and, for roughly 40 percent of the men, some form of Gucci shoes. “I feel like I’m living in the Explore page,” Adam Waheed, an influencer and a comedian with 1.5 million followers on Instagram, remarked. Instagram-branded donuts melted in the hot sun.
The occasion was Instabeach, an exclusive, invite-only annual party hosted by the photo-sharing platform for 500 top creators along with plus-ones, talent representatives, managers, and—for the first time—press. The goal, according to Justin Antony, Instagram’s head of creators and emerging talent partnerships, is to help influencers meet one another, mingle, and form friendships. But what started three years ago as a casual beach party for a class of people that was once maligned by the traditional entertainment industry has become a who’s who of young Hollywood, a sun-soaked declaration of just how completely enmeshed Instagram has become with the teen-entertainment world. Instagram isn’t just a place to connect with friends, share memes, and post life highlights—it’s where more and more young stars go to make a name for themselves.
Stepping onto the sandy porch at Gladstones felt like walking into an eighth-grade graduation party hosted by one of the popular kids. The older influencers, those in their early and mid-20s—like Meg DeAngelis, who has 1.7 million followers on Instagram; Brent Rivera, a former Viner with 15 million followers on Instagram; and Eva Gutowski, who has 6.8 million followers on Instagram—gave out lots of hugs and emitted a deep older-sibling energy.