Sneetches: Starting And Stealing From Movements

I got put onto Lizzo sometime around 2016 when “Good As Hell” or “Worship Me” got featured in an NPR SXSW recap. I remember in 2017, playing “Truth Hurts” to my brother Pat and his bride-to-be, in their living room, saying “how is this not a massive hit?!” In 2018 I can at least say it was on a playlist I made for my buddy Billy, which you can find here. And then, in 2019, when she finally blew up, I felt vindicated. 

And I also felt like my super valuable secret just went from divine knowledge to knockoff.

This cycle – of finding something cool, watching it become common knowledge, and then slipping back into the ether, searching for what’s next to feel sacred, is timeless. For me at least. 

It always makes me think of Dr. Seuss. More specifically, The Sneetches. 

First, you can acknowledge the way things are. You can tell the cool kids from the not cool kids or whatever the defining group characteristics may be. In this story, the indicator is whether or not a Sneetch has a naturally-occurring star on its belly. 

Star-bellied Sneetches are cool. Blank-bellied Sneetches aren’t. 


Second, an outside observer comes in and notices the imbalance. Spotting an opportunity, the Fix-It-Up Chappie creates a machine to put stars on bellies. 

Third, without the old status signal, the crowd needs a new one. Fix-It-Up Chappie has the answer for this next opportunity too – he produces another machine to take stars off of bellies. 

It’s is an oversimplified binary cycle. But, it’s an extremely basic status game, offering us a parable. 

Fourth, with the machines churning out tattoos and tattoo removals at record pace, eventually the money is exhausted and nobody knows who is authentic or not anymore. 

A status reset. Co-humiliation. Take note of this. 

Fifth, the Sneetches go back to their beaches with the lesson they’re really not that different anyway. And next time a Fix-It-Up Chappie shows up, they’ll tell him to pound sand. 

Lizzo was a star on my belly. Once she wasn’t, I lost some status points. When something that is scarce, turns into something that’s widely available – it’s worth, or value, or price drops. 

Now in Lizzo’s case, her actual worth exploded and good for her. But as a social currency, Lizzo in my status wallet, my small-circle knowledge value of her collapsed as the circle grew like an atomic bomb blast radius. Because now everybody knows. I can’t tell you what social media already told you and have it be fresh. 

Markets of all sorts, they’re worth studying.  

When you see something cool, the first step is to notice what makes it cool and why. 

The second step is to look for a Fix-It-Up Chappie. NPR in my Lizzo story (and a host of other fans and critics, but those who have a bigger status megaphone). 

Steps three and four capture how an idea levels up to status-neutral. Kind of risk-free to borrow a finance term. There’s no juice left to squeeze. 

And this is maybe the most important insight. 

Step five is about the rest. The end of hubris, which can come in the form of humiliation. 

I retreated to find the next “oh my god have you heard this artist.”

NPR did their version of the same. As Fix-It-Up Chappies do. They’re literally in the business of doing this. 

And Lizzo, like the Sneetches, had to figure out what platform her value was next a star-belly on. She became an artist in search of the next Fix-It-Up Chappie to propel her career higher. 

I had The Sneetches as a book as a kid growing up. It’s a timeless parable. I still think about it and see it all of the time. That truth doesn’t hurt.