Raven Smith is wanting to get cancelled. An unlikely wish for the High Priest of Instagram, with 76k followers imbibing his hot takes on Brexit, or wellness, through a miasma of Olsen memes and Oprah gifs. And, yet, Raven finds himself “at a point where I would quite like to get cancelled today, so I can stop worrying about getting cancelled. Let’s just do it now, let’s get this out of the way!” Ready for a digital dust-up, Raven has the scrap-happy attitude of any good satirist.
Indeed, we tend to think of our influencers as being in gilded cages; but Raven cribs from his own life with glee—he has opinions, and a couple of decades working in the fickle world of fashion, from which to pull. “Give me matter, and I will construct a world out of it!”, the philosopher Immanuel Kant once said—Raven’s M.O. is similar, the raw materials of a 2007-era Britney screenshot and a day’s Brexit news being all he needs to take a pot shot: “None of us are above the endorphin hit of a post going off—I’m the same as any other consumer, as well as being a broadcaster.”Raven stands apart from most online commentators for other reasons. There’s his name, with that gothic pull, and then a suburban coda; like the moniker of a Tim Burton character. His laugh is ripe, and comes unbidden from deep within—like a Pharaoh emerging from centuries of darkness to hear the world’s best knock-knock joke. His booming voice and rapid-fire cultural nous bring to mind the dreamy substitute teacher you always wanted (fitting given his role as visiting lecturer at Central Saint Martin’s). Cresting into adulthood and fame as Creative Director for Nowness, the site under Raven became a go-to creative reference point for the industry, with now-notorious hits such as Matt Lambert’s sweat video or Lil Buck’s Fondation Louis Vuitton dance. It may chide other writers to hear the pitching process for Raven’s book happened in reverse; he was DM-d by his publisher, rather than the other way around.
Being an online figure risks falling through the looking glass; becoming beholden to the same space you’re making fun of—but Raven is conscious of this: “We’ve ended up in a place where even our Prime Minister is part of pop culture. We’re experiencing our news, our politics, and our shopping in the same feed—so pop culture is merging into this one constant hub.” Asking Raven about what defines the times—are we living in an age of uncertainty, of irony, of fear, for example—he quips; “We live in the age of opinion. We all feel entitled to our opinions, and columnists feel entitled to turn them into 500 words rather than 140 characters.” We welcome anyone who can parse apart the red seas of content with some clarity; to do so with humour, as Raven does, is icing.
Images by Jermaine Francis
When it came to writing his first book, Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits, due for release on March 23 2020, his cursory trawls of the internet turned inwards: “In the way that with mindfulness you’re meant to let stuff pass, [while writing] I was trying to stop everything and inspect the traffic of my brain. It was insane.” Trivial Pursuits contains his meditations on modern life, born from “nit-combing my psyche”, and, one suspects, more than a few hours in the teeming neon of Instagram, approaching with trademark curiosity and intelligence.
But how to dissect our times without freezing us all like mosquitoes in amber, without tossing your audience the gruelling chew of a lecture? For Raven, it came by finding the comedy: “There has to be some comic relief in all of this. If we’re being realistic, we’re all fucked: we may as well have some joy in whatever these troublesome times are.” Being an artist on the brink of fame, while living in a world on the brink of collapse, is nothing new. If anything, it’s great ground for new fodder. For the time being, it’s not a question of straddling politically correct lines, it’s about whether there’s an ‘in’ at all: “There are definitely things that aren’t funny. Like I don’t think #MeToo is funny, there is no ‘in’…. We’re actually at a point where everything is problematic.”
As far as the virus of most memes go, Raven is patient zero. Asking how he navigates this cycle, he’s candid in response: “I’m not silly, I see how absurd this all is. It’s absurd, but it’s where we’re at. Life is just the most bizarre series of stuff. And then you die. One of the early lines of my book is “Everything is a distraction from death”—because it is.” Realistic about our capricious desire for self-improvement; for one reason or another, he’s been to that hotpod yoga class, taken that mindfulness session, he states: “We listen to podcasts that change our lives… and then we are completely the same when we wake up the next day.”
Raven’s best branding work is himself; the architect of his own making, the meme lord becoming a meme in turn. In an era where memes of Baby Yoda outweigh our interest in any election, Raven x Semaine have joined forces for exclusive edition mugs, starring none other than Raven’s go-to alter egos: The Clintons, The Obamas, The Olsens, and the Royals. As we experience it, Instagram is an unlikely home for satire—it’s for airbrushing ourselves into oblivion, posting holiday shots with all the grittiness of a Sex and the City film poster, or pushing our own portfolios. Raven uses it as a rolling ball of absurdity, tipping into the role of provocateur as well as humorist; a two-sided coin he seems comfortable balancing upon. The agenda, if any, behind any Raven Smith project, column, or post, is, after all, a simple one: “That’s my dream; that we’re all in this bath together, having a gab… how great!”
By Jonathan Mahon-Heap for Semaine.
"Spilling the Tea"
Tea, jam, and Trivial Pursuits = the key to happiness? This is the definition of whatever hygge actually is. Dig in.
“Be gentle with me, it’s my first time. I finally got down to watching HBO’s best gangster drama. I’m in love with Christopher Moltisanti and Adriana even though their relationship is the blueprint for toxic coercion. And in truth, the women are the best thing about the uber-macho show. Carmela and Medow Soprano steal scenes from the gruff Mafiosos. At a viewing level, it feels like a bygone era for television. I love how 90s the scene transitions are and how there’s no real cliff-hangers before the ad breaks. The show just gently rolls from violent scene to therapy session to slightly annoying dream montage. Ps. I checked Adriana’s Instagram this week and she’s still ruthlessly hot.”
“After ordering many an organic veg box on quarantine, I’ve been down the rabbit hole of delicious recipes on Bon Appetit. We dine each like Henry VIII if he had a warehouse in Brooklyn. Carrot pancakes. Snazzy vinaigrettes. A weird chicken soup as I fall off the wagon of pescatarianism, with I used as a base for different steamed vegetables. I would be cycle-eating cheese on toast if it weren’t for those test kitchen chefs.”
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
“My podcast listening had plummeted since I stopped commuting, but I still make time for audiobook on my daily walk across Hampsted Heath as joggers who can’t measure 2 metres zoop past in threadbare lycra. This tale of a woman deliberately doing nothing feels so on point for the current climate. She sits, she sleeps, she occasionally showers. More happens, she’s eventually prized from slumber, but it’s this sedentary lifestyle that’s struck a chord with me. The motives and repercussions of a purely indoor regime is not relatable as such—she’s escaping demons, we’re all being forced into hiding—but the venn of her story and our collective situation penetrates my walking hour.”
The Talented Mr Ripley
“Still the most biting literary thriller on the planet bar none. Highsmith’s Ripley is a schemer, as trickster, a true monster. You ebbing dread as a reader gives way to a silent resignation to his crimes. They’re all a form on enjoyment to him, his motive is opportunity rather than a bid for survival. He doesn’t obsessively covert Dickie’s life so much as assume it because it’s in front of him. Being inside his head for a spell is labyrinthine respite from pour current hell. Yes, the film is great but I’m actively avoiding any content that induces hysterical jealousy of summertime Europe: see also Call Me by Your Name and Mamma Mia.”
TIM BURTON, 1988
“With constant news alerts and minimised distraction from sitting up in bed all day, my attention span is shot to shit this month. I love an epic drama, but in this climate I just can’t be arsed with in-depth movie sagas spanning decades, full of longing and aching. I want 90-minute romps, melodramatic one-liners and bonkers set design. The searing macabre wit of Tim Burton reaches boiling point in Beetlejuice. The casting is unpatrolled. Michael Keaton is unrecognisable in the titular role. Catherine O’Hara is perfectly New York neurotic, as are her costumes. Winona is a goth teen. Harry Belafonte runs throughout. What more could you want?”
Adulthood skews our definition of happiness—you find it in the simple things, like that perfect pair of socks, that sleek coffee machine, or the bitter inhale of a few Advil. Shop Raven Smith’s simple, everyday essentials below.
"The Twins" Mug
"The Obama" Mug
"The Nigella" Mug
"The Clintons" Mug
"The Bateman" Mug
"The Royals" Mug
Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits SIGNED COPY
Everyday Tea Bags
Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones
Stoneware Grand Teapot
Black Frame 23 Sunglasses
Wood Rolling Pin
London icons, Soho sanctuaries, and a wardrobe fit for Pellicano’s 2020 summer season—Raven’s travel edit has it all.
40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby St
SE1 3PA London
“I’ve lost hours to their impressive wine list, I really should invoice for my time.”
20 Sherwood St
W1F 7ED London
“There’s a secret vegetarian menu with an omelette, so order that. The dining room feels quite Titanic too, all marble and dark wood. Dine like an iceberg is on the horizon.”
Brockwell Park, Dulwich Rd,
SE24 0PA London
“Brace yourself for the water and bring an inflatable for the concrete poolside. I like to bring a picnic, and by that I mean M&S hummus and crisps.”
41 Dean St
W1D 4PY London
“Sharing plates, but not in an annoying way. They do very good drinking vinegars if that’s your thing. If it’s not your thing, make it your thing.”
63 Ledbury Rd
W11 2AD London
“They have these slab fruitcakes, the building blocks for happiness. The restaurant is renowned for its delicate calibrations of ingredients and flavours, but the one time I met Yotam he was en route to bake a Peppa Pig cake for his son.”
26-29 Dean St
W1D 3LL London
“I like to sneak upstairs on an afternoon and have the double Americano — a black coffee and a Campari highball.”
16 Playground Gardens
E2 7FA London
“They often have a mood-enhancing bouillabaisse on the menu. The puddings are splendid and they’ll even bung a candle in if you pretend it’s your birthday.”
The V&A Cafe
SW7 2RL London
“Nothing says I love you like a stilton and celery scone. The dining bit, officially called the Gamble Room, is actually quite breathtaking, I don’t say that lightly. It was the first ever museum café. Butter your scone and absorb the history.”
W1J 9EB London
“A prawn cocktail and a diet coke. That’s it. That’s the recommendation.”
Jaunting from Italian murder mysteries, to the cerebral inner lives of New Yorker intellectuals, pluck your next winter read from Raven’s bookshelf.
AA Gill is Away
by AA Gill
“This book is the fruit
of those absences:
twenty-five long travel
piecesthat belie his
reputationas a mere
and master of vitriol:
this is travel writing
of the highest
quality and ambition.”
“With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny – it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can.”
“Is being tall a social currency? Am I the contents of my fridge? Does yoga matter if you’re not filthy rich? Is a bagel four slices of bread? Are three cigarettes a meal? Raven Smith’s tale on the importance we place in the least important things and our frivolous attempts to accomplish and attain, is guaranteed to make you lol, and not just once.”