How Pop Crave and Pop Base turned into the internet’s favorite news source

How Pop Crave and Pop Base turned into the internet’s favorite news source

If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, Threads, or (especially) the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered a Pop Crave post. The odds are probably higher if you’re chronically online — and if you’re a younger stan of any particular celebrity, you might even be a regular consumer of its updates.

Describing itself as the “go-to source for everything pop culture,” the entertainment news website once called the “ESPN of pop music” has exploded in popularity since it launched as a Twitter account in December 2015. (Though the company has rebranded as X, we’ll refer to it as Twitter for clarity in this story.) It has accumulated over 1.5 million followers on Twitter in that time, about 200,000 followers on Instagram, and about 60,000 on Threads.

Its mostly anonymous staff run a proper website featuring interviews with minor celebrities, movie reviews, and photo galleries, and it’s been known to break pop culture news, publish exclusive promotion for movies and TV shows, and, in 2020, announce the results of the presidential election a full day before many of the country’s major newspapers, wire services, or television networks. (Pop Crave cited Decision Desk HQ in its tweet, which has also partnered with Vox for election coverage.)

Pop Crave faced some bemused reactions at the time, but it was also a more visible sign of how the times would be changing on social media.

Since then, Pop Crave has kept my attention — not just because of its frequent updates about my favorite musician’s accomplishments and the most minute, random pop culture moments. I’ve also tracked a more frequent feeling: Why does it seem like I’m learning more and more breaking news from Pop Crave before anyone else?

I know I’m not alone in this. To check the current reshares, replies, and mentions of Pop Crave and its recent competitors online is to see this idea repeated: “Why is the news kind of crazy today? And why am I learning everything from @PopCrave?” These music stan accounts have become the first way some people learned about the Supreme Court’s striking down of student loan cancellation, of Trump’s indictments, of congressional UFO hearings, and other political and hard news.

The phenomenon fits into a larger shift in digital news consumption: of social media and informal alternative news sources supplanting traditional media as sources of information for Americans, and of “incidental exposure” — an academic term to describe the process by which individuals encounter news or information without actively searching for it.

Both are important trends to keep in mind; they explain how these accounts can have a bigger reach than their raw follower counts, and how their coverage of political news may end up reaching a cohort of social media users actively disengaged with current events and politics. And with investigations and elections ramping up, these outlets still have so much more room for growth and new influence.

How Pop Crave (and its rivals) got started

Pop Crave, and its chief Twitter competitors Pop Base and Pop Tingz, belong to the same category of pop culture update accounts that provide constant and seemingly random reports on actors, celebrities, music artists, chart performances, and aggregation from traditional news outlets. They’ve exploded in popularity since the start of the pandemic era — coinciding with a shift in the music industry to streaming as the main driver of chart success, the resumption of film and TV production after pandemic shutdowns, and the return of live music events.

Founded in 2015 as @PopCultureShady by Will Cosme, a journalism school dropout based in Miami, and relaunched in 2016 as @PopCrave, the outlet spent most of its early years growing a small but loyal follower base on Twitter. Its first few tweets to its 20,000 or so followers were updates on artists such as Zayn, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna, as well as new music releases and streaming data — all important details for loyal fans to boost their favorite artists’ standing.

It slowly became a trusted name for pop culture fanatics, breaking exclusive reports about the dissolution of the pop girl group Fifth Harmony, communicating with celebrities like Cardi B, and providing data from industry insiders. The account took advantage of the incentive to post often and quickly — Cosme told Insider in 2020 that the outlet wasn’t profitable in its first three years of existence, but began to take off in 2019 in part because of its speed.

“Twitter was the perfect tool for us because it allows us to crank out news as quickly as we do and it taught us how to get directly to the point in so many characters, which is what fans love,” he said in 2020. “They get the whole story in a nutshell. I think we were able to create such a presence because we’re consistent; there’s no ‘off’ button for Pop Crave.”

After reaching around 270,000 followers in 2019, it more than doubled that count in the following year. It was also around this time that competitors began to try to imitate it: Pop Crave’s biggest rival in the space, @PopBase, joined Twitter in June 2019, while a more recent competitor, @PopTingz, joined in 2021. By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, Pop Crave had launched a website, brought on a small staff of volunteer editors, and was more than halfway to a million followers. It began to cover the 2020 election more intently, too — culminating with its race call in November — and Cosme gave hints about the outlet’s future. “Politics is not new to Pop Crave, but it was definitely risky as many people in the general public believe we only do pop music news,” he told Jezebel in 2020. “Pop Crave is still very focused on entertainment news, and we dabble in politics when we feel like we have a responsibility to inform our audience.”

Its growth has been exponential since. And it’s not alone in its new venture.

When the Pops turned to politics

On Tuesday, August 1, while the whole news world was reading any available tea leaves for signs that Donald Trump’s third indictment (this one for trying to overturn the 2020 election) was coming that day, I was watching Pop Crave and Pop Base’s feeds. Earlier in the summer, I had watched them report on the alleged existence of aliens, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s entry into the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

I didn’t have to wait long. As initial reports began to hit Twitter from journalists tracking movements in the DC courthouse where a grand jury had been deliberating over indicting Trump, Pop Base put out a declarative note: “Donald Trump will be indicted for a third time today.” Its report came first, perhaps going off a Truth Social post from Trump himself, who predicted his indictment 10 minutes before Pop Base posted. Pop Base beat Pop Crave, the New York Times, ABC, and the official announcement from special counsel Jack Smith.

No other outlet would independently confirm the news for at least another 30 minutes after Trump’s initial post. That delay reflects a key problem with pseudo-journalistic operations like Pop Base, which are fundamentally less rigorous than traditional media — unable or unwilling to verify something in the same way news organizations do.

I tried reaching a Pop Base editor or spokesperson to talk about the rationale behind their tweet. Unlike Pop Crave, which has a few bylines on website posts, Pop Base is essentially anonymous. After a brief exchange in Twitter messages, I did manage to get in touch with a representative — the music manager and digital media and marketing firm director Troy Dubrowsky — who declined to comment on Pop Base’s work.

Meanwhile, Pop Crave didn’t report that Trump had been indicted until the court filing was available and traditional outlets had independently confirmed it. “Pop Crave has been engaging in political coverage since 2016 given the intertwined nature of politics and pop culture,” Cosme told me in a statement. “Pop Crave takes great pride in being the first of its kind. We have solidified ourselves as trailblazers within the digital space and beyond. Notably, we’ve been acknowledged and referenced in various media forms, most recently Prime Video’s ‘Red, White & Royal Blue.’”

The Pops’ Trump indictment updates are just a sampling of the increased political news coverage they’ve been running. On any given day in the last year, Pop Crave or Pop Base has reported on: the Michigan legislature’s move to restrict conversion therapy in the state; Florida’s curriculum change around skills enslaved people learned before the Civil War; and Biden’s student loan forgiveness “Plan B.” Their pivot to traditional news coverage has inspired memes comparing Pop Crave to the Associated Press, and Pop Base to the Washington Post.

Pop Crave’s most recent mainstream crossover came in June, when Joe Biden’s presidential campaign account quote-tweeted an aggregated Pop Crave tweet reporting on Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s decisions to display ticket fees more transparently after a push from Biden. “This is a win for consumers and proof that our crackdown on junk fees has real momentum,” Biden said, to which Pop Crave replied, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

The interaction fit into the White House’s efforts to increase awareness of Biden’s accomplishments, Christian Tom, the White House director of digital strategy, told me in a statement. “We’re proud of our work with ‘non-traditional’ sources of news and information, particularly online, since that is where an increasing number of Americans get their news,” he said. “We are glad to see news sources of all types, including digital media accounts with large social footprints, share factual updates on President Biden’s historic legislation.”

That exchange also offers two new important takeaways: As these accounts grow their reach, they gain legitimacy, credibility, and more trust — despite not operating like traditional journalistic operations (Pop Crave, for example, runs sponsored content; more on that later). They fit into a long tradition of melding entertainment and news, but they’re also disrupting it: clickbait, without the click.

The typical Pop Crave or Pop Base post is pretty short — perfect for the short attention spans of social media users. Every post is accompanied by a photo or visual element. Most often, attribution to another news organization or a link to a non-Pop Crave/Base article follows in a reply tweet, which naturally gets less engagement than the first post. Essentially, they share a headline and little else.

“Pop Crave has eliminated the need to click on clickbait,” the writer Jael Goldfine recently argued in Study Hall, a newsletter for the freelancer and media worker network. “Its rise suggests people want to read this type of news directly on social media. Why would someone read a clunky article with a try-hard headline, when they could simply scroll past a tweet?”

The politics-pop culture overlap is not new

Combining the Pops’ younger and less politically engaged audiences with their clickbait-without-the-click operations is a near-perfect example of two modern trends: the rise of nontraditional news consumption, especially among young people, and the increase in what researchers call “incidental news exposure.”

“Especially younger people say that [news on social media] is one of the most common ways that they get their news, that they get political in election years,” Katerina Eva Matsa, the director of news and information research at the Pew Research Center, told me. “That is not new. We have seen that since 2012, when Facebook was a big news source.”

During the heyday of Facebook’s News Feed, Matsa said, researchers were trying to understand just how engaged users wanted to be with news, and how they were interacting with political posts especially. “One of the things that we had seen there was the idea of bumping into news, which led us into a lot of incidental exposure research. The idea is you’re there, you like to look at pictures with your friends, you’re engaging with what pleases you, and one way or another, someone posts something and you end up seeing news.”

Researchers similarly found that these cases of incidental exposure are greatest for users of YouTube and Twitter, and especially so for younger people or those with low news engagement — making them new news consumers. Anecdotally, that seems to be the kind of person who engages most with these pop culture outlets: people who are using social media for pop culture updates, not necessarily political information. That younger audience also overlaps with the kind of people who get their news primarily from social media.

“We have also seen in our data that people are fatigued by news,” Matsa said. “People feel that they’re worn out by the amount of news they get … but social media is not the same environment. You could be fatigued from news, but you’re not there for that reason.”

This dynamic also raises concerns about news and media literacy, misinformation, and journalistic ethics, especially as these accounts veer into political reporting. Their ripped-from-the-headlines-style news posts often lack context, like the viral clips of a supposed whistleblower telling a congressional panel that aliens exist (there are reasons to distrust the whistleblower). Though probably not maliciously intended, they can add to confusion and conspiracy-minded thinking under the veneer of hard news, while simultaneously usurping the work of more credible news outlets.

Few of the people behind these accounts use their full names, and none of the outlets have mastheads. They rarely disclose clearly if a post is sponsored, opening them up to accusations of bias and favoritism — or misinformation. A recent Pop Crave post promoting the singer Melanie Martinez, for example, muddled the line between its previous coverage of the congressional UAP hearings and its pop culture coverage.

Until now, the Pops’ biggest critics have typically been fan groups upset with the kind of coverage their favored artists are getting, but that may change as political news picks up. Already, Pop Crave has felt comfortable calling DeSantis a “Fascist” and Trump a “liable sexual abuser.”

What comes next isn’t clear, but the growth of the Pops doesn’t seem likely to slow down anytime soon, especially as Twitter, the primary space in which they operate, shrinks, and, as the writer Ryan Broderick has noted, fewer posts go as viral as they once did because of changes to the platform’s algorithm. Pop Base reached the million-follower mark in less than four years, and its even more informal rival, Pop Tingz, is already at the 150,000-follower mark after two.

These outlets have so far remained in the genre of aggregation and niche newsgathering, but expansion into conventional news reporting is possible. For the moment, they are filling a gap on Twitter as older digital outlets like Paper Magazine and BuzzFeed News have folded, traditional entertainment sites hold less sway, and Elon Musk’s X Premium (formerly Twitter Blue) promotes verified accounts like the Pops.

Goldfine, writing for Study Hall, calls this the natural consequence of a broken digital media ecosystem: Pop Crave isn’t the problem, “it’s the usual suspects: tech and media executives who built the system where riches could be gleaned from making stories go viral on social media. Now that this system is falling apart, journalists will suffer. But there was something broken all along.” I tend to agree. But as Pop Crave and its counterparts enter more of the hard news space and try to inform followers about politics and elections, the standards should probably be higher.

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