In 2015, This American Life host Ira Glass devoted a segment of This American Life to vocal fry — that creaky, Kardashian speaking style of lingering on syllables with a high-pitched reverberation. “Yes” pronounced as “Yaaass” or “Bible” as “Bi-boll.” Though a common enunciation pattern, it became so synonymous with influencers, reality stars and the nouveau riche that Glass had to confront listeners who wrote in critiquing his team of female audio journalists for their “grating” and “irritating” speech patterns. He ended the segment by quoting reporter Sally Herships, who said of the sexist critiques against vocal fry, “Get over it.”
By and large, the culture did. As Keeping Up With the Kardashians ends in the New Year, one of the epitaphs for the seminal show will be normalizing vocal fry as a way people talk, not a pathology.
In this new decade of celebrity where digital creators and reality TV stars now mix with Oscar-winning actresses on TikTok, a new speech pattern has replaced vocal fry as the divisive sound of the new influencer. Let’s call it the hustle husk.
Think Tom Cruise in Magnolia, or a Tony Robbins seminar: a priestly, throaty, pseudo-inspirational tone expressing confidence and urgency.
Spend five minutes on Invention TikTok and you’re bound to cross overconfident hustle culture bros who grew up idolizing The Social Network and The Wolf of Wall Street now using hustle husk to peddle shitty merchandise or pointless innovations — er, sorry, “Million Dollar Ideas” — to impressionable teens.
Even the Kardashian-adjacent Jonathan Cheban, now rebranded as “Foodgod,” swapped vocal fry for the more trendy hustle husk in his spon-con videos.
This speaking style is often paired with introductions like “You gotta” or “What’s up.” It’s followed by a word scramble of phrases like “million-dollar idea,” “trust me” and “my buddy Nick.” Hoverboards, borrowed Teslas, backyard pools or other signifiers of wealth (meant to connote wisdom) crowd the backgrounds of these videos.
“The people that do this are often tech startup bros,” New York Times technology reporter Taylor Lorenz says of hustle husk influencers. “You can imagine them on stage at a tech pitch day with one of those Britney Spears mics, explaining why they’re gonna solve all of humanity’s problems with some gadget.”
Hustle husk is what happens when you let a decade of dudes grow up believing that Silicon Valley titans like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Jack Dorsey are divine industry disruptors and not the greedy capitalists they actually are. Their disciples, now amateur TikTok entrepreneurs, are the guys who watch TED Talks and practice their Y Combinator Demo Day pitches before bed.
In reality, most of these hustle bros are not convincing seed funds to invest in their new products or apps. They’re trying to persuade a bunch of impressionable zoomers to join pyramid schemes or purchase from their merch drop shipments.
Just look at Gary Vaynerchuk, the Kim Kardashian of hustle husk. He’s a self-described investor, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and a ton of other words popular freshman business majors like to drop in conversation.
Like nearly all the hustle husk influencers, Vaynerchuk’s most valuable product is the feeling of success. “It’s worth considering why all of these videos, especially the most viral ones, have this young white male authoritative voice,” Lorenz says. It’s true that social media algorithms, just like the venture capital firms that fund them, tend to favor white masculinity. In March, the Intercept reported that TikTok told moderators to suppress uploads from users with an “abnormal body shape,” “ugly facial looks” and “dwarfism.” This fall, Jack Dorsey apologized for Twitter’s “racist” image-cropping algorithm that centers white people in photos.
Look where all that disruption got us. Silicon Valley homogeneity and techie groupthink have given us a social media landscape where every bro on TikTok is trying to sell you a knickknack like their house is on fire. Try a full pitch in non-stop vocal fry next time and maybe I’ll pay attention.