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Traci Hines on becoming a real-world mermaid meme

Hines cosplays down where it's wetter and is making quite the splash on the WWW

After posting a selfie with her 3D cinema glasses and Heinz-red wig, Traci Hines made a viral splash (literally) that reverberated online. Her new persona was solidified as both an internet meme and an IRL character. She uses her fins as an avenue to push a message of friendship, fun and positivity throughout the cosplay and fandom communities. While not very much into the fetishistic aspect of merculture (read: gritty grotto parties), she does get a kick out of the dark side of the mercave. Now, she does a regular YouTube web series called "Life Lessons From A Hipster Mermaid" which has racked her up more than 120k subscribers and several million views. Here she explains how she fell into the merpond and what it means to be a real-world mer-meme.

Why do you think people are so fascinated with merculture?

Traci Hines: The beauty of a mermaid is enough to intrigue someone. The imagery is an alluring spectacle in and of itself with their flowing hair and impossible silhouette, but I think it goes much deeper than their aesthetic. Mermaids are mysterious by nature – and dangerous. I don’t think anyone can fully understand the creature. There’s something alien about them. We’ve had our pop culture surges in vampire, unicorn and werewolf popularity. Now, I think it’s the time of the mermaid.

“I took some silly selfies on my phone and sent them to my friend. I posted some online too and two weeks later my photo was being featured on tons of geek and gamer blogs all over the internet. It was insane!”

Did you really wear thick black glasses with red hair before meme-Ariel?

Traci Hines: [laughs] Well, I did wear thick black glasses with my red hair before I ever saw the meme, so I’d like to think I came first. I used to punch the lenses out of my 3D glasses from the movie theatre and wear them for giggles. I thought it was clever. I threw on some 3D frames I had in my car, was already in my mermaid outfit, so I took some silly selfies on my phone and sent them to my friend. I posted some online too, not really thinking much of it and two weeks later my photo was being featured on tons of geek and gamer blogs all over the internet. It was insane! Overnight, I became the real life version of the meme.

I’ve realised how many people get a kick out of it. I created a web-series centred around the “Hipster Mermaid” character. We called the series, “Life Lessons From A Hipster Mermaid," in which each episode my character snarkily teaches humans, how to be better humans; one lesson at a time. “Hipster Mermaid” has also sort of become the face of my clothing line, Adorkable Apparel™. I guess there are lots of hipster mermaids out there now and I love seeing the mermaid fandom spread.

There’s a growing number merfolk who actually identify as mermaids. Wearing custom tails in the ocean or bathtub, heavy interests in marine life, conservation and environmental concerns. Is that the same pond you play in?

Traci Hines: I feel slightly on the edge of the mermaid community. One fin in and one fin out. I’m a huge mermaid lover and fan and I am lucky enough to get to portray mermaid characters for work, but for me, it’s about the illusion, the performance, and of course the music. It’s not a lifestyle for me like some of the others who are known for being constant mermaids in the community. I don’t often swim in mermaid tails, my tails are for performances, for blessing others and for making a visual impact, not necessarily for swimming in the ocean. I believe everyone was put on earth for a special purpose and I believe that mine is to touch people’s hearts through music. My mission and the way that I utilise my identity is different from other mermaids. It does seem to keep me on the outskirts of the community, which is why I don’t consciously make an effort to attend every mermaid event.

Some mermaids and cosplayers cross-over into the lascivious land of sexualised fanaticism and fin fetishism. What do think about that element of the subculture?

Traci Hines: My friends tease me. They say I can be a little too much of a “Disney Princess” when it comes my naivety and the ways of the world. I generally stay pretty grounded in the realm of wholesome, family friendly fun when it comes to mermaid projects. I do have a dark side which can be seen in my love for vampires, my addiction to horror movies and wearing pretty PVC corsets. Even though I enjoy the darker nature.

“I feel slightly on the edge of the mermaid community. One fin in and one fin out”

You were a finalist in Japan’s Anime Expo singing competition, auditioned for American Idol and Glee, and now you’re in the studio recording your own album. What can we expect?

Traci Hines: I’m super excited to release some new music this year! I’m currently working on a new single that will complete the fantasy-pop EP I’ve been working towards, so that’s set to release later this year! This is my first EP, so I’m ridiculously excited about it. It will be composed mostly of my own originals. I’ve also simultaneously been in the studio working on some covers set to release this year as well. Those will be featured in some cover music videos on my YouTube channel. I have a goal to release a collection of covers after my EP of originals, so this is the start of that project. Out of everything I do, making music is my fuel. I live for this stuff! 

What’s the most awkward or worst gig you’ve had as a mermaid?

Traci Hines: There can be lots of awkward moments for any mermaid trying to get around on land. Sometimes the most awkward part of being a mermaid is the transportation aspect. When a “Prince” isn’t present to carry me in and out of events, I’ve been transported via rolling office chair and rolling ikea flatbed cart! Sometimes I’ve even had to hop into position while in the tail, but never when children are present. I never want to break the magic! I’ve been in some videos that were a bit awkward too, that later I regretted. It was an overly cheesy fan-done tribute to The Little Mermaid in which I had to “dance” in a mermaid tail on a rock at the beach for 8 hours, which of course ruined my costume and bruised my legs. It was a favour for an acquaintance, and the sequence was never finished, but it was posted to youtube, and the level and awkwardness of it, coupled with the amount of views it got has definitely made me take more pause before saying yes to any mermaid gig that comes my way. The internet is forever!