Is reading the New York Times cool? Is it basic? How about cheugy? Well, if you have been paging through the Gray Lady you probably came across Taylor Lorenz’s explainer piece on the Gen Z’s latest contribution to the vernacular: cheugy. Popularized on TikTok, the term is essentially the opposite of trendy. More specifically, it’s highly targeted at pinpointing the outdated millennial woman aesthetic. Think: Starbucks, “we did a thing,” chunky necklaces, cheesy proposals, quote-focused paraphernalia (i.e. “Not before I’ve had my coffee”). On grander scale, cheugy is the blind following of trends. You can check out the Instagram account @cheuglife for more examples…but it seems Instagram itself is kinda cheugy too.
And let’s be honest. If you’re like us, trying to catch up with the trends—and the language commenting on the trends—you’re already lightyears behind. So we tapped Megan Collins, a cultural insights analyst at CULTIQUE to help us cheugs (yes, there’s a noun version) grasp the meaning of the word a little more…and whether or not we should add it to our vocabulary or let it explode with the force of a firework and dissolve in the sky as quickly as it came.
Wait, so what's the difference between basic and cheugy?
“Timing,” says Collins. “Cheugy and basic serve the same function: to critique people who base their aesthetic choices off of trend cycles and consumerism rather than personal choice, style and preference. It’s a rejection of conformity over individual expression.” In that sense, what basic was to millennials, cheugy is to Gen Z.
But Gen Z seems into being basic (Crocs, for example)—so is cheugy necessarily bad?
Ya know how Anna Wintour might have described a collection as “derivative”? That’s cheugy, Collins attempts to help us understand. “The Catch-22 is that to care about being cheugy or basic is in itself seen as cheugy or basic,” explains Collins. “It’s not so much about what you are doing/wearing but why.” She goes back to the Crocs example: “If you’re wearing Crocs because you genuinely want to and love them, great! If you’re wearing Crocs because you saw Emma Chamberlain wearing Crocs and you will blindly do anything and everything Emma Chamberlain does, that’s cheugy.”
So I obviously know who Emma Chamberlain is…but who is Emma Chamberlain?
Chamberlain is a 19-year-old YouTuber with over 10 million subscribers. The face of Gen Z vlogging, Taylor Lorenz described her for The Atlantic as “The most talked-about teen influencer in the world doesn't airbrush her photos. She doesn’t have a team of editors and photographers following her around and taking aspirational ‘plandids.’ In fact, she doesn’t make her life seem very aspirational at all: In many of her videos, she looks like she just rolled out of bed. Emma Chamberlain shuns makeup, sometimes skips a shower, and doesn’t seem to care if she looks weird or if her camera is poised at an unflattering angle.”
So yeah, Chamberlain is kinda the antithesis of cheugy. In her authenticity (or what appears to be so), she’s helped usher in a digital revolt against consumer conformity and the “Instagram” aesthetic—which, yeah, is its own form of consumer conformity, that the generation following Gen Z will undoubtedly pick apart in 15 years.
So, is cheugy truly viral among Gen Z or are older people just excited to have heard the term?
For Collins and the folks at Cultique, it’s really about the macro cultural shifts: “Any trend forecaster worth their salt will tell you that you need at least three examples before you can say something is truly a trend. So, we would take something like the word ‘cheugy’ as part of a larger shift involving Gen Z critiquing millennial culture (see: side part/skinny jean & ‘dudes rock’ discourses to round at the trifecta).” Still, although Collins certainly sees this macro trend of Gen Z’s rejection of millennial culture, she also thinks we might be seeing a bit of conflation right now between singular viral pieces of content (like @webkinzwhore143’s original cheugy TikTok) and memes. Says Collins: “Despite the coverage it’s gotten, cheugy is not necessarily a word that Gen Z is using en masse.”
Does cheugy have legs? Will we actually be saying this word past 2021?
“I doubt we will be talking about it in a few weeks,” jokes Collins. “But what will continue is Gen Z reinventing language (as is the cycle of youth and popular culture). I just want people to stop focusing on trying to explain what Gen Z is saying and try a little more to understand the meaning and intention behind their words.”
Should millennials start using cheugy or is that...cheugy?
“I would argue that millennials are already the only ones who are using cheugy. And yes, it's very cheugy of them!” Collins relays.
Does that mean an article trying to explain cheugy is simply an exercise in cheugism?