How Millennials Became Cheugy

EJ Dickson
·5 min read

Millennials have it rough. We’re underemployed. We’re overworked. We constantly have to live with the specter of betrayal from our generational heroes: JK Rowling’s conversion to TERFdom, for instance, or the realization that Barack Obama was not nearly as cool as we thought. We can’t replicate Jules’s eye makeup from Euphoria, no matter how many goddamn tutorials we watch. We’re too young to have witnessed Johnny Depp’s pre-Pirates physical peak, but too old to lust after Timothee Chalamet without feeling creepy. And on top of all of that, we are forced to confront the vestiges of our own mortality in the form of relentless, merciless roasting from Gen Z.

The latest example of this trend is the invention of the word “cheugy” (pronounced choog-ee), a slang term that recently went viral among the youths on TikTok. As reported by Taylor Lorenz at the New York Times, “cheugy” is a term used to describe an aesthetic that is somewhere between basicness and cheesiness, or anything that seems hopelessly out-of-touch or trying too hard. Coined by 23-year-old Gaby Rasson while she was still a high school student, the term caught on among Zoomers on college campuses, then spread to TikTok, where there are countless videos delineating the taxonomy of cheuginess. Examples include Neutrogena’s oil-free cleansing wipes in pink grapefruit, the Instagram caption “we did a thing” to boast about a recent accomplishment, raspberry-flavored vodka, and being obsessed with The Office or Friends.

On social media, some have condemned the term “cheugy,” accusing it of being misogynistic and used as yet another way to “bully” women. This is misguided: bullying is what happens when you weaponize markers of someone’s identity against them, and if you consider wearing Tory Burch sandals an integral aspect of your identity, then you probably need to take a long hard look at your own privilege. Misogyny is insidious and takes many forms in our culture, but making fun of someone for posting Minion memes is not one of them.

But even if “cheugy” is relatively inoffensive, it does seem targeted at a very specific cohort: white, middle-class, millennial woman. Writing about “cheugy” for In the Know, Kelsey Weekman describes it as an encapsulation of the “millennial girlboss aesthetic.” And students of the term “basic,” which gained traction among millennials in the early 2010s, will recognize an overlap between many of the markers of basic bitchdom — furry boots, inspirational quotes on Instagram, self-identifying as an “iced-coffee addict” — and cheuginess. Part of this is to be expected; no matter how much they believe otherwise, no generation ever comes up with anything new (the sweatshirt/biker shorts VSCO girl aesthetic, after all, was clearly copped from early-Nineties-era Princess Di), and the internet has made it especially easy for memes to float around in the ether until they are repackaged in slightly different forms.

Lorenz disputes that cheuginess is defined by race, class, age, or gender (in her article, for instance, she cites Barstool Sports and sneaker culture as being indisputably cheugy). “It just means corny, like trying too hard with the trends,” she says, adding that “all of straight TikTok is cheugy, basically.” Nor is it necessarily a bad thing; indeed, if one is designated cheugy, being ashamed or embarrassed about it is possibly the cheugiest thing one can do.

But “cheugy” is also indisputably yet another weapon in the ongoing culture wars between Millennials and Zoomers. Much of the mockery has been fairly light-hearted, with Zoomers skewering Millennials for their side parts, skinny jeans, unironic use of the term “doggo,” and predilection for using the crying-laughing emoji; some of it, such as criticizing millennials for embracing Lean In corporate feminism, has been more serious. But Millennials have not reacted to this particularly graciously. Some TikTok users even went so far as to put out diss tracks targeted at the entire younger generation, with one cringey video in particular — featuring the lyrics “Hey Gen Z you can suck it, you can’t tell me what to wear/’Cause I’ve been rocking this side part since you had Kermit on your underwear” — going viral earlier this year.

As a millennial, I understand why other members of my cohort have reacted to this mockery with such opprobrium. As difficult as it is for most people to come to terms with the transience of their youth, it’s likely doubly difficult for many members of Gen Y, who, in light of the economic hardships they’ve faced coming of age during a recession, probably don’t feel they had much opportunity to relish their youth to begin with. And as a woman in my early thirties who has succumbed many times to the lure of buying items trending among 19-year-olds on TikTok, I will admit to feeling somewhat personally attacked by the newfound knowledge that, in my effort to become less cheugy, I had inadvertently leaned into cheuginess.

But perhaps coming to terms with one’s own cheuginess is simply a part of getting older. Perhaps the onus is on us Millennials to accept defeat, pass the baton to the younger generation, and embrace our inner cheug. As one TikToker explaining cheugy put it, “It’s OK, we all have a little cheug in us.”

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