We millennials are at it again. Not content with causing the deforestation of Mexico and a property crisis with our avocado obsession, we are now deeply, deeply uncool. And while it was the older generations who blamed us for our financial straits (sure, OK, boomer, tell that to your property portfolio) and called us snowflakes when we wanted to talk about mental health, this new attack comes from the youth: Gen Z.
What started with shaming millennials’ skinny jeans and side partings on the social media platform TikTok now has a name: cheugy (pronounced chew-ghee). The term was coined in 2013 by a high-school student in California, but has recently started trending on TikTok in posts mocking millennial tastes and habits — according to an article in The New York Times the term is “used, broadly, to describe someone who is out of date or trying too hard”.
Some cheuginess may have spread into other generations — you may have some cheug in you if you like, own or do any of the following things: leggings, marrying young, Ugg boots, posting Rupi Kaur poems on Instagram, make-up wipes, “Live Laugh Love” interior design, embroidered jeans, low-top Converse, baby gender reveals, Hunter wellies, getting engaged at Disneyland, lasagna (and other “layered foods”).
The arbiters of taste seem to be privileged, since there’s lots of class and wealth snobbery. It’s not explicitly specific to millennials, but most of the posts on the Instagram account @CheugLife feature women in that age bracket — including Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift (a “major cheug”).
Who made Gen Z the experts on cool? I have to give it to them on some fronts. While they have Amanda Gorman, the American youth poet laureate and President Biden inauguration speaker, we have Pinterest boards full of anonymous quotes about always being yourself (unless you can be a unicorn) and not letting anyone dull your sparkle. And while they have Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, we have toxic #GirlBoss culture and a history with single-use plastic cups (although we can also claim Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). But I see their Billie Eilish and raise them Rihanna, Adele and — just scraping in at the oldest end of the millennial bracket — Beyoncé. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is ours; Lena Dunham; Emerald Fennell.
I wouldn’t pass the cheugy test. I have a secondhand record collection, a double-G buckled Gucci belt and fairy lights strung up on my balcony (although so does my boomer mother, so I’m not going down alone on that one). I use the “crying laughing” emoji, use the words “fab” and “obsessed” when describing things I like, and occasionally put pictures of my dinner on Instagram. I’m a bit cheugy and I will do nothing about it because I actually like oat milk; Britney Spears’s back catalogue holds a lot of happy memories for me; and because, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” (although I wouldn’t stretch to framing this quote and hanging it anywhere in my house, or having it printed on a mug).
You win, Gen Z. Enjoy it — because in a few years, Generation Alpha will come of age and wonder why you’re all dancing on TikTok. But I have to say that poking fun at one group solely so that your own seems cooler feels a bit like school playground stuff to me. I might not be cool, but I think you’re being very immature.