If I’ve seemed distracted this week, it’s because I’ve been obsessed with the cheugy discourse that’s taken over the internet.
It’s the latest TikTok trend to hit the mainstream (and by mainstream, I mean other social media platforms), a slang term that describes a very distinct - but somehow very vague - aesthetic.
No idea what I’m talking about? Enjoy this cheugy breakdown.
What is it?
At its core, cheugy is a word invented by Gaby Rasson in 2013 to describe people who are slightly off trend, out of date or corny.
In March, Hallie Cain posted a video to TikTok about the phrase, explaining that she and her friends use it to describe a certain type of person or aesthetic - “the type of people who get married at 20 years old”, or those who have“girlboss energy”.
It escalated quickly - and hit the mainstream - last week when the New York Times’ culture and technology reporter Taylor Lorenz wrote a trend piece about it, with a few American focused cheugy suggestions of her own: chevron prints, “Live Laugh Love”-style home décor, Dancing with the Stars, cruises, saying “Saturday is for the boys”.
Sound vague? That’s kind of the point. “How it sounded fit the meaning,” Gaby told the New York Times of the new word.
So…how does it sound?
You pronounce it Chewg-ee.
And why is everyone so obsessed with it?
Well, it’s a silly distraction. It’s so broad that you could spend hours debating what is and isn’t cheugy (the NYT headline referenced its vagueness: “What Is ‘Cheugy’? You Know It When You See It”).
Also: I think many of us can see ourselves in this cheugy conversation.
On a nerdy or academic level, there is a level of fascination at the speed at which language is evolving, and the ever-increasing pace of trends thanks to the likes of TikTok.
It also plays into the Gen Z sport of identifying extremely niche personality traits or an aesthetic.
There are so many examples of this - Buzzfeed quizzes, starter pack memes, the popularity of astrology and zodiac memes - but my current fave is the “Screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke!” trend on TikTok where people reject ‘being the main character’ and instead pitch themselves as a niche side character; all while music from Mamma Mia plays in the background (yes, TikTok is very weird! But great).
Isn’t it just ‘basic’?
There are nuances between the two. Taylor describes the differences best: "It’s not quite ‘basic’, which can describe someone who is a conformist or perhaps generic in their tastes, and it’s not quite ‘uncool’. It’s not embarrassing or even always negative.”
Basic is mean. Cheugy is more like that really nice friend or relative that just isn’t very cool - and that’s okay!
Is it a little, I dunno, misogynist?
That’s definitely been one of the criticisms of the trend and its coverage: that it focuses on the things that many white, middle-class millennial women like, and equates to bulling.
Reporter EJ Dickson dismissed that in a trend piece* for Rolling Stone. “This is misguided: bullying is what happens when you weaponise 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.”
(*Trend pieces on cheugy are extremely cheugy)
Cheugy is meant to be broad, and focus on men, women or non-binary folk - and beyond. Literally anything can be cheugy. People. Objects. Social media platforms. Food. The best quote in the NYT story says it all: “One of my friends said lasagna is cheugy.”
It has also been accused of being classist (particularly the focus on the cheuginess of mid-market homewares like Kmart), which actually feels like a more valid criticism.
Okay… So what actually *is* cheugy?
This is a TikTok trend, so the spirit of cheugy is pretty universal - but there are some things that feel uniquely ‘New Zealand cheug’.
A small selection that I’ve heard and discussed this week:
• Gucci logo belts
• Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Ted Baker
• Sass and Bide
• I Love Ugly ‘Zespy’ pants
• The quote, ‘Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them’
• Neon lights
• Printed boardshorts
• The ‘immersive’ Happy Place experience
• ghd hair straighteners
• Any ‘Insta-food’
• Bottomless brunch
• Valentino Rockstuds
• Floral arrangements with Toi Toi stems
• Stolen Girlfriends Club leather jackets
• Brown leather lace up shoes
• The swirly font that appears on the cover of every local women’s lifestyle magazine
• Fluffy slide slippers
• Linen shirts (for men)
• Sauvignon Blanc
• Golden Goose sneakers
• Ripped jeans (men and women)
• Buttoning your shirt up to the top collar
• Anine Bing printed T-shirts
• Following Simone Anderson
• Suzuki Swifts
• Hand-poured resin crafts
• Framed typographic quotes
• Anything off-the-shoulder
• 1950s housewife inspired fashion shoots
• Loving Six60
• Loving and sharing Rupi Kaur poetry
• Posting ‘ad’ in lower case and right next to your Instagram handle, to try and hide it but not get caught out by the ASA
• The phrases “side hustle” and “wine o’clock”
• Saying things like “I did a thing” and “adulting”
• Gender reveals
• Flox artwork
• Lash extensions
• Karen Walker Runaway girl pendants
• Taking a photo in an Onsen hot tub in Queenstown
• Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male and Classique fragrances
Are we missing something that's like, totally cheugy? Send us your interpretation!