TikTok is trying to make a twee revival happen
Awareness of cyclical trends has us attempting to control them.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, from Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.🧩
Twee — /twē/ — “excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental.” —Kate (by way of the Oxford Languages Google dictionary)
Back in November, I wrote about the inevitable return of pop-punk as it infiltrated music and trends on TikTok. Y2K style had already made its comeback thanks to the app, so, chronologically speaking, skinny jeans and v-necks were next.
History has always repeated itself when it comes to fashion, but I’m not sure we’ve ever been collectively so aware of it. What used to happen without us initially noticing can now be observed in action thanks to social media. But the omnipresence of TikTok takes things a step further: We don’t merely observe the return of trends—we decide them. And people on TikTok are throwing out pop-punk in favor of its foil: twee.
I know from a Facebook photo album of mine that I went to a She & Him concert in 2010. Based on that, I estimate the twee season to have spanned the first few years of the previous decade, culminating in 2014 Tumblr culture. Zooey Deschanel, actress and one half of the She & Him folk duo, was the mascot, and so I guess we should have known this was coming when she joined TikTok back in July.
As of this writing, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”—the She & Him song TikTok has paired with the revival—is used in just under 2,300 videos. But the videos themselves have hundreds of thousands of views, and commenters are litigating the style’s potential return.
For the most part, users are showing throwback photos of their twee Modcloth days (ballet flats, patterned skirts), and others are making song and movie recommendations to capture the twee feeling. The Moldy Peaches, Regina Spektor, Elliot Smith, Belle & Sebastian, and more make up the playlists (here’s a good one: “zooey deschanel core”) and 500 Days Of Summer, Juno, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be an apt movie marathon.
This is probably a good place to acknowledge that twee culture is painfully white.
There are other issues, too. Already, the revival has people pointing out that twee style would almost certainly be considered “cheugy” on a non-thin body, and that much of OG twee online culture emerged alongside eating disorder forums and the glorification of self-harm.
History has always repeated itself, yes, but it feels particularly concentrated at the moment. We’ve jumped almost 15 years in just a matter of months, trying to get a foothold in any era that isn’t now. Even offline over the holidays, I found myself retreating into the Tudor period of Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies (there’s something … comforting about a plague being a mildly pesky intruder in the background of a story, rather than the story on the New York Times every day), and have now watched almost two full seasons of Dickinson in just a few days.
I won’t necessarily be trying to bring back chamber pots and parchment any time soon, but I understand the impulse to dull the present with what you loved from the past. Even if, God forbid, that means ballet flats.