If you grew up in the MySpace era, you might be surprised to find out that your scene phase from middle or high school is currently making a comeback with the next generation of teens. Millennials often look back at their scene days and cringe at the gaudy, over-the-top style, edgy music, and teased up colored hair they once loved. But Gen Z (we’ll call them Zoomers) has excavated the evidence of the old scene wave and wondered at its novelty with a sense of nostalgia for the trends of a bygone era.
Millions of Zoomers have been raised with unrestricted internet access, one unforeseen consequence of which is their absurdist post-ironic sense of humor. With the last ten years having been closely documented and compiled on YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter, there is a lot of material for us to poke fun at. Everyone is familiar with Cancel Culture these days, but its adjacent set of cultural attitudes rears its head in Gen Z’s “Cringe Culture.” Cringe Culture, derivative of the social anxiety prevalent among Zoomers, pressures their humor, style, and mannerisms to be hyper-self aware or self-referential, ridiculing and deconstructing themselves with multilayered ironic humor. A segment of Gen Z has decided it’s time to push back against the dominant irony-poisoned Cringe Culture that scrutinizes sincerity and innocent fun by returning to the roots of internet-born subcultures popularized only a decade ago by the previous generation.
These countercultural youths reside on budding social media platforms such as TikTok, FriendProject, and an old web time capsule of MySpace from the days of Windows 93. They’re adopting the types of grisly, attention-grabbing nicknames that harken back to iconic scene queens of the past like Kiki Kannibal, Vanna Venom, and Brookelle Bones. Some even adorn the same layered, teased, and colored hairstyles that this old guard of social media influencers originated.
The one experience that connects all of them is deep sentimental value for an era of music, fashion, and internet culture that they observed as young children surfing the internet, roaming shopping malls in the late 2000s, or looking up to their older siblings. Despite the flashiness of this era, there’s no denying it was a simpler time for adolescents in a slower-paced world than the one we live in today. For Gen Z, flip phones, MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger, and even Facebook have been left in the past. Their effort to resurrect a dead teen subculture is a form of protest for Zoomers who reject contemporary influencer culture and the ubiquity of Cringe Culture within their own generation.
Scene revival is making waves in the new alternative music gaining traction with Gen Z. Out of St. Louis, Missouri, the experimental music duo of Laura Les and Dylan Brady has risen to fame under the name 100 Gecs. They share more than just a home state with Christofer Drew Ingle, a MySpace native who broke into mainstream success under the name nevershoutnever! in the late 2000s with lighthearted ukulele ballads and electro-pop tracks laced with autotune. According to niche Millennial YouTuber The Cozy Representative, Christofer opened the door for “thousands of seventeen year old white boys across America to strap on an acoustic guitar…straightening their hair and singing heavily autotuned jargon about falling in love…over synth lines with electro beats.” Since then, Christofer’s exploration of musical genres has departed from those electronic roots, but his old work remains an artifact of the broader MySpace music scene that produced the precursors to reimagined genres like emo “drain” rap, hyperpop, and glitchcore that are popular with today’s alternative teens. 100 Gecs is intriguing and polarizing young audiences with distorted, autotuned vocals and edgy lyrics: “You talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck!” sings Laura Les on their standout track money machine. Without a doubt, a plethora of similar artists are bound to emerge and capture the attention of Gen Z audiences in the coming years.
Zoomers aren’t simply clinging to trends of the past and poorly imitating them; instead, they are breathing new life into an era that got cut short by internet culture charging forward at full speed as it always does. These kids are more internet savvy than their predecessors, with more access to music and more advanced digital platforms to show off their styles and gain inspiration from one another. Zoomers aren’t the ones who did it first, but they might just end up doing it best.