- The girlification of culture
- The meteoric rise of Tube Girl
- A sneak peek inside men’s brains
- Fandoms entered their record-breaking era
- Stealth wealth and quiet luxury ruled the fashion industry
- From bed rotting to bed cooking
- The relentless surge of generative AI
2023 has been a wild ride, with subcultures and aesthetics popping up left, right and centre, keeping even the most chronically online Gen Zers on their toes. From key trends like the City of Lights falling prey to bed bug hysteria to the unstoppable ascent of generative AI, navigating the chaos of it all has been no small feat. But guess what? You made it!
As we all kick back for a well-deserved break before 2024 rolls in, we’ve got one last treat for you: some killer insights. Here at SCREENSHOT Media—rocking both our agency arm and media publisher arm, SCREENSHOT—we practically live in the trenches of online culture, making us bona fide experts in all things Gen Z. In a year bursting at the seams with options, we’ve distilled the noise into a list of the top 7 trends and cultural moments that defined the narrative of 2023, so that you can feel as prepared as possible for January 2024.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
The girlification of culture
This year witnessed a radical transformation in the virtual landscape as aesthetics, subcultures, and even concepts underwent an intense process of ‘girlification’. TikTok took centre stage, with femininity emerging as a driving force behind Gen Z culture, irrespective of their hyper-niche community affiliations.
However, beyond this all-encompassing trend lies a profound sentiment. Girl trends have left an indelible mark on various aspects of our world, influencing everything from beauty and fashion to work and lifestyle. The women at the core of these trends are not just participants but influential tastemakers and creators shaping mass culture.
Take ‘girl dinner’, for instance. We started sharing our evening eats, from snacks to random food concoctions. Then there was ‘rat girl summer’, urging us to live like rats—roaming the streets, snacking day and night. It gained such momentum that it transitioned into the real world with an offline event in Brooklyn, New York.
‘Lazy girl jobs’ made the 9-to-5 grind cool again—low stress, decent pay, and no overtime. Remember, it’s all about that perfect work-life balance for Gen Z. And ‘girl maths’? That’s just women justifying unhinged purchases with pure Gen Z logic. Spent £100 on ASOS, returned £50 worth? Girl maths says you basically earned an extra £50!
That’s not to say the girlification trend didn’t extend to TikTok-native aesthetics too. On the contrary, we witnessed the rise of food girls and their numerous subcultures—the ‘tomato girl’, the ‘lemon girl’, the ‘vanilla girl’, the ‘hard-boiled egg girl’, and even the ‘baked beans girl’. Although some of these collations might be visually unappetising, like the baked beans girl, it refers to an aesthetic with self-care, proper hydration, and a decent nighttime routine at the forefront. The palette incorporates tints and tones of orange and nudes, featuring visuals such as candles, bathrobes, cosy settings, and airy styles. It symbolises everything and nothing—all together at once.
When it comes to hard-boiled egg girls, things get a bit more specific. The aesthetic incorporates pink pastels, whites, broderie Anglaise, and Hailey Bieber-approved glazed doughnut nails. While it shares parallels with princesscore and the coquette aesthetic, the hard-boiled egg girl is more like the silly, long-lost cousin of the two. At its core, it’s a label enthusiasts use to express themselves online; however, physically, the aesthetic holds little value. And that’s precisely what this new format of aesthetics and subcultures is all about.
Previously, the major difference between an aesthetic and a subculture was the presence of a dedicated community in the latter. Yet, food girls essentially eliminate this barrier of entry, rendering aesthetics a completely digital existence. All in all, every one of these ‘girl’ movements not only challenges narratives but also redefines what it means to be a young woman navigating the world today, making it the key trend of 2023.
The meteoric rise of Tube Girl
Looking back on the whirlwind of ‘girl’ trends that defined 2023, it’s impossible not to highlight the unforgettable Tube Girl. Despite the London Underground’s reputation for being far from hygienic or serene, Sabrina Bahsoon, or as many of us now know her, Tube Girl, has turned it into her own personal runway. With just under 800K followers and a whopping 28 million likes on TikTok, it’s safe to say that Bahsoon has taken the video-sharing app by storm.
We know by now that a single viral video has the power to transform lives, and Tube Girl stands as the prime example for 2023. Within weeks of gaining fame on TikTok, Bahsoon found herself strutting down runways in London, Milan, and Paris. It all kicked off in August when she uploaded a video, playfully acting out a music video moment on the Central Line, dancing to Nicki Minaj as if nobody was watching.
In a matter of weeks, the original video went viral, setting off a tidal wave of other Tube Girl-inspired posts, all congregating under the #tubegirl hashtag, which currently boasts an astonishing 1.8 billion views on TikTok. The meteoric rise of Tube Girl is not just a trend; it’s a testament to the transformative power of digital fame in the vibrant landscape of 2023.
A sneak peek inside men’s brains
In 2023, the burning question on everyone’s mind was, “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” This peculiar trend had women worldwide turning to the men in their lives, revealing the surprising insight that most men think about the ancient empire quite frequently, some even on a daily basis.
At the time of writing, this trend has amassed a staggering 3 billion views on TikTok, surpassing half the total number of internet users globally—no small feat. From August to September 2023, mentions of the Roman Empire saw a whopping 750% increase. It became a cultural phenomenon, making appearances on television, boosting Italy’s tourism, and sparking conversations about how misogyny shapes historical narratives.
This trend has spurred numerous follow-up questions, delving into the dynamics of trends crossing over to other media, the strategies for brands to monitor and capitalise on these trends, and the intriguing inquiry: why do men think about the Roman Empire so much?
In a fascinating twist, the trend evolved into a phrase itself—people now use “my Roman Empire” to describe things they think about daily, whether it’s their favourite celebrities, movies, or even decades-old memes.
This is not too dissimilar from another trend. Back in November 2022, a tweet by user @ImagineAGuy hinted at the idea that men believe they could safely land a commercial airliner in an emergency. The concept found new life on TikTok in 2023, where users confronted the men in their lives with the same question. The surprising consensus? Many believed they could indeed land a passenger plane in an emergency, a sentiment supported by a YouGov study in January, revealing that one in three Americans, particularly 46% of men, shared this confidence.
So, what propelled these trends to such heights? The key lies in their participatory nature. Both the Roman Empire and plane-landing trends offered easy participation, encouraging widespread engagement. With a low entry barrier, these trends transcended platforms, from TikTok and Instagram Reels to tweets and even radio broadcasts.
In looking back at 2023, it’s interesting to consider why trends like pondering the Roman Empire’s frequency in men’s thoughts and the belief that they could land a plane in an emergency held the internet’s attention for so long. Beyond being easy to join in and share, there’s a good chance that poking fun at men in a light-hearted way also played a part.
Fandoms entered their record-breaking era
In the concert-centric landscape of 2023, the year kicked off with Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour on 18 March in Glendale, Arizona, and later witnessed the opening of Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour in Stockholm on 10 May.
The launch of the expansive Eras Tour, coupled with the continuous re-releases of Taylor’s Version albums, solidified the dominance of Swifties in 2023. Beyond the trends of trading friendship bracelets and donning glittery boots, this massive community of devoted fans showcased its power by actively attempting to instigate visible change and influence matters close to their hearts.
In early November, Swifties in Argentina took a political stand against right-wing candidate Javier Milei, forming the group ‘Swifties Against Freedom Advances’ to discourage fellow fans from voting for him. Despite their efforts, Milei emerged victorious in the election.
In a seismic display of enthusiasm, Swifties in July, after two nights at Swift’s Seattle concert at Lumen Field, inadvertently caused a seismic event equivalent to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake, according to seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach.
This ‘Swift Quake’ drew comparisons to the 2011 ‘Beast Quake’ triggered by Seattle Seahawks fans celebrating an outstanding touchdown by running back Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch. Remarkably, both events were detected on the same local seismometer, marking a record-breaking era for fandoms, where their collective passion not only shook concert venues but also registered on the seismic scale.
Meanwhile, Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour introduced the rise of the “tourdrobe,” showcasing what a star wears on tour. From a crystal-embroidered Alexander McQueen bodysuit in Stockholm to a glittering silver Paco Rabanne mini-dress in Paris, Beyoncé inspired attendees to adapt their outfits accordingly.
Videos on TikTok demonstrated fans creating their own versions of Beyoncé’s Loewe jumpsuit with handprints. When the superstar made a last-minute request on 23 August to wear silver at the Renaissance Tour in honour of her birthday, fans rushed to small business owners. Comparing the week of August 14 to 21, Etsy reported a 25% increase in searches for disco hats and a 25% increase in searches for silver blouses, corsets, or tops.
The tourdrobe trend wasn’t exclusive to Beyoncé; in the final leg of Love on Tour shows, Harry Styles fans customised outfits, with a 54% increase in page views for watermelon iron-on patches before the ‘Watermelon Sugar’ singer’s tour dates in May. Swifties shared their outfits under the hashtag #erastouroutfits on TikTok, accumulating over 1.6 billion views.
In the grand spectacle of 2023, fandoms showcased an unparalleled influence, unveiling the remarkable impact they wield online and on culture at large. This year wasn’t merely about seismic events and trendsetting fashion; it was a testament to the collective power of passionate communities shaping the digital landscape.
Stealth wealth and quiet luxury ruled the fashion industry
There might still be a market for logomania and maximalism, but it seems that wealth has decided to lower itself into a whisper this year. From runway shows featuring The Row and Phoebe Philo’s highly anticipated return to celebrity weddings like Sofia Richie and Elliot Grainge’s April celebration, the concept of quiet luxury permeated the fashion scene. This term became so pervasive that it reached beyond fashion circles, becoming a nuanced understanding in various industries.
In essence, quiet luxury embodies new-age minimalism, emphasising investment pieces and thoughtful shopping habits. Fashion enthusiasts embraced a neutral colour palette, shunning logos in favour of curating high-quality, wearable pieces that seamlessly integrate with existing wardrobes. In the realm of luxury, this year proved that less is indeed more.
As noted by Forbes, this trend isn’t novel; it follows a cyclical pattern tied to economic fluctuations. In times of financial uncertainty, flaunting conspicuous logos may be deemed insensitive and potentially damaging to brand images. However, the rise of quiet luxury, or stealth wealth, isn’t solely a reaction to economic turbulence. Pop culture, notably HBO’s Succession, with the Roy family unintentionally setting trends with their ‘old-money’ style, played a significant role in bringing this movement to the forefront.
Quiet luxury reflects Gen Z’s pivot away from fleeting microtrends accelerated by fast fashion giants like Shein. The shift towards longer-lasting, investment-worthy wardrobe pieces suggests a deliberate departure from the rapid turnover of fashion trends, aligning with a more sustainable and mindful approach to personal style.
From bed rotting to bed cooking
If you embraced the carefree spirit of ‘rat girl summer’, you might have missed the emergence of its apparent counterpart—the trend known as ‘bed rotting’. This concept revolves around the simple act of languishing under your cosy duvet, dedicating hours, or even an entire day, to intentional unproductivity. Accompanied by some snacks conveniently perched on your bedside table, it’s essentially Gen Z’s updated version of a lazy day, minus the usual stigma.
On TikTok, the hashtag #bedrotting has accumulated just under 62 million views, featuring a plethora of videos showcasing people indulging in snacks, watching YouTube videos on repeat, or leisurely scrolling through Instagram, all from the comfort of their beds.
While there’s valid criticism regarding excessive time spent tucked away under covers, bed rotting has also revealed a surprising perspective. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the looming threat of recession, this trend suggests that occasionally doing absolutely nothing can (and should) be considered an act of self-care. In a world that often demands constant productivity, bed rotting becomes a subtle rebellion, a moment of respite in the face of external pressures.
But a pack of Digestives can only take you so far when you’re a seasoned bed rotter, which explains why, after the trend first appeared at the very end of May 2023 and as the colder months arrived, we witnessed the rise of ‘bed cooking’, or what we like to call ‘hermit mode cooking’.
#cookinginmybed has 3.2M views on TikTok, and often features videos of Gen Zers cooking delicious-looking meals in bed, often in university dorms, using portable electric appliances.
What was once an unconventional space for culinary exploits has transformed into a canvas for the younger generation’s resourceful cooking endeavours. This trend serves as a unique reflection of the collective psyche of Gen Z, shaped by the aftermath of COVID-19 and the ongoing challenges of the cost-of-living crisis.
As traditional communal spaces may have lost some allure due to pandemic precautions, bed cooking becomes a manifestation of making the most out of confined spaces and fostering a sense of home within the limitations of dorm living. It’s a statement that despite external pressures and economic hardships, creativity and innovation persist, even in the most unexpected corners of daily life. Bed cooking, in this context, emerges as a form of self-expression and a testament to Gen Z’s ability to find joy and resourcefulness amid challenging circumstances.
The relentless surge of generative AI
In less than a year since their debut, generative AI (gen AI) tools have swiftly become the norm for both businesses and creatives. The 2023 McKinsey Global Survey echoes this shift, revealing that a third of respondents now regularly leverage gen AI across various business functions. The era of experimentation is a thing of the past, with a staggering 79% of respondents having encountered gen AI, and 22% incorporating it into their daily work.
The landscape is evolving rapidly, especially with the rise of consumer-friendly generative AI programs such as Google’s Bard and OpenAI’s ChatGPT. According to a Bloomberg Intelligence (BI) report, the generative AI market is set to explode, projected to grow from $40 billion in 2022 to a staggering $1.3 trillion over the next decade.
However, this trend doesn’t escape its share of concerns and controversies. Visionaries like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Twitter menace Elon Musk have joined forces in cautioning against the potential risks of gen AI, highlighting threats to society and civilisation, including economic and political disruptions. Despite the apprehensions, brace yourselves for a wave of groundbreaking innovations in 2024—think generative design, video, audio, and speech, with a hint of (eek) electoral interference.