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What to Know About ‘Cheugy,’ the Gen Z Term Trending on TikTok

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If you read The New York Times, watch the “Today” show or keep a close eye on the latest happenings on TikTok, you may have recently encountered the word “cheugy.”

The nebulous word—frequently framed as a Gen Z term referring to millennials—can be applied to a variety of things, ideas or people. Generally synonymous with “basic,” but not inherently negative, cheugy (pronounced “chew-gee,” apparently) captures everything from Minion memes and cargo shorts to lasagna and an obsession with sneaker culture.

Introduced into the public consciousness largely through a March TikTok video, cheugy actually dates back to 2013. According to The New York Times, Gabby Rasson, now a 23-year-old software developer, invented the word as a high schooler looking to describe people who were slightly off trend.

“It was a category that didn’t exist,” Rasson told the Times. “There was a missing word that was on the edge of my tongue and nothing to describe it and ‘cheugy’ came to me. How it sounded fit the meaning.”

From there, it spread organically through friends she made at school, camp and then college. An Instagram account by the name of cheuglife appeared in 2018. Cited in several recent TikTok videos explaining the term, cheuglife seems to be the unofficial arbitrator on all things cheug. Shortly after, the account added its definition of the word to Urban Dictionary, describing it as “the opposite of trendy. Stylish in middle school and high school but no longer in style.”

The term didn’t really begin to take off until March 30, though, when 24-year-old Los Angeles copywriter Hallie Cain posted a video on TikTok briefly encouraging other users to take up the term.

Gucci belts like the one Miley Cyrus is wearing have been branded “cheugy.”

“Okay TikTok, I have a new word for you that my friends and I use, that you clearly are all in need of,” Hallie Cain said, shortly before cutting to another video with the text “Things that give off ‘I got married at 20’ vibes,” and visuals of retail shelves filled with wood block decorations. “Or people will say things like ‘this is millennial’ or ‘girlboss energy.’ All of these terms are pointing to the same thing. The word is cheugy.”

Cain’s video, which identified phrases on clothing, Herbal Essences shampoo and Instagram captions like “life’s a beach” as cheugy, clearly struck a chord with at least some in the TikTok community. So far, the video has racked up more than 650,000 views and 111,000 likes, a decent response, but not Earth-shattering by TikTok standards.

Then The New York Times wrote about cheugy. Published online last week and in print on Sunday, the piece appears to be the cause of the recent wave in cheugy chatter.

In the week since the article’s publication, the “Today” show, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Vox and Daily Mail have all covered the term. Urban Dictionary named it its word of the day Wednesday. Buzzfeed even created a quiz for visitors to the site to vote and definitively decide what exactly is and isn’t cheugy. Notably, none of the major battlegrounds in the Great Gen Z-Millennial War—skinny jeans, side parts and the word “doggo”—received the cheugy designation.

So, what is cheugy?

Flip flops, “bro tanks,” and snapbacks are all cheugy. Chevron patterns, cable knit socks, Ugg boots, giant scarves, anything Hurley, Golden Goose sneakers and Gucci belts have also been dubbed cheugy. But cheugy is not limited to fashion. Broccoli cheddar soup in a bread bowl at Panera Bread? Cheugy. Axe Body Spray? Cheugy. Cruise ships?, “Cheug-mobiles,” says cheuglife.

Of note, Levi’s, Birkenstocks, thrifting, and crafting your clothes made it through the cheug wars unscathed, earning the designation of “decidedly un-cheugy.”

But is being cheugy a bad thing? It depends on who you ask. Abby Siegel, a 23-year-old producer and former student at the University of Colorado, Boulder who the cheuglife account cites as introducing it to the term, says everyone can be cheugy.

“Everyone has something cheugy in their closet,” Siegel told The New York Times. “We didn’t intend for it to be a mean thing. Some people have claimed that it is. It’s just a fun word we used as a group of friends that somehow resonated with a bunch of people.”

Actress Angelababy’s Ugg boots? Cheugy.

The cheuglife Instagram clarified early on—less than two months after its creation—that the term was not intended to be used as an insult. “’Cheugy’ is not reflective of a person’s character and is honestly not that deep. We are all cheugs,” it wrote.

In a follow-up to her original video, Cain clarified that she wears things knowing they are cheugy. A millennial TikTok user whose three videos on the subjects have accumulated more than 3.5 million views conceded he enjoys a few cheugy things—Buffalo Wild Wings, to name one. Many of the dozens and dozens of videos with the hashtag “cheugy”—together they have gathered 3.3 million views—feature users talking about how they’re cheugy.

Where the term goes from here is unclear. It was by no means a popular word before late March. The cheuglife Instagram page only surpassed 1,000 followers after Cain made her TikTok video. Those sorts of shallow roots do not bode well for the term’s longevity.

Cain, the one who brought so much attention to the word, seems entirely done with the cheugy discussion, particularly with how she sees it being used to “fuel a generational feud.” As someone who is 24 years old, she noted, she’s been associated with both Gen Z and millennials and doesn’t identify as either. “No one speak to me about #cheugy ever again,” she wrote.

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A TikTok trend where teenagers use tiny magnets as fake tongue piercings has prompted the NHS …

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A TikTok trend where teenagers use tiny magnets as fake tongue piercings has prompted the NHS to call for the metal balls to be banned.

The viral challenge involves people putting two magnetic balls on either side of their tongue to give the appearance of a tongue piercing.

But accidentally swallowing more than one magnet can be life-threatening and cause serious damage within hours.

The NHS said there has been a rise in hospital admissions among older children as many have taken part in the online craze, leading the NHS to issue a patient safety alert earlier this month.

An 11-year-old is among those who suffered serious complications after apparently swallowing several of the magnets, according to Worcester News.

Ellis Tripp was rushed to hospital and forced to undergo a six-hour operation to remove five inches of his bowel.

His mother, Amy Clarke, pleaded with other parents to watch out for the TikTok trend.

“I’m in a nightmare. This TikTok craze could/would have killed him if left any longer. Please talk to your children and tell them how DANGEROUS THESE ARE,” she wrote on Facebook.

A 13-year-old girl is also reported to have had major surgery after trying out the social media trend.

Her mother, Faye Elizabeth from Rainhill, said her daughter swallowed 15 of the magnetic beads, according to the Liverpool Echo.

The tiny balls are less than 6mm in diameter and can be easily swallowed.

Once ingested, they can become forced together in the intestines or bowels, squeezing the tissue and cutting off the blood supply.

At least 65 children have been admitted to hospital in England for urgent surgery after swallowing magnets in the last three years.

Professor Simon Kenny, paediatric surgeon and national clinical director for children and young people at NHS England, has called for the magnets to be banned.

He said: “There is nothing fun for children or their parents about surgery to remove magnets that have been swallowed and become stuck together through different parts of the intestines, or the long-term physical problems and internal scarring that can be left behind.

“I would urge parents to be aware of the dangers associated with magnetic toys but ultimately, the only way we can prevent future incidents is to stop these items being sold altogether.”

The NHS said anyone who has swallowed magnets should not wait to develop symptoms and should instead go to A&E immediately.

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TikTok Given EU Ultimatum Over Child Safety Concerns

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Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘SOUR,’ the onset of the TikTok Era of Music

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Courtesy of Stefan Kohli

Rodrigo’s first studio-length album, “Sour,” was released May 21 to widespread acceptance and popularity amongst Gen Z-ers.

Olivia Rodrigo has become a name that everybody recognizes — whether you’ve spent hours watching TikTok videos to her debut single ‘drivers license,’ released earlier this year, or you’ve heard the song playing on the radio. 

Her rise to fame seemed to happen overnight — Rodrigo went from being a Disney star that only pre-teens and some old-school ‘High School Musical’ loyalists would recognize from the Disney+ TV Series ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,’ to being #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 9 weeks straight in a matter of months. 

While she is not the first Disney actor-turned-popstar, it is undeniable that she had an advantage that Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus didn’t have in the early 2010s: TikTok.

‘drivers license’ quickly soundtracked several TikTok trends: from dance challenges and dramatic cry-singing, to videos decoding clues that suggested the song was about her HSMTMTS co-star and rumoured ex-boyfriend, Joshua Bassett. 

Gen Z’s obsession with Rodrigo’s relationship drama fueled the success of the song, but the raw emotion that seeps through relatable lyrics is what made the song a TikTok sensation. This relatability is characteristic of every track on her debut album, “Sour,” released May 21.

While the lyrical relatability and familiar radio-pop form of the song work well for 15 second TikTok videos, the problem arises with the TikTok Effect, which has spilled over into every corner of the music industry. For instance, ‘drivers license’ broke the record for most streams in a day on Spotify for a non-holiday song — even though it is arguably trite in its musical quality. 

‘drivers license’ is a typical, formulaic pop ballad, far from innovative. While this does not seem like it would be immediately advantageous, social media has rendered it commercially successful (if not artistically). The majority of pop music’s consumer base has already been so conditioned to consume art that conforms to a basic melodic formula that predictability is rewarded disproportionately — which inevitably means that innovation is penalized. 

This tendency for conformity is a problem that started before TikTok; a result of long-term conditioning by the most successful figures in music. But TikTok has catalyzed the process due to its increasing influence on the music industry, acting as a metric of success that disturbs the talent-reward ratio even more than before by increasing the incentive (and therefore, the pressure) to conform to the formula.

To gain fame through TikTok, the artist’s song has to become a trending sound, which usually happens through dance challenges, memes or even unrelated trends that use the song. This system is flawed in itself, because the success of music is now dependent on how danceable and ‘memeable’ it is — but it also further reinforces the formula, as the music most likely to conform to these standards is the familiar, cookie-cutter pop with catchy choruses and simplistic lyricism. This is the kind of music Olivia Rodrigo makes.  

 Another very obvious problem with TikTok — which also incidentally worked in Rodrigo’s favor — is the short-form video format of the platform. Videos can be up to a minute long, but the 15 second videos are the most popular. Again, only the very simplistic, very repetitive songs can conform to this reductive format without losing crucial elements of musicality.

In order to garner TikTok success, a song needs to instantly capture attention — something which familiarity helps achieve — but this leaves no scope for innovation. Just like the essence of a novel cannot truly be captured in a paragraph-long summary, the layers and complexities of a song that progresses beyond the monotonous radio standard simply cannot be captured in 15 seconds, and it should not have to. The fact that most mainstream music follows a similar pattern already inhibits listeners from actively engaging with a track, and shortening the length will reduce attention spans even further — making it that much harder for the non-conforming artist to get noticed.  

The reward for those who do conform, however, is so bloated that the TikTok Effect is also seeping into the production of music directly. Rodrigo said in a video explaining her songwriting process that she deliberately added a cue into ‘drivers license’ that could act as a transition for TikToks. “And people did make TikToks like that so I’m really happy about that,” she said. 

While 18-year-old Rodrigo used this strategy skillfully and successfully, others have attempted to do the same to little avail. Justin Bieber, for instance, went to great lengths to make his single ‘Yummy’ go viral on TikTok through its bubblegum-pop production, but listeners saw through his somewhat desperate attempt, some even condemning that the song was very clearly designed for TikTok. 

But unlike Bieber’s futile attempt at TikTok trendiness, Rodrigo’s song still seems to have some heart: Its saving grace is emotional — not musical — authenticity. The underlying fact, however, is that commercialism is invading the creative process, and the art is being tainted. If artists are keeping the TikTok market in mind while creating music, we can expect this era of music to be marked by a further increase in standardization, a further loss in innovation. And the artists who resist the allure of the formula’s ensured commercial success will have an even harsher, more indifferent world to contend with. 

Olivia Rodrigo, however, has merit to her success — she already had a Disney fanbase, and she is not without talent. She can be credited for a powerful voice and the smart business sense that allowed her to adeptly use TikTok and the formula to her advantage. But ultimately, it remains true that her immediate and unparalleled success in doing so has catalyzed the onset of a new era of the same, old music — robbing the music industry of the sanctity of the creative process. TikTok is the indicator of success in music now, and while it can be credited for lowering the barriers of entry in the music industry by giving musicians a platform to grow, the issue remains that it prefers homogeneity to originality, leaving many potentially talented artists disadvantaged. Like most systems that claim to be meritocratic, TikTok is anything but. It clings desperately to the familiar, and in doing so, actively hinders the progression of art.

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