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Euphoria as a Cultural Moment

HBO’s Euphoria has been unavoidable online since its premiere in 2019. However, since the second season came out, its popularity has exploded exponentially. This wasn’t something that I predicted, as – while I expected that the second season would follow up- its online presence has truly defined Euphoria as a distinct cultural moment for our generation. 

Picture credit: The Guardian

Within hours of the first episode of season two airing, my feed was full of imitations of the makeup, fan theories, debates about characters and analyses of the episode. This continued every week, as each episode was released. Of course, the TikTok algorithm is frighteningly accurate and at first, I assumed that TikTok had stalked my activity and saw that I was watching it. However, I quickly found that my friends who had never watched a single episode could perfectly recount the drama, just from watching TikTok. 

This, while being a bit strange, shows why the show has been marketed perfectly towards our generation. Things like the show’s iconic makeup looks quickly became trends in their own right. From here, it seemed to be able to market itself, becoming impossible to ignore.

The show also works perfectly as we have all become bored and impatient after lockdown. As the show was released episodically, this allowed plenty of time for online speculation and the next episode was released just in time, before we all lost interest in the gossip from the previous. We are also the generation that began fan culture as we knew it from 2014 onwards. Although we now see Euphoria’s fanbase on TikTok, Tumblr was the previous home of fan culture. Shows like Supernatural, Doctor Who and Sherlock gathered cult followings there. The engagement that we see on TikTok with Euphoria feels like a natural development of this: online fan culture is our generation’s bread and butter.

In lockdown, we all had to put our social lives on hold. For people in their teens and early twenties, this was a time that would usually be defined by our social lives. It is no surprise that a show in which we can live vicariously through extroverted and sociable characters became hugely popular. Of course, most of their characters live lives that are messy and sometimes dangerous. However, through this, we were able to see the highs and lows of teenage life in explosive and colourful ways. This has always been popular in shows like Skins and Shameless. The specific timing of Euphoria along with its online presence makes it truly distinct. 

As I have already said, we are the generation of Tumblr and, later, TikTok. Sadly, this has left us an incredibly desensitised group. This is something that Euphoria also works on within its refusal to condescend to its audience. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of its challenging themes, although its discourse around addiction and mental health is truly groundbreaking. What I mean is that the show treats its audience like intellectuals. For example, the show is littered with references to previous films, from Jurassic Park to Romeo and Juliet. 

Picture credit: Pledge Times

One episode in which this is particularly noticeable is the fourth episode which has numerous references to film and classical art. For example, we see an imitation of Rene Magritte’s The Lovers. Using this piece of art as a reference point for Rue and Jules is really striking. Teen lovers are too often shown to be flippant and immature in TV shows and, although the two make mistakes and the relationship is deeply flawed, through art we are shown the intensity of their feelings for one another. Not only is this reference refreshingly trusting in its audience, it does not reduce the first love to something petty, but highlights it as an important part of a teenager’s life.

These are just some of the things that have helped define Euphoria as a cultural moment for our generation. The same, repeated, high school love stories have been shown to not wash with the generation that has both grown up with and been desensitised by, social media fan culture. Euphoria plays into our online tendencies, allowing it to market itself and stay relevant in a quickly moving world. 

Written by Lily Mason