Anyone who has spent even a moment on the internet in the past week will have witnessed the term 'vibe shift' making the rounds. It's not unusual for an article from The Cut writer Allison P. Davis to go viral, she's a deft observer of culture, but her recent piece titled A Vibe Shift is Coming, Will any of us survive it? has sent us all into a death spiral. It's also put a name to a feeling we've had for a while now: that we're on the cusp of a monumental change. So for those who are still figuring out what the term 'vibe shift' even means, we've unpacked it for you below.
What is a 'Vibe Shift'?
To put it simply, a 'Vibe Shift' is a term that refers to the zeitgeist changing. Coined by Sean Monahan, creator of a weekly newsletter called 8Ball and coincidentally also the person who invented the term 'normcore', a 'Vibe Shift' is more micro than merely summing up an era by decade.
There can be a few 'Vibe Shifts' per decade; for example, in the early aughts we experienced the diamanté, fliptop phone period dominated by Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, tabloid magazines and low-rise everything. But in the later aughts the hipster/indie trend seeped in, bearing with it its own unique set of pop cultural figures, music, style, ways of thinking, prized publications, humour, and cultural markers. Think Cheap Monday skinny jeans, Tumblr, thick side fringes...don't make me go on.
Some people will minimise the 'Vibe Shift' as part and parcel of simply getting older: "that's just called growing up". But this perspective feels like an oversimplification, as though they've taken the term out of context. The 'Vibe Shift' also isn't something that needs be feared, it isn't a memento mori sent down by the lords of culture to send us into a state of panic. It occurs both separate to us and because of us. And since the pandemic has made time feel as slow-going as wading through a vat of molasses, where all pop cultural events, no matter how small are felt and therefore rigorously cross-examined, we have the perfect vantage point to witness the so-called 'vibe shift' roll in.
What will the next 'Vibe Shift' look like?
Everyone has their own hot take, that's for sure. Some will pin it down as the return of indie sleaze, the obvious next step after Y2K, or they'll take indie sleaze further and tell you it's a pivot toward unbridled sex and hedonism, chasing anything that feels good with a devil-may-care attitude in the face of rules. Wan and worn out, some of us will simply put our heads down and tick over in an attempt to check out of the vibe altogether. Let it wash over us as we become obsolete — kaput. But make no mistake, a change is coming.
When it comes to what's next, Sean Monahan theorizes that “the trajectory of the 2010s has been exhausted in a lot of ways" in his interview with The Cut. “The culture-war topic no longer seems quite as interesting to people. Social media isn’t a place where you can be as creative anymore; all the angles are figured out. Younger people are less interested in things like quote-unquote cancel culture."
If we work off of this angle, then we can speculate that social and political consciousness, two paradigms that dominated culture in the 2010's, may not take a backseat per se but they will become an assumed knowledge — something to be expected so that it can no longer be weaponised by white people as a personality trait or performed for social (or actual) capital as was done in the case of the 'Girl Boss'.
We can see similarities between this feeling and the rise of the new-age bimbo. The bimbo is the opposite of the girl boss, the bimbo doesn't need to prove themself. They're not rioting against the men at the top to the detriment of all those beneath them. But don't get me wrong, the bimbo just as the himbo or thembo, is not unintelligent. Theirs is just a protest against the patriarchal, classist, ableist terms of intelligence. As TikTok star Chrissy Chlapecka puts it, “The bimbo is pro-choice, pro-sex work, pro-BLM and she, he, or they likes to look pretty. We like to look pretty while we’re doing it.”
As for Mohan's line, "People want to make things personal again"? It seems as though people are tired of spreading themselves thin with global webs. We care about global affairs and enjoy the far-reaching nature of social media, but we're ready to connect with the local again.
Will you survive the next 'Vibe Shift'?
It's this question from The Cut's piece that really struck fear into the hearts of us all. Not least because it's caught us during a time when we're all feeling a bit fragile. Many of us have lamented the years we lost to the pandemic and as Allison P. Davis pointed out, we had all hoped that "while some of us were inside, or in the world but social distancing, or just keeping to ourselves as best we could, culture wasn’t really moving forward". That there would still be an opportunity to catch up.
But if this question makes your anxiety flare up, I'd like to remind you that it's not a competition. Just as was the case in the early days of the pandemic, when we realised that Covid-19 had, contrary to popular belief, not affected us all equally and that some of our friends had time to bake and work on side projects while the rest of us were barely able to cover our bills and make it through the week.
If we want to ride the wave of whatever lay ahead, we can. If you tend to follow trends, be it with music, fashion, the best new bar to drink at, you're probably not going to stop. Your past history will show you if you will "survive" it, and if you don't vibe with the next scene, is that really such a bad thing? The definition of a trend is that it inevitably ends. There is always another vibe shift waiting on the horizon just as the current one stales. I think the question of whether or not you will survive is beside the point. What's far more compelling is that a new era is upon us, and we can't wait to see what it brings.