These days, sending playlists is practically a love language. Nothing says “I’m thinking about you” like a collection of carefully curated songs, each one a coded message meant to be understood by only giver and receiver. But when I was younger, I first thought of this practice as an assertion of dominance. Back in middle school, Spotify was still unheard of; instead, I was obsessed with 8tracks, its much cooler ancestor. I made an account with the sole intention of posting the mixtape I’d made for my favorite band member at the time. Days passed, then weeks, and it still failed to gain traction. I was frustrated beyond belief: how was Ashton Irwin going to marry me if he never knew of the songs that reminded me of him? This quickly turned into a strange determination to get to the bottom of the problem, which involved hours of listening to some of the most popular mixes on the site. Turns out that the Top 40 hits that comprised my music taste weren’t enough to give me the online popularity I craved so badly.
And so I forced myself to listen to British rock bands with indecipherable accents, indie singers that sang in cursive about depression and heartbreak—topics too heavy for my 14-year-old self to comprehend. I would compile their songs, watch the finished product rack up hundreds of likes, then message my friends about it for a quick ego boost. My music taste was so impressively obscure, they would say. Props to me for appreciating the unconventional and underrated! Little did they know I never listened to any of the mixes I sent out more than once.
It sounds pathetic, maybe even extreme for some, but this habit of picking up fake interests was nothing new for me. My coming-of-age process wouldn’t have been complete without it. I had grown accustomed to rebranding myself to fall under what my peers classified as socially acceptable, which was mostly dictated by the predecessors of Instagram influencers living halfway across the world. I frequented the nearest Starbucks and religiously ordered chai tea despite my body’s constant protests. I claimed that my favorite movies were Palo Alto and The Virgin Suicides despite only having read their respective IMDb pages (this was life before Letterboxd). I ditched my pink blouses, multi-colored leggings, and sandals for black shirts, flannels, and Doc Martens. The Philippine weather was too unforgiving for this get-up and I found it impossible to break in those shoes, but I was getting double-digit Instagram likes and that was all that mattered.
I thought that if I pretended long enough, these things would eventually grow on me and I could successfully morph into the cooler, cultured version of myself I wanted to be. But I just didn’t. I guess it’s because my real hobbies and fixations couldn’t have been any more different. I mean, I literally carried a planner with the words Live, Laugh, Love emblazoned on its glittery cover. I regarded Sophie Kinsella’s every word as gospel truth, and I had “Go to Coachella” at the very top of my bucket list.
I liked and did these things out of my own volition—yet as I entered adolescence, I was quick to give them up. Apparently, these interests permeated every inch of the current cultural landscape so deeply that identifying with them would render me indistinguishable. I’d be a mere addition to the sea of girls obsessed with explicitly feminine things, thus vapid and shallow by default. I was fed this impression by mainstream media, the patriarchal society in which I lived, and my peers who were entering their “not-like-other-girls” phase and wanted to recruit me as a new member.
I traded my past self for a newfound identity: one that aimed to separate me from the rest of the pack but, in retrospect, wasn’t unique in any way, shape, or form. It did, however, succeed in giving me this overwhelming feeling of belonging and superiority. I would reflexively send Instagram posts of girls in my grade level sporting Nike Roshe Runs or Triangl swimwear to a group chat. I openly mocked classmates who admitted to watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and crucified all those who doodled The Fault in Our Stars-style clouds on their notebooks. It was during that time that I learned what to call them. First, they were just boring try-hards or white-girl wannabes, until a friend introduced a term that summed them up perfectly: basic.
Though the poster child of being basic has changed over the years in terms of appearance and activities, two defining characteristics remain: she is always a girl, and she is often pegged as the object of society’s disgust. We view her with contempt, as if what she has is the second coming of leprosy and not a mere difference in preference. Christina Passarella sums it up best in her Medium piece when she says, “The idea that women should feel ashamed for the things they enjoy, or that those things are somehow objectively not good, is a profoundly misogynistic construct and, unfortunately, one that’s socially pervasive and echoed by men and women alike. In fact, the phrase itself is used far more frequently by women describing other women than it ever is by men.” True enough, I have yet to see anyone call out the vast number of boys who listen to Kanye West, sport a gold chain around their necks, and spend their free time playing NBA 2K.
It seems we’ve resigned to the fact that femininity is uncool and even embarrassing. We feel the need to dissociate ourselves from it and make a laughing stock out of those who refuse to follow suit. By doing this, we reduce multifaceted human beings to caricatures and find an excuse to dismiss them completely when they’re literally doing nothing wrong. Sure, they’re probably the last people you’d turn to if you ever needed pop culture recommendations, but they’re not hurting anybody! They consume the media that’s most readily available and enjoy themselves in the process!
I spent most of my life pitying them when I should have felt sorry for myself all along. I only realized the full extent of my pretentiousness when I ushered in my 20th birthday a few weeks ago, with tear-stained cheeks and “Ribs” by Lorde on repeat (because what am I but a living cliche?). I finally grasped just how terrifying this milestone actually is, how it marks the beginning of an era in my life when I must submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known. My carefree, uncomplicated years are officially behind me, and I spent a huge chunk of them pretending to be somebody I wasn’t—all to avoid being labeled as basic. And what did I gain? Who was I trying to please, and why did I think they would matter to me in the long run?
I know there’s no use crying over spilled milk, but I really would’ve appreciated it if teenage me had grown a backbone and stuck it to the judgmental people in her school. Maybe she would’ve been significantly less popular among her peers, maybe her playlists wouldn’t have gotten the attention they did. But at least she would’ve been happier.
By Angel Martinez