We’ve all seen her: probably blonde. Covered in self-tanner. She could be a spokesmodel for Victoria’s Secret Pink, by the contents of her wardrobe. She has the inexplicable drawl of a Valley Girl despite having spent her entire childhood on the other side of the country. She likes Top 40 radio, selfies, and— of course—pumpkin spice lattes.
You know this girl before she even opens her mouth—she’s basic. But where did she come from, and why do we judge her so harshly? Does she genuinely enjoy the culture she consumes, or does she do it all for the sake of being liked?
It’s been hard to pinpoint what exactly is so attractive about the movement to its followers— and detestable to its detractors.
The Birth of Basic
The exact origin of the term has been widely contested, but most credit comedian Lil Duval’s parodic anthem “Basic Bitch” and YouTube celebrity Spoken Reasons with its popularization in 2009. It became an increasingly prevalent trope in rap shortly afterwards, mentioned by Nicki Minaj, Juicy J, and Lil Wayne, among others—all with a negative connotation that signifies inherent superiority over said “bitch.” Artists like The Game, Domo Genesis, and Meek Mill dedicated entire tracks to lyrically destroying the titular “Basic Bitch.” Music made it clear—the basic bitch is worthless.
Since then, it’s been mocked incessantly via social media, making it a nearly inescapable concept. Mainstream media took note, and major publications such as The American Reader, New York Magazine, and Time all devoted articles to dissecting and analyzing the term, broadening the audience to include both millennials and their parents.
Now, “basic” is less of a derogatory term than it is a blanket statement about a person’s depth. Basics are vapid and narcissistic, so desperate to be liked that they worship at the cult of materialism. They lack substance and any semblance of self. Or so their multitude of critics think.
Who is Basic?
Merriam-Webster defines “basic” as “forming or relating to the most important part of something.” An elemental foundation. An object in its purest form. Yet by its street connotation, “basic” means quite the opposite. Girls are never their truest, purest selves. Instead, they become trend-slaves, trapped in constant cycle of ravenously hoarding the “in” and discarding the “out.” Basics are never in full possession of their own identity because they rely so heavily on physical materials to shape their outward—and thus, inward—appearance.
When asked to describe the quintessential “basic bitch,” the answers were unanimous: Uggs. Starbucks. Chipotle. Most, however, reflected on the outward perception of these women.
“A follower is really what I would say, “ said freshman Mitchell Licht. “Someone who goes along with trends instead of being her own person.”
“I think it’d be like they wear what everybody else is wearing, whatever’s popular and whatever is the same, I guess,” freshman Nicholas Lopez offered. “Whatever everybody else is doing.”
“[Enjoying] anything pumpkin-spice related deems you as basic,” said freshman Danielle Manley.
On a large Southern campus with a strong Greek presence, the movement finds its mascot: the sorority girl. Targeted for her uniform of oversized tees, Nike shorts (or “Norts”, as they’re affectionately nicknamed), and the divisive Jack Rogers sandal, she receives the brunt of the criticism and often unfounded hatred.
“I hate it that I have to feel ashamed that I’m in a sorority or that I enjoy Starbucks coffee or that I wear leggings most days of the week,” said freshman Tori Pavlock. “People will instantly point and say, ‘Oh, she’s so basic,’ when they don’t even know the real me.”
Women that fit the recognizable “basic” mold are locked into an impression that more often than not fails to realize the depth of their character.
Habits of Consumption
While there are some regional disparities among basics’ tendencies and dress, they share a commonality: consumerism. They’re completely defined by material things. But do basics like the things they do because they’re trying to meet a standard? Or do they genuinely enjoy Longchamp bags and Lokai bracelets?
It’s hard to say. When such a broad range of products are deemed “mainstream,” it’s nearly impossible not to like something within the group (example: name someone who doesn’t find David Beckham’s piercing blue eyes swoon-worthy).
But not all the consumers of mainstream culture fall into the “basic” archetype: Pinterest is most commonly used by women 18-44. Men can enjoy Chipotle just as intensely as women (and suffer the same post-burrito bowl bloat). Sororitygals and frat guys, alike, are united in their love(however embarrassed they might be) for the newest Bieber banger, “Sorry.” Yet for some reason, whenever a girl between the ages of 15 and 24 enjoys a popular product, she becomes less herself—and more a player in the game of popular culture.
Most assume that there’s no real connection between owner and product, since said owner is typically just following the majority rather than her own interests. But is it possible to genuinely like something that coincidentally happens to fall into the “basic” category?
Freshman and recently initiated sorority sister Nicole Archer thinks so. “Can we please address how big T-shirts are comfortable?” This love (or at least consumption) is harmless. Does one girl’s obsession with Taylor Swift really hurt her classmate? How much can leggings, Grey’s Anatomy, and scented candles really affect a person that doesn’t even like them?
Why Do We Hate Her?
If rap, College Humor, and countless Twitter handles (hello, @CommonWhiteGirl) are to be believed, basics are unequivocally despised by all those outside the bubble.
The girls who deny their devotion to materialism, vowing that “they’re not like other girls,” are chided for being blind to their own contrivance. And if girls choose to “celebrate” their basic, they, too, are mocked for bearing pride in such a shallow character. It’s a lose-lose situation: by striving to conform and fit in with what they perceive to be the majority, they’re judged and loathed by the rest of the population for her obsessive compulsion to consume.
Yet as much as we’d hate to believe, she’s not alone. It can be argued that we all sort of indulge in a material conformity in the age of iPhones and reliance on digital personae for professional and personal advancement. Society has made it so that only those who adapt can thrive, and it’s no different in the female hierarchy.
Does adhering to the basic formula spell death for the individual? Perhaps not. Perhaps some can find that balance of liking a thing for its own sake, rather than the sake of pleasing others.
But is there anything inherently wrong with embracing the basic? Fully owning who you are, regardless of whether if this identity is your own creation or one you’ve copied, is something our society ultimately encourages.
The all-American basic bitch: a term so uniquely millennial it probably went to Coachella last year. Eventually, it’ll be replaced by another ubiquitous phrase in the millennial lexicon that will confound parents and inspire needlessly deep analyses. But for now, the basic craze is here to stay—and so are pumpkin spice lattes.