It’s October 3rd … AKA, time to fixate on our favorite early-2000s movie. With all things baby tee, hot pink, and bedazzled back in vogue, what is it about the ‘85-to’05 period that makes it so attractive to Gen Zers? 

“What I see and engage with is a cause [of anxiety]. It can be negative or upsetting news articles, FOMO if I’m seeing friends having fun, or a feeling of inadequacy if I see a happy and successful influencer’s post.” In a January 2023 study by The Receipt, one member described their social media experience as such. The rapid increase in technology over the past 20 years is to an extreme detriment to the health of young people. With 98% of Gen Z visiting social media daily, and 54% spending four or more hours a day on it, our generation is inextricably linked with being “chronically online.” Our social media apps run on misinformation, mine negative emotions like anger and envy, and showcase endless “perfect” lifestyles made possible by paid partnerships. Thus, it’s no surprise that only 32% of Gen Z feel positive about socials. 

The apps Gen Z grew up on — Minecraft, Temple Run, Animal Jam, Fruit Ninja, Club Penguin, and, to name a few — were related to much more positive emotions compared to the current digital media. Playing “Fireboy and Watergirl” with friends is leagues different than watching TikToks together, and that stark contrast drives our needs for bygone social media. A video trend of Mr. Bean or “Interstellar”’s Matthew McConaughey looking longingly has circulated online, with users pairing melancholy audios with the songs, games, smells, and shows that ran our childhoods. 50% of Gen Z feel nostalgic, and these references bring us back to a time that felt undoubtedly better. 

Another large driver of this obsession is the trend cycle. With fashion, music, and culture finding its way back into the mainstream every 20 years, this period is relevant again. Social media has also increased thrifting culture, the distribution of media from the ‘85-’05 period, and the use of nostalgia as a distraction from current affairs. 

Songs and artists pushed back into the mainstream by TikTok and other short-form video include Kate Bush, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, “Teenage Dirtbag,” “Half On a Sack,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This),” and “Mayonaka no Door / Stay With Me.” This period feels close enough to be relevant, but far enough to be distanced from present time. 

The use of sequels by television and movie companies has also increased our shift toward the past. Some of the follow-ups released in the past couple years include “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “That ‘90s Show,” “And Just Like That …” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” We’ve also had shows like “Stranger Things” and “Derry Girls” that tactfully reference the semi-recent past. 

48% of Gen Z is worried about life moving too fast. Nostalgia — from Y2K fashion, to Polaroid cameras, to record players, to flip phones — is driving our culture, and it’s crucial for brands to keep an eye on the next wave of trends, rooted in the past, that Gen Z will disrupt. 

Harmonie Ramsden