OMG, are you caught up with Euphoria? I’m willing to bet my knock-off Prada that’s not the first time you’ve been asked this question in the last few days. Back for a second season, HBO’s teen drama is saturating our timelines faster than you can say Omicron and has cemented itself as the latest must-watch TV show.
If you’ve seen it then perhaps you’ll understand why it is such a success. Euphoria’s vibrant characters, exhilarating storylines and intoxicatingly sexy aesthetic make the perfect recipe for a hit show among gen Z. But there’s a more complex reason why we love it so much, beyond the obvious production value.
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Euphoria belongs to that trite yet inevitably addictive canon of the ‘High School drama’. From Grease to Glee, for decades we haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff. But have you ever stopped to wonder why the lives of students are so fascinating to us?
I’d argue it’s a matter of fantasy. Shows like Euphoria give us an embellished reflection of our high school years, showing us teenage life with adult freedoms.
This is plain to see in the recent ‘And why aren’t you in uniform?’ trend on TikTok. These videos see users dressed in casual hoodies and jeans, only to ‘remember they go to Euphoria High’ and reappear in a sexy I.AM.GIA two-piece and stripper pleasers. These exaggerated impersonations of the show’s fiercely iconic Maddy Perez (played by Alexa Demie) affectionately mock the notion of being allowed to wear the outfits to school that the Euphoria characters don so casually.
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Don’t get me wrong, Euphoria’s audience acknowledges that the characters’ lifestyles are unrealistic—but that’s exactly the appeal. Maddy, Jules and Cassie are playing out our fantasies of looking our absolute best at a time in our lives when our self-consciousness is at its most crippling. Don’t even get me started on my girl Rue…
Alongside fashion, characters in our beloved high school dramas are shown to be as romantically preoccupied as some of us dreamt we were back in those hormone-charged years. Burgeoning sexuality has been a core theme of teen dramas since the 60s, with the likes of Rebel Without a Cause and, again, Grease celebrating the rise of youth culture and the rejection of pre-war sexual conservatism.
Angsty teenage years are defined by the desire to enjoy these mature freedoms. As was the case with Glee, Euphoria shows us teen characters performed by actors several years older and gorgeous. They wield the power we strived to possess in our teen years and we can’t help but admire them for it. The contrast of their cultivated style and allure with the green high school environment gives us the fantasy we unknowingly craved all along.
While Euphoria and similar shows are pedallers of dazzling fantasy, they are also vehicles of that oh-so-needed catharsis. At first, we might label the high school drama appeal as merely nostalgia; a rose-tinted reminiscence of the ‘best times of our lives’. But those formative years are often when we experience traumas that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
As we shed the skin of prepubescence, the skin of adolescence beneath is raw and scar-prone. Watching these traumas happen to someone else in dramas creates enough distance to make the experience cathartic and almost purging. This is where fantasy comes into play.
Exaggeration and embellishment in these productions act as a cushion against the harsh truths we are revisiting. Watching Quinn Fabray get kicked out by her parents for getting pregnant in Glee is made somewhat easier when you’re singing along to Avril Lavigne’s ‘Keep Holding On’ minutes later.
Trivial problems feel like the end of the world when you’re a teenager, so serious problems are truly earth-shattering. Watching characters experience these emotions on-screen, among the glamour, validates the impact events had on us at the time. They also remind us that we still experience these same traumas in our adult lives, and although the sting of adolescence may be dimmed, we still relate to them all the same.
Take the most recent episode of Euphoria (season two, episode two), for example, where we see Kat struggling with self-loathing and body dysmorphia. Sadly, toxic body standards are a common issue, especially for cis-women, trans-women and genderqueer people at that age. Audiences relate to the memory of such feelings, but also because they are still dealing with similar events in their current age. The same goes for the depictions of abusive relationships, depression and drug addiction.
While for many of us our teen years were more popping oxytetracycline than OxyContin, addiction is a worrying possibility for us all, if not a reality. Teen dramas reflect our lives, past and present; they depict both the worrying realities and the dreaded possibilities.
Euphoria shows us who we wish we were at high school, and perhaps who we still wish we were now. Gloriously gritty and sexy fantasy is an addictive escapism, so it’s no wonder we tune in to the show each week. And why shouldn’t we? Teenage dreams dwell as long as teenage traumas.
In 2018, Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown, aged 14 at the time, revealed on the Emmy Awards’ red carpet that she and Canadian rapper Drake were “great friends” who regularly text. “We just texted each other the other day and he was like ‘I miss you so much’, and I was like ‘I miss you more’. He’s great,” she told Access Hollywood. At the time, Drake was 32.
Almost immediately after the news broke, the internet—especially the Twitter community, obviously—began to express concern about the two celebrities’ relationship. Soon after the controversy started, it quickly became clear that Brown wasn’t the only underage girl Drake was texting.
In November 2019, Billie Eilish sat down with Vanity Fair for the third year in the row where she was given identical interview questions. In the video, Eilish is asked the same series of questions about her life and career as her old interviews are played back so that she can react to them, noting how much her life has changed in a few short years. One of the questions that she got asked was “Who is the most famous person in your phone?” In the 2017 interview, the singer named fellow singer, Khalid, who she also referred to as “a homie of mine.”
In 2019 however, Eilish had a lot more famous people in her contacts to cite. She listed Hailey and Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Avril Lavigne, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Ty Dolla $ign, Teyana Taylor, and countless others that she chose not to mention before she finally landed on Drake. She then went into a brief monologue about how nice the rapper is, especially given his celebrity status and success.
She continued on to mention that they have spoken via text in the past. “But like Drake, c’mon. Drake. Drake is like the nicest dude I’ve ever spoken to. I mean I’ve only like texted him, but he’s so nice. Like, he does not need to be nice. You know what I mean? He’s at a level of his life where he doesn’t need to be nice, but he is. You know?” Eilish rambled during the interview. Although the exchanges between her and Drake may very well be harmless, some fans found it suspicious that the (then 33-year-old) artist was once again found to be texting an underage girl.
Although suspicious enough to raise some eyebrows, the two situations mentioned above were not the only times Drake has exhibited some predatory behaviour. Back in May 2010, while performing in Denver, Colorado, the rapper invited a fan to come up on stage with him. Someone present at the concert filmed what happened next in a video that resurfaced online in 2019, soon after Brown revealed that Drake, who she had initially met in Australia back in November 2017, texted her “advice about boys.”
In the 2010 clip, the Canadian rapper invites the girl on stage during his performance at the Ogden Theater, dances with her, kisses her neck, comments on her shampoo, then pulls her shirt down at the back of the neck to kiss her again. After reaching both hands across her chest while standing behind her, he picks up his microphone and says he is getting “carried away.” When asked about her age, the girl replies: “17,” to which Drake responds: “I can’t go to jail yet, man!”
Even after discovering her age, he continues, “Why do you look like that? You thick. Look at all this. I don’t know if I should feel guilty or not, but I had fun. I like the way your breasts feel against my chest.” He is then seen kissing her on the cheeks and forehead in a way that can only be described as extremely creepy. Drake would have been 23 at the time the video was taken. The age of consent in Colorado is 17. To this day, he has not responded to the video and his US publicist has always declined to comment on the matter.
If you thought that was the end of it when it comes to Drizzy’s questionable ways, think again. In the song ‘Mr. Right Now’ released in 2020 by Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage and American record producer Metro Boomin on their collaborative album Savage Mode II, Drake sings a verse that garnered particular attention for its mention of SZA.
“Yeah, said she wanna fuck to some SZA, wait ‘cause I used to date SZA back in ‘08,” Drake raps on the track. In 2008, SZA would have been 17 and Drake 22. While the age of consent in the rapper’s hometown of Toronto is 16, it is 18 where he currently resides in California.
Honestly, there seems to be a recurring pattern here. Drake’s interest in impressionable young women is “a systemic issue in a society which has a surplus of men in power, as well as an abundance of women who have ambitions to be seen, to be understood, to attain power themselves within the existing societal structure,” as writer Sandra Song pointed out in a 2018 article for NYLON.
And in most cases, it’s a situation that lends itself to varying degrees of abuse, which is why it simply can’t be overlooked. “What about the other young women this sort of thing happens to who, unlike Brown, aren’t in the public eye?” continued Song. Let’s not forget about Lifetime’s Surviving R Kelly documentary, which featured heart-wrenching interviews with multiple women who say they were abused by the singer, oftentimes out in the open, and yet no one did anything to stop him.
Celebrity culture may have blurred the lines between mutual consent and predatory behaviour, but it’s the accumulation of small events like the ones Drake has been involved in that need attention before one more YouTube video surfaces and we scramble to erase its impact on impressionable minds.