In 2022, trends were quite literally living their lives in the fast lane. At the beginning of the year, most of us were stuck in the awkward phase between ditching our face masks in public spaces and embracing the return back to normal life post the COVID-19 pandemic.
While these habits infested into aesthetics like cleancore and 2020core, several other factors—including high-profile breakups, televised trials, Euphoria fever, the rise and fall of Wordle, a collective fascination for the multiverse, unparalleled hate for the metaverse, as well as the ban of controversial public figures from social media platforms—gripped Google searches for rest of the year.
Close to the end of 2022 however, there seemed to be a last-minute surge in year-defining events. As Argentina marked their historic win at the FIFA World Cup, conversations about nepotism babies rocked the entertainment industry—as passengers aboard the sinking ship that is Elon Musk-owned Twitter launched into a frenzy about their favourite celebrities. Meanwhile, the tech world was dominated by AI art generators and chatbots amid mass layoffs and crypto catastrophes.
All that being said, this is not a year-in-review article looking back at the numerous vibe shifts of 2022. If you’ve been following SCREENSHOT’s coverage of internet culture trends, you’ll know that—if there are two concepts which influence the cultural zeitgeist of a given year—it’s aesthetics and subcultures. In a way, all the aforementioned events have helped set the visual stage for 2023.
From weirdcore to a blatant rejection of the consciousness surrounding ‘cores’, here are three of the top aesthetics and subcultures that will help shape the year ahead.
Up until early 2022, the internet was obsessed with acknowledging everything under the sun and shelving them as either a hyper-specific aesthetic or subculture online. While grandpacore clowncore, and pearlcore went viral overnight, certain vibe shifts were termed along the lines of ‘goblin mode’, ‘feral girl summer’, and ‘horny girl autumn’. In fact, the practice was so rampant that it ironically garnered an entire subculture to its credit called ‘namecore’.
It was then that the broader internet started addressing its obsession with suffixes. While history gave us punks, hippies, grunge, and emos, the cultural lexicon later attached the ‘chic’ suffix to styles. Over time, this evolved into ‘prep’, ‘wave’, and ‘kei’—albeit being fronted by ‘core’.
Fast forward to late 2022 however, indie sleaze became the biggest macro trend birthed out of the Y2K revival. And, gradually, ‘sleaze’ began overthrowing ‘core’ at the helm of the internet culture lexicon. As an edgier and effortless version of core aesthetics and subcultures, sleaze plugged into our collective nostalgia, in turn, puppeteering us away from the sterilised bliss offered by the former.
While the movement is yet to peak in 2023, the year is also set to witness a rise in unhinged namecore takes. More specifically, aesthetics named after food with the ‘girl’ suffix. Enter vanilla girl, chocolate girl, caramel girl, matcha girl… baked beans girl, and hard boiled egg girl. If you think internet aesthetics are becoming oddly specific in terms of their tastes, wait until you meet mouldy cheese girl and medium roasted peanut girl. Cyberspace doesn’t get better than this, if you ask me.
Although the collation is rather unappetising to visualise, baked beans girl refers to an aesthetic with self-care, proper hydration, and a decent night time routine at the forefront. While the palette incorporates tints and tones of orange and nudes, visuals include candles, bathrobes, cosy settings, and airy styles. It symbolises everything and nothing—all together at once.
When it comes to hard boiled egg girls, things become a little more specific. The aesthetic incorporates pink pastels, whites, broderie Anglaise, and Hailey Bieber-approved glazed donut nails. Though it harbours parallels with princesscore and the coquette aesthetic, hard boiled egg girl is more like the silly, long-lost cousin of the two. At its core, it’s manufactured as a label enthusiasts can use to express themselves online. Physically however, the aesthetic holds little value. And that’s exactly what this new format of aesthetics and subcultures is all about.
Previously, the major difference between an aesthetic and a subculture was the presence of a dedicated community in the latter. While almost anyone could participate in an aesthetic just by making mood boards, curating playlists, and posting fan-made edits, subcultures came with the necessity of in-person meet-ups, forging social ties on Discord, and nursing inside jokes with the community.
Baked beans girl and hard boiled egg girl essentially eliminate this barrier of entry—in turn, rendering aesthetics a completely digital existence. So, be it as an Instagram caption or a gamer tag, the format in question is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Maybe we should’ve ended things with ‘corecore’ after all, huh?
First gaining traction over the pandemic, weirdcore seeks to trigger nostalgia for the unknown in enthusiasts. Featuring images and texts that are eerily familiar yet distant, it leaves people confused, disoriented, and reminiscent of the vague past. Although weirdcore works have evolved to include a list of fresh motifs and inspirations, the emotions behind the subculture remain the same. The only difference this time around is the application of these feelings.
“Weirdcore can trigger comfort in some because it probably reminds them of a nicer time in their life,” Gib, a moderator of r/weirdcore and co-administrator of the Discord server dedicated to the art movement, previously told SCREENSHOT. “But it can also trigger a bad memory or a phobia, leaving them confused and scared.” According to co-administrator Sanfor, the subculture can be triggering because, at its core, it is about exploring one’s emotions and experiences.
“It can be upsetting due to the way images sometimes contain elements that contradict one another: comforting visuals being paired up with upsetting ones, real with fake, and so on,” he added.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, weirdcore’s amateur editing, primitive graphics, lo-fi photography, and image compression doubled as a beacon of hope in the synthetic underworld we call the internet. When harshly blended with images of liminal spaces, it then ironically evoked nostalgia for social gatherings. Essentially, delusional viewers only perceived what they wanted to at the time.
In a post-pandemic sphere however, enthusiasts have realised that the outside world is not all sunshine and roses either. As a result, in 2023, weirdcore and dreamcore edits are set to evoke an otherworldly feeling that nothing is real. As it turns out, there is no hope within the four walls we were once mandatorily confined to and there’s no sense of purpose out in the vast dimension beyond them.
The group of subcultures are instead hinged on highlighting humanity’s barren wasteland of an existence in the future.
This one might set off all the dystopiacore alarms in your head, but hear me out. Since November 2022, both social media and the tech industry alike have been floored by the power of AI chatbots—more specifically, ChatGPT.
What was once restricted to the corporate and customer service sector was essentially repurposed to cheat on written exams, generate 5,000-word essays mere minutes before their deadline, and bag remote job interviews as well as dates on Tinder. Heck, TikTokers have even used the tool to create everything from video games to powerlifting programmes and trending recipes. So why not aesthetics and subcultures?
It sounds radically unethical, I’ll give you that—but at the same time, it’s imperative to acknowledge the immense potential the tool provides in a world chock full of dynamic trends. In a bid to generate a brand new aesthetic from scratch, I took ChatGPT out for a little test run.
My first objective was to create an Aesthetics Wiki-esque page for an aesthetic based on the popular TV show Stranger Things—complete with a name, colour palette, key values, imagery, font, music, and fashion pointers. And it’s worryingly safe to state that ChatGPT didn’t disappoint.
Introducing ‘Hawkinsleaze’, a “retro supernatural” aesthetic that sports “neon pink, green, and purple” as its key colours. While its values surround “nostalgia, excess, and edginess,” visuals include “vintage cameras, old-fashioned phones, and cassette tapes.” Font? “Flashy and bold” typography. Music? “‘Walking on Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves, and ‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis and the News.”
As for fashion tips: “Start with vintage or retro clothing items that capture the show’s 1980s setting, such as mom jeans, oversized t-shirts, corduroy jackets, and high-waisted roots,” ChatGPT advised. “Incorporate bold and flashy elements from the sleaze fashion style, such as leather jackets, studded belts, and fishnet tights. Consider incorporating elements that reflect the character’s personality or role in the show, such as Eleven’s pink dress or Will’s blue baseball cap.”
This year, the interplay between our digital future and cyber aesthetics is believed to have paved the way for sci-fi fits. In direct opposition to 2022’s dopamine dressing trend, the new style reflects our current times: dark, moody, and dystopian. And if you really think about it, AI-generated palettes—or neural visuals—fit right into this ethos.
Because what’s more apocalyptic than generating fully-fledged visual identities at the mercy of a bot in 2023, right?
“I asked my friends to send me pictures of my aesthetic,” one half of TikTok is heard saying before the screen flashes into a montage of similar visuals. Gathered at #whatsmyaesthetic, some users ask others to help define their aesthetic while the rest attach ten pictures off their Pinterest feed as an attempt. The other half, however, seems to be focused on lifestyles rather than visuals. They are seen meeting up, suggesting films, sharing Spotify playlists and giving elaborate room tours using dedicated hashtags under the umbrella term #subculture—with 28 million views and counting.
What are aesthetics and subcultures exactly? Is there even a difference between the two? If so, what should we—as both the audience and the creator—know before jumping on one?
Now, if you’re one of those 2013 Tumblr OGs, chances are that you have your concepts nailed. But the two terms seem to have blurred into a confusing alliance over time. So if you’ve been waiting for a transparent ride to the other side, you’re on the right dock. On a quest to establish the basics, we asked two active members of the internet’s “one-stop-shop” for aesthetics and subcultures to explain.
“There is a lot of overlap between the two,” said Angela Yin, a 19-year-old art history student in California. Introduced to the dynamic world of aesthetics and subcultures while lurking on Polyvore in 2013, Yin explored the depths of Tumblr and Instagram before arriving at Aesthetics Wiki in 2020—where she contributed to various articles and became a moderator before stepping down in June 2021.
According to Yin, both subcultures and aesthetics have a shared list of elements including a common fashion sense, media and visual motifs. However, subcultures are noticeably different from the norm. “You’re able to pick out and identify a person from a subculture as being different from an average person,” she said. “Aesthetics, by contrast, don’t really have to be different from the norm.” On these terms, Yin cited preppy as an example of aesthetics.
Yin also credited this differentiation to history and the emergence of communities. “Subcultures tend to meet in person, have closer social ties, make zines, have memes, inside jokes and more,” she explained. In this regard, subcultures emphasise social connections when compared to internet aesthetics. On the other hand, one can participate in an aesthetic by just making moodboards, curating playlists and posting fan-made edits and pictures.
“Aesthetics don’t require group interaction and don’t facilitate making friends as much as, say, a local meet-up does. However, there is Discord, Facebook groups and other platforms for people who do want a closer atmosphere in an aesthetic,” Yin continued. Think uwu girls assembling with their Sanrio plushies and cat-eared gaming headsets on Discord, for starters. Simply put, the social component for subcultures is mandatory, while for aesthetics, it’s optional.
Similarly, in a 2019 article by Vox, the publication outlined how egirls are not compelled to be egirls outside of TikTok. Yin linked this as another potential difference between subcultures and aesthetics. “Most of the big subcultures have a long history, such as goths and bikers,” she said, adding how an egirl’s digital existence may be spurred on due to the rise of social media. “It’s still a fairly new thing that is being researched by sociologists right now,” she added.
Yet another basis of difference centres around the depth of internet aesthetics. “Aesthetics can be a complete mode for fantasy and escape,” Yin said. “A cottagecore blogger can live in a studio apartment in New York City, wear only navy business attire, listen to the music, make moodboards and still be considered part of the community.” In contrast, Yin outlined how you have to actively participate in a subculture to be a part of it—with the metrics depending on the subculture.
“For example, I am a Lolita. And in our community, you aren’t a Lolita until you have a coordinate (outfit) and wear it out.” In this regard, Yin acknowledged certain elements of gatekeeping within subcultures “where there is the knowledge that one should hold and ways to participate before you are considered part of the community.” The ex-moderator also explained how this factor doesn’t really affect aesthetics, largely because of the greater element of anonymity. No physical interactions are needed here, remember?
However, this reminded me of my conversations with Gib and Sanfor—the co-administrators of the Discord server dedicated to Weirdcore. With evidence dating back to the early 2010s, the aesthetic lacked a centralised community committed to preserving it until the start of 2021. “[This] led to the term ‘Weirdcore’ becoming a label with no meaning behind it,” Sanfor told SCREENSHOT at the time, outlining how it was then confused with its sister aesthetics Dreamcore and Traumacore.
In my chat with the administrators, they also explained the requirement for moderation when it comes to internet aesthetics—a concept not to be confused with gatekeeping. Gib termed this aspect as a ‘collaborative effort’. “It’s a lot of people expanding the boundaries and experimenting with what is and what isn’t Weirdcore, coming up with new ideas and evolving it—because any art form that doesn’t evolve, ceases to exist,” he mentioned.
On the flip side, Sanfor noted how this heavy moderation has previously resulted in people disagreeing with how Weirdcore is approached. “While I understand where they’re coming from, we have a responsibility to keep the aesthetic on track, to keep it somewhat consistent in terms of themes and general look,” he said. “We won’t prohibit people from expressing their own feelings however they wish, but we need to keep the aesthetic from devolving into something meaningless again.”
Sure, there are some aesthetics like 2020core, gorpcore and lovecore with no specific qualifiers or rites of passage. But that’s not always the case with those that have full-fledged communities to back them up like Weirdcore and cryptidcore.
Now that we’ve established clear distinctions between the two, it’s time to address the roots of the phenomena. Who pioneers internet aesthetics and subcultures? What is the research process like? And, in our digital age where it feels like everything’s been done and dusted before, is it even possible to create our own aesthetics and subcultures from scratch?
When asked about the self-creation process behind both, Yin highlighted the difference between a ‘created aesthetic’ and a ‘non-created aesthetic’ on Aesthetics Wiki. “Created aesthetics are pages on our Wiki that originated there. A single person decided to write an article or create an account and the movement was born.” In contrast, a non-created aesthetic is one which has originated via multiple sources and evolved over time to suit shifts among its audience. In these terms, dark academia is a non-created movement—organically made and developed through online communities influenced by the European patrician society—while dual kawaii was created by a single person, who now has the ultimate authority over the aesthetic.
Yin, however, believes a person cannot create an aesthetic or subculture as there are already pre-existing ones that influence a person. Rather, she described it as a “collection of influences.” “For example, pastel academia is a scholastic focus on kawaii. All of the visuals come from kawaii culture, but they added their own love for learning.”
Does this mean that created aesthetics and subcultures are merely spin-offs on existing ones? “Deliberately going out and trying to create an aesthetic likely doesn’t work, as the point of aesthetics and subcultures are that they are beyond a single person,” Yin said, outlining how it’s a bit off-colour to claim that the user invented it when all they did was utilise a pre-existing aesthetic to base their own. This is also the reason why created aesthetics are not going to be as unique at the end of the day. “But then again, this could be argued for all art,” Yin added.
So, what does the ideal process for aesthetic and subculture creation look like instead? “People should just exist on their own, doing their own interests and reblogging or posting the things they like. Others would soon see it, admire it, mimic it and then the trend catches on,” Yin explained. The ex-moderator also noted how aesthetics and subcultures are often created on whims.
“Light academia started as a single Tumblr text post that the creator wasn’t intending to make as an aesthetic. But people who found the single post resonated with it—adding their own photos to the tag and making their own text posts. In the same way, a person can dress a certain way and a friend on Instagram could wear a matching outfit. A lot of it is simply play.”
On the other hand, pastel academia’s growth and popularity were not autonomous. “A lot of its content includes directions and its article on Aesthetics Wiki became quite popular,” Yin explained. Although some communities catch up with the rules and guidelines of the platform, it doesn’t matter for others and can even be perceived as “hackneyed and presumptuous.” Yin, therefore, labelled the overall creation process as “fairly random and uncontrollable.”
When asked about her advice to those looking to create their own aesthetics and subcultures, Yin explained how Aesthetics Wiki is moving away from ‘created aesthetics’ on the platform—instead focusing more on documentation. The ex-moderator hence discouraged people from writing articles on personal aesthetics.
However, if you are interested in documenting existing aesthetics and subcultures like Britishcore, dystopiacore and Kandi kids on Aesthetics Wiki, we’ve got Gibby—a self-described “Finnish gremlin” who authored the folk punk Wiki page—on the line. Dabbling in different types of music, mostly mashup, noise and folk punk, Gibby is currently making his own folk punk album along with other musical mishaps.
When asked about his motivation to create the page, Gibby explained how it was a spur of “screw this, if nobody else has written about it, then fine, I shall do it” moment. “I’d actually thought of writing it for a couple of months, but it was only this summer that I decided to do it.”
So, what was Gibby’s research process like before writing the article and creating the page? “The research was basically me being hyper fixated on the genre, watching documentaries and reading Wikipedia articles on bands themselves.” Gibby also admitted to researching groups like AJJ, Ramshackle Glory, Days N Daze and The Window Smashing Job Creators when he spotted similarities with the clothing styles described in his article. Gibby then followed the style guide listed on Aesthetics Wiki while authoring the page.
In terms of the reception to his article, Gibby noted an influx of positive feedback from both online and offline. When asked if the piece has fuelled the popularity of folk punk, the author disagreed—further highlighting how folk punk is not for everyone. “This is honestly due to how bad the quality [of the music] tends to be, with it being acoustic and often done by the members themselves, usually on a shoestring budget.”
If you are planning to document and create your own Wiki page, Gibby advised a thorough review of the rules and standards governing the platform. “Adding all the things in the guidelines isn’t necessary,” he mentioned. “I basically added the points that fit and explained the basics of folk punk.”
Although documenting aesthetics and subcultures is a step into its mainstream exposure, are there any particular platforms one should keep in mind to build a community around the same? ‘TikTok, obviously’ one may think like I did until Yin pointed out a factor influencing the process. For starters, Aesthetics Wiki is not a place for community building, social media is. Remember how the aesthetic backing femboys and softboys ever so often grips TikTok and Twitter? However, they haven’t been translated into pages on Aesthetics Wiki yet.
That being said, the perfect platform is difficult to pinpoint since different communities interact in different ways—be it Tumblr reblogs or TikTok meme formats. “Knowing the platform’s MO and expressing yourself from that comes from osmosis,” Yin added.
To date, SCREENSHOT has spoken to several small businesses dedicated to certain aesthetics and subcultures. Be it kidcore brand Blackcurrant Pop or dark academia-inspired Etsy shop Harper & Rafell, both owners shared the same plans for the next five years down the lane: immense expansions and noteworthy collaborations. But isn’t the life span of such businesses completely dependent on the longevity of the aesthetics and subcultures they’re based on? More importantly, don’t both of them lose their appeal once they go mainstream?
“Subcultures will almost always have a greater longevity because the community has a tighter knit and it becomes part of your identity,” Yin explained. On the other hand, internet aesthetics are ephemeral because of their majorly-gen Z audience. “Teenagers are often known for cycling through different identifiers and leaving different trends,” Yin said, adding how they are eventually destined to grow bored with them. This is also the root of all problems and controversies relating to aesthetics and subcultures. “If a community is too static, it grows stale. But if it changes and evolves, it won’t be the same anymore,” Yin summed up.
Then there is the whole ‘mainstream appeal’ part to the conversation when big retailers pick up on certain aesthetics and subcultures. “They lose their glamour when, for example, you find metal and punk shirts at retail stores and celebrities wearing studded denim vests with patches on them (aka battle vests),” Gibby explained. The author labelled this as ‘recuperation’, adding how it is a “horrible side-effect of capitalism” and counter-culture for subcultures like punk.
Over at Yin’s, the ex-moderator highlighted how people often use clothing to express connections with a community. But when that factor loses its context, it becomes watered down and shallower than before. “For example, a teenager wearing a tweed blazer is connected with dark academia, meaning they probably like to read and be pretentious. But if tweed blazers become popular, it means that the teen is following a trend and not aligning with a community with set connotations.” Take royalcore, for instance. Inspired by the visuals and key values of West European royalty, the aesthetic features long evening gowns and opera gloves—both of which are being redefined and incorporated into everyday wardrobes as we speak.
There is, however, a plethora of factors playing into the relationship of brands with various internet aesthetics and subcultures. “Indie and smaller brands are okay, but the issue is when corporations try to get on it in a way that seems disingenuous,” Yin explained. The variety of audiences within a subculture is another factor. “Some people in the cottagecore aesthetic may emphasise sustainability, anti-capitalism and repurposing. However, others aren’t concerned about that and would purchase a cottagecore piece from H&M, for example.” The list of variables also boils down to whether the owner is part of the subculture or not. Brands that are credited with creating an aesthetic or subculture are yet another factor and topic for part three of this series.
Let’s address one more aspect, in case you can’t wait for more insights into the dynamic world of internet aesthetics and subcultures: forecasts. Is it possible to predict the ones that might come up in the future? “Yes and no,” Yin exclaimed. “Trends tend to cycle. For example, cottagecore is the latest incarnation of pastoral romanticism in 70s revival or 90s shabby chic.” According to Yin, they can also be a consequence of social and political events or even media.
“Cottagecore became really popular during the pandemic, when people couldn’t go outside and experienced escapism through learning new hobbies. However, a lot of it is random and comes from out of nowhere. For example, dark academia came from The Secret History, a book that was published in the 90s, thirty years before the popularisation of the aesthetic.” BookTok, who?
In the next five years, Yin expects Aesthetics Wiki to become a platform like TV Tropes—a place for people to contribute and use as a dictionary for aesthetics and subcultures. “We still have a lot of pages that we need and are missing. More depth could also be used in articles.” But as more people join and Aesthetics Wiki’s presence goes viral through word-of-mouth and Google searches, Yin hopes articles will bloom organically on the platform—making the Wiki “a place for people to turn to as a resource similar to other internet history websites like Know Your Meme.”
Yin also admitted to stepping down from the moderator position to focus more on research and writing, “rather than monitoring page activity and discussing the Wiki on a meta level.” Leveraging her art history background to seek influences, Yin’s special interest now lies in finding the origin and impact of specific aesthetics—featuring interviews with the pioneers.
Over at Gibby’s, the folk punk artist plans to keep contributing to Aesthetics Wiki. “Maybe about black metal, because I feel it’s different enough from regular metal culture that it deserves its own article,” he added.
With all of that out in the open, if you are someone who camps out on #whatsmyaesthetic and want tips from the OGs themselves, Yin has got you covered. Having written an entire article for Aesthetics Wiki, the ex-moderator advises starting by exposing yourself to different things and finding out what you like. “Collect colours, objects, sounds, sensations, emotions, quotes, textures, fashion details and songs. Then develop your visual vocabulary to express the feeling of the aesthetic,” she said. Knowing certain connotations (for example, tennis skirts denoting ‘sexy high schooler’) and adjectives used to describe an image also helps the entire process, apart from learning a bit about the background of designs—including the history of fashion and art.
So, what are you waiting for? Get cracking on your article documenting sleazecore or Tumblr girl today. Update gothcore and goblincore while you’re at it, maybe? And if you still have misconceptions about aesthetics and subcultures, head over to the Aesthetics Wiki page authored by Yin and sift through the elaborate disclaimers listed. But if you’re clear with all your concepts, sit tight, because boy oh boy you’re in for a ride into the dynamic sunset we call ‘internet culture’.