We’ve all heard of cottagecore, right? If you haven’t, you’ve probably been living under a rock or you most likely still haven’t downloaded TikTok. Come on, it’s time. The hashtag has amassed nearly 7 billion views on the app—yes, billion. It was during the first COVID-19 lockdown that cottagecore exploded on the internet which sparked the desire to escape the once normality of our capitalist world for a simpler, slower one in the country. Cottagecore’s popularity has since opened up the doors for a variety of new aesthetics to become viral.
Well, if you haven’t heard of cottagecore then no doubt you haven’t heard of fairycore or goblincore. Hollowfae, as they are known on Instagram—real name Sunday—sat down with us to talk about everything fairy and goblincore. The law student’s fantasy-themed fashion content and beautifully magical aesthetic has attracted over 20,000 followers, so it’s safe to say they’re a successful fairy.
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The path to these aesthetics was the same for Hollowfae, “I discovered all these little aesthetic-based communities just over a year ago at the beginning of the first UK lockdown. I actually discovered cottagecore first, my partner and I moved from our uni accommodations into their family home in the countryside. Cottagecore was becoming popular on TikTok at the time, so because of where I lived, taking part in the trend was really accessible.”
Goblincore has become an adjacent branch to cottagecore and is also often referred to as gremlincore or cottagegoth, among others. Its name has left many wanting a change in title. Morgan Sung writes in Mashable that “given the discourse over J.K. Rowling’s problematic depiction of goblins as greedy bankers in the Harry Potter franchise, at least one Tumblr user is pushing to call the aesthetic by one of its other names, so it’s not associated in any way with anti-semitism.”
From cottagecore to fairycore and goblincore—what’s the difference? Hollowfae explains that “they have some similarities—they both explore and celebrate nature and fantasy themed imagery. I’d say fairycore is ‘lighter’. If you compare the image in your head of a fairy to that of a goblin, the fairy has more of a conventionally ‘pretty’ look.”
Adjacent to other movements like cottagecore, fairycore and dragoncore, goblincore is defined as an aesthetic that aims to celebrate the elements of nature that are not typically seen as ‘pretty’. “From my perspective, I think fairycore celebrates the aspects of fantasy and nature that are deemed by most to be attractive (flowers, butterflies, pastel and bright colours), whereas goblincore seeks to celebrate the aspects that are not so perfectly curated or pristine and perhaps under-appreciated (bugs, toads, swamps, fungi),” Hollowfae explains. Think of it as cottagecore and fairycore’s dark academic cousin. Oh, you haven’t heard of dark academia either? You really need to download TikTok.
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It is because of this love for the typically unappreciated that goblincore’s culture opens its doors wide open to everyone and anyone. There is a noticeable freeing spirit in the community—one that celebrates nonconformity to society’s heternormative, binary beauty standards. It’s a fantastic fantasy-like escape from the real world and has become a safe habitat for the LGBTQIA+ community—especially for those who identify beyond the gender binary. At its core (pun intended) it’s a realm of escapism, whose members want to flee the barriers of capitalism and its norms for the freedom of the woods. Honestly, sign me up.
Hollowfae—who identifies as they/them—explains how this evolution into the “dark faircore” aesthetic makes them feel at ease. They explain that “it feels comfortable. It’s a lot less pressure for me because I don’t have to look perfect, my hair doesn’t need to be in place, my shoes can be muddy and my clothes can be ripped and it all just adds to the appeal.”
The goblincore culture merges this carefree vibe with the desire to collect unique objects. “The goal is to look like a little magical forest creature that has foraged a bunch of mismatched pieces and stitched together an outfit. I feel better about myself from this perspective, there’s less pressure to conform to normal ‘human’ beauty standards if your goal is to look like a magical, fantasy creature.”
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So, you want to cop the look? Hollowfae states that the absolute staples you need to get your fairycore or goblincore wardrobe started are: “arm warmers, knee-high socks, earth-tones, ripped tights and layer-able pieces like corsets, waistcoats and necklaces.” Once you have these, you can build on them. Another wonderful aspect of the community that I’ve noticed is that craftsmanship and sustainability is at the heart of acquiring their aesthetical pieces. Hollowfae aligns with this too.
They suggest purchasing items from places like Vinted, “I used to love charity shopping before lockdown but now that I shop mostly online, Vinted and eBay are definitely where I get a majority of my clothing pieces. My accessories are pretty much all from small businesses on Instagram and Depop—some have been kindly gifted to me but there’s loads of little shops making jewellery specifically for people who are interested in fairycore,” or goblincore.
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Of course, it’s not just about the aesthetic—it’s about the community. To really immerse yourself into goblincore or fairycore, you can find comfort in finding those like-minded to you. Hollowfae recommends finding users and following hashtags on social media like Instagram, Tumblr and TikTok. See, I told you. What are you still doing without TikTok downloaded on your phone?
They also state that “you can start posting your own content, but even just interacting with other accounts will really help to meet and connect with people who share the same interests as you. Once you immerse and surround yourself with similar people it’s a lot easier to just be yourself and express yourself freely.”
Hollowfae seems to have created a community like that—their dialogue with their followers and positive messaging has created a little pocket of safety on the internet. They humbly responded saying, “Thank you [but] I don’t see my account in that way, it’s a very personal space and outlet. The conversations I have are very important to me, and I try my best to hold open public conversations when I can.” It’s all about the community for goblincore.
Commenting on their distaste for Instagram’s ever-changing design and layout—don’t we all hate it?—Hollowfae would “prefer a dynamic where everyone can share and swap ideas and opinions on an equal playing field. […] I’m constantly learning from my peers and the wonderful people I follow, which is why I think community spaces are so much richer. We can all learn and improve together.”
I would love to be a part of this community, wouldn’t you?
If at some point during the recent quarantine you found yourself lost on YouTube searching for some mindless entertainment, you might have come across medieval-style renditions of famous pop songs. Appearing suddenly in YouTube recommendations at the whim of their obscure algorithm, these covers are part of a booming internet musical genre dubbed ‘bardcore’, or sometimes ‘tavernwave’—the origins of these names are obscure but they mirror larger internet trends such as cottagecore or vaporwave. What exactly is the new internet trend bardcore, and why did it gain popularity during the coronavirus pandemic?
Following its very sudden rise in the middle of the pandemic, bardcore music has now built a solid fan base and is sparking creativity across a variety of mediums and platforms. From YouTube to TikTok, the bardcore hashtags are filled with everything from plain old shitposts to carefully created content.
If the exercise of recreating contemporary tracks with medieval instruments isn’t new to the internet, the trend had a boom on Youtube when, in late April 2020, user Cornelius Link posted a medieval-style instrumental cover of Tony Igy’s Astronomia, the track made famous by the then-trending Coffin Dance meme. The video quickly garnered a lot of attention and now boasts over 3 million views.
Another YouTube user going by the nickname Hildegard Von Blingin’ (borrowed from Saint Hildegard Von Bingen, an abbess, philosopher and lyrical composer from 12th Century Germany) then contributed to the spread of the bardcore trend with medieval-style covers of songs such as Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance or Haddaway’s What is Love, recorded with adapted Old English lyrics. Hildegard’s YouTube channel, which started in late May 2020, now counts over 22 million consecutive views, a testament to the fast growth of the bardcore trend.
Bardcore has now taken over YouTube with more and more covers by various contributors being posted every day. You can find a bardcore track for every taste, from Eiffel 65’s eurodance classic I’m Blue to Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. The trend is also expanding to other platforms, with a dedicated subreddit. Discord servers for peasant roleplay, Tumblr blogs curating medieval content and TikTok comedy skits about life in the Dark Ages. Even if bardcore started as an online musical genre, it could lead to a larger trend of 21st century medieval revival, a kind of neo-New Age for the digital era.
Where the rise of the cottagecore trend can be explained by young people’s desire to move away from cities and live an idealised simple life in the countryside, it seems at first harder to understand the sudden online fascination for (western) medieval life and culture.
Before the term ‘bardcore’ even appeared on the internet, there were some early signs of a medieval revival trend: the multiplication of Bayeux tapestry-inspired memes, the recent Instagram craze for DIY medieval-style corsets or the eye-catching chainmail dresses designed by Julien Dossena for Paco Rabanne’s Fall 2020 collection. On the surface, the advent of bardcore seems to simply be the product of intense quarantine boredom and a lucky push from the YouTube algorithm which is helping this upcoming trend grow to prominence.
But there’s something about the year 2020 that evokes to us our pop culture view of the medieval times: a global plague, constant social and political instability, tyrannic feudal rulers using armed forces to reinforce their power, people trusting superstitions over science and visible inequalities. These are things we’ve pictured in the past, we seem to be in these Dark Ages that our culture has imagined, although numerous historians agree that the medieval times weren’t as bad as we have a tendency to portray them nowadays.
Many people, especially young people, have been living with the feeling of impending doom for some time now. The climate emergency and the rise of inequalities have exacerbated the idea that our civilisation could very much be on the brink of collapse, if not a full-on apocalypse. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to it, showcasing the shortcomings of our current systems and reinforcing the idea that the world as we know it could be about to end.
There’s something quite medieval about fearing the end of the world in the middle of a plague, so why not make memes about it? Consciously or not, the rise of bardcore as both a music genre and an overall aesthetic feels like an ironic, if not nihilistic, take on our current reality. Are we all powerless peasants again, destined to wait for the world to end while serving capitalist lords accumulating wealth while the rest of the people suffer?
Bardcore content is funny in its anachronism and its absurdity, but it is also rooted in interesting parallels between medieval and contemporary times. It shows us that even if times are dark and the end might be nigh, there’s still humour and creativity to be drawn from it. Even during a plague or under the rule of controversial leaders, people still manage to create beautiful things like artists did for centuries during the Middle Ages.
If the world were to slowly descend into a new dark age, it only seems natural to look back at medieval times for inspiration. Bardcore is a way for young generations to confront that impending feeling of doom with absurd humour while also building new communities around shared interests. After all, the world might be ending but the memes were fun.