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The 2010s Tumblr Renaissance Is Upon Us, by Victoria Marx

A decade ago, in a land far, far, away, the Notes app poets of today were being born on devices with unrestricted internet access. In this realm of unapologetic vulnerability, cringe and chaos existed a website known as Tumblr. A sanctuary for those looking to find community in fanship and despair over our tumultuous adolescent experiences — like being ignored by our class crush and hitting our heads against the window on the bus ride home. These earth-shattering moments were often soundtracked by Lana Del Rey, Arctic Monkeys, Halsey, alt-J, Lorde, The Neighbourhood, and of course, the increasingly insufferable Taylor Swift and The 1975. I’ll get to that later. 


Those of us who witnessed the fishnets and the flower crowns alike have also witnessed the early days of internet culture being cultivated by teenagers for teenagers. Needless to say, it was a free-for-all. Between the laughable attempts to appear edgy and the preppy perfection of a "justgirlythings" blog post, there were many attempts by users to distinguish themselves through aesthetics — a practice that has only grown in popularity over time. While it’s easy to look back on this from where we stand now with a critical eye, there’s also much to be admired about the strides made and the lasting impact Tumblr has on the online spaces young people inhabit.


That being said, the current age of social media has emerged with new qualities to consider. We’ve slightly departed from sharing our authentic selves due to the heightened self-awareness brought about by a larger population of online users. What used to be a small corner of the internet to find solace in is now a daunting mansion with more rooms than one can imagine. For this reason, it’s no surprise that we’re opting for a more lighthearted and comedic approach when it comes to expressing ourselves online,  especially when it comes to the battlegrounds of platforms like TikTok and X. Any attempt to showcase yourself unabashedly is a risk that may result in being torn to shreds by the strangers who witness it. This phenomenon encourages users to have a more fabricated online presence. There’s an unspoken rule to be correct online, whether in opinion, expression, or appearance; being correct ensures that internet users can evade any criticism from the public eye. What’s lost as a result is the space to be human and to know that everyone else is equally flawed and nuanced. 


Luckily, people get bored with things that come across as fraudulent. It doesn’t matter how convincing a facade may be as long as it’s a facade. It takes time for people to see behind the smoke and mirrors, but I feel we’re reaching that threshold. There’s nothing quite as glorious as stumbling across an unedited photo dump posted by a friend or a shitpost so daring in its honesty that you have no choice but to admire it. As I’ve established, oversharing online is not a new practice. At times, it’s problematic and unnecessary, but it can be a fantastic way to communicate universal experiences that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day. As painful or embarrassing as it may be, the ability to share our truth is fundamental to forge the connections we crave so badly. In other words, reject modernity and embrace tradition. Although we should keep the platform alive, let us discard the harmful qualities of Tumblr, such as romanticizing mental illness or writing really bad poetry.


Now that I can get off my soapbox, I can address the resurgence that inspired this article in the first place. Tumblr’s influence popping back up into the mainstream can be seen anywhere from the coquette aesthetic adorned by Lana Del Rey fans to the gut-wrenching poetry slideshows on TikTok. Similarly, when Lady Killers by G-Eazy started going viral as the winds of summer swept in, I knew it was time. The air shifted. The clouds parted. I blinked my bright blue orbs and threw my hair into a messy bun, awaiting my whirlwind romance with a member of One Direction. Unfortunately, that never happened. My rose-colored glasses through which I saw the Tumblr days were ripped away from me when Taylor Swift’s eleventh studio album was released: The Tortured Poets Department. Tortured I was indeed. 


I’d like to preface this by saying I’ve been a fan of Taylor Swift since elementary school. Her debut album was one of the first I recall listening to in the car with my mom. I went to The Eras Tour this past summer. Her lyrics are burned into the back of my skull for the rest of time. Regardless, her morals, or lack thereof, frustrate me. I’m not impressed with her silence on social issues that span beyond those concerning white liberal feminists, nor am I impressed with her tendency to capitalize on every single thing she does. It’s hard to be empathetic towards a billionaire severely lacking in empathy for others. On The Tortured Poets Department, she’s only digging herself deeper into a hole by feeding her fans scraps of some of her most poorly written lyrics, nonetheless, on an album centered around her songwriting abilities. Additionally, I can not fail to mention the unflattering and tired production from Jack Antonoff. Have I come to enjoy this album after a few listens? Yes. Am I still critical of it? Extremely. There are some solid tracks, but I wanted more originality, a feature that is usually present in her new albums.


This album encapsulates elements of the Tumblr era, for better and for worse. The minimalist black and white aesthetic of the record is reminiscent of The 1975, The 1975’s debut album. Do you remember my mentioning of a soundtrack earlier? Well, this album may as well have been the pinnacle of said soundtrack for many Tumblr users. The visual parallels are likely purposeful, considering a majority of the album is rumored to be about Matty Healy, the frontman of The 1975. The 1975 has been my favorite band since I was 12 years old. I know, ironic, considering my political stances. Before Matty Healy set out to be willfully ignorant and hated by the masses, the content of the band’s music often promoted progressive ideals. He was even named Ally of the Year at the Diva Awards in 2019. As with many things mentioned in this article, that title hasn’t aged well.


The public’s interest has led to speculation about the timeline of their romance. The pair have known each other since 2014 when Matty was seen adorning a 1989 album cover t-shirt and Taylor stepped out in a 1975 box logo tank. More recently, during the At Their Very Best tour in 2022, Matty intros their hit song "Chocolate" by saying, “Tumblr, Doc Martens, Taylor Swift, uh The 1975,” an affectionate nod to the band’s early days and the culture at the time. Both artists had successful careers during and after the Tumblr era, but perhaps Swift is acknowledging their roots through both the aesthetic and execution of this new album. Furthermore, the depth of alleged Matty-inspired tracks makes me inclined to think they have more history than we know. 


You might be wondering why I’m even bringing this up amidst my feelings about these artists and this album. Well, in honor of being flawed and nuanced, I have to reveal that these are still two of my favorite artists. Even though I can’t support their actions, I support the music I’ve loved all of these years. Additionally, there isn’t a more notable moment in this renaissance thus far. I can’t imagine a more fitting case scenario than Taylor Swift pouring her heart out over a pretentious cigarette-smoking man, who, if not for his success, would absolutely be living in a studio apartment with his mattress on the floor. As a Tumblr veteran myself, The Tortured Poets Department has all the right ingredients to appeal to my taste buds. She hit all the marks: oversharing, dramatizing, romanticizing and exhibiting enough immaturity to turn off listeners over the age of 16. As much as I admire Swift’s attempt to pay tribute to Tumblr’s glory days, I fear she failed to execute this concept to the best of her abilities. If she spent more time on the project and worked with some other producers, it may have been a new favorite of mine. Sadly, it pales in comparison to the best album centered around Matty Healy: Badlands by Halsey. Sure, I’m biased. Admittedly, that was one of my favorite albums in my teenage years. Now that I’m an adult, and it’s not the 2010s anymore, the same concept isn’t nearly as alluring as it once was. 


I realize I’m being just as critical as some of the social media users I mentioned earlier. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t applaud Taylor Swift’s dedication to revealing parts of herself she never has before, even if that means a few cringe-worthy lyrics slip through the cracks. Or a lot. (She is 34, by the way). This Tumblr renaissance wouldn’t be complete if there weren’t statements being made with equal measures of heart-wrenching emotion and self-abasement. As for Matty Healy, I’m sure he’s somewhere getting stoned and contemplating his existence, all the while making fun of this entire situation. As a fan of The 1975’s music, I fear what they may release after this. For now, I’ll maintain my love for and allegiance to the wondrous time that Tumblr brought about. Was it really that great, or was I just young and impressionable with an insatiable appetite for the dramatic? Your guess is as good as mine. 


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