I Attempt to Explain The ‘Vibe Shift’ & Why It Might Be Good

…But Also Probably Not Real

In the past couple weeks there has been a new cultural meme floating around, coming from the brilliant mind of the man who brought you normcore 5 years ago, Sean Monahan. There’s an article from The Cut that has gone viral and loads of people on social media are now referencing the coming “vibe shift” in our world.

The vibe shift, to put it simply, is a change in social culture and fashion. We’ve experienced plenty of different vibe shifts in Monahan’s words, including the move from the days of “peak indie” of the early-to-mid-2000s to the normcore revolution of wearing your dad’s shoes and your grandma’s sweatpants of the early 2010s, and finally most recently to the great “awokeining” of sneaker collecting and getting angry at everything even mildly offensive that has plagued us (or given some of us a meaning) the last 6 years.

Monahan’s point is another shift is coming, or more likely, is already here. And his idea is it will be a rebellion against the more recent trends, going back to the post-grunge-inspired era of the turn of the millennium where true proto-hipsters and degenerates could co-exist in peace and an ironic happiness.

Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Firstly, I tend to agree with the vibe shift concept, and that another is here. It’s really similar to this idea of a “cultural reset” or these other lame terms that have been thrown around a lot since the beginning of the pandemic response in early 2020. Since, we as a culture haven’t quite figured out what the vibe is, but we know that it’s changing.

People are acting different. Young people that just want to have a good time are back to living their lives and moving forward with the world, while seemingly backward older millennials and those underratedly dweeb-ish Gen-Xers (btw the first hipsters to exist) are clinging to their favored vibes of yesteryear especially the one that’s just passed. Boomers, like the homeless after a cold-snap, have largely died off from the pandemic and culturally seem now as relevant as their preceding generation.

At any rate, it appears that the younger generation is now the ones rightfully moving into the tastemaker role for fashion and music, and to give evidence to Monahan’s point about the new vibe, is this new Gen Z aestehtic is decidedly more indie, more grunge, and more cool than any vibe that’s preceeded it in recent memory.

Why? Allow me to attempt to explain. The first reason, is the Gen Zers are mostly the children of Gen X who invented grunge and then grew up into the Williamsburg hipsters of the early aughts. And if generational history tells us anything it’s that the next generation basically just subconciously copies everything from their parents generation. For example, Gen Y became insufferable, entitled nerds with polar social divisions the same way the Boomers did 30 years prior. And if there’s anything that unites all generations, it’s our general dislike of Boomers and Millennials.

So it makes sense to see the Gen Zers and their older counterpart Y/Z gap generation develop the way it has. They like Billie Eilish who represents the new era of digital grunge, but more interestingly, they also actually like unpopular indie and underground music too, not just these mainstream break through artists. An interesting corollary here is the breakthrough of innovative media providing a channel for discovering new music today as it has in the past.

crommelincklars, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

At the dawn of grunge which ultimately led to the alternative music boom of the next two decades, there was MTV and 120 Minutes to give us the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. After that came the early days of the internet in the early-2000s which made sharing music at the grassroots level even easier. Now, it’s the advancement of this technology with streaming platforms like Spotify and Deezer which can put the music of the entire world at your fingertips and allow the easiest spread of independent music we’ve ever seen.

The more exposed we now can become to indie music, fashion, and culture, the more and more the mainstream will embrace it, especially if we’re at a cultural crossroads where we want to shun the current mainstream that’s been embedded in our cultural bedrock for the past 5-10 years.

So, is the vibe shift a good thing for indie music? Will its popularity continue to expand and explode for the younger generations?

Probably yes, but let’s not assume a cultural shift is leading to every change in tastes around music, culture, and media that we may see in the next several years. It’s really the changing tastes in music, film, fashion, aesthetic, and social entertainment that affect the emerging cultural shift, not the other way around.

So, as interesting as it can be to discuss what will come next with the vibe shift, the reality is it’s already happened, and the trends we’re already seeing are simply growing a bit more, only to slow down in the coming few years to be soon exchanged for a new vibe shift that is likely to be even more different.

But for what it’s worth, I’m a fan of this vibe shift. Less virtue signaling and anger; more fun, more independence, and more unity around our desire for freedom and discovering what it is that makes each of us happy. And finding even more interesting and exciting indie music as a part of that journey is what I will look for the most.

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