If I knew the fun in 2021 was going to be so short lived, I wouldn’t have worn Uggs for most of the time. Luckily, according to Tik Tok, they are trending again (at least the ultra minis).
When top search terms for the year are insurrection, cicadas and vaccines -- it’s fair to feel exhausted as this wild year winds down. A year that kicked off with swelling hope – vaccines! – was quickly blunted on January 6th. And yet, as things went sideways politically, there were still moments of inspiration. Amanda Gorman’s poetry at the inauguration. Social progress. More female CEOs. The hope we had was so grand it almost crescendoed to the palpable roar of a Pandemaissance. But the universe had other plans and the emergence of variants meant that we couldn’t exactly exhale, let alone fully celebrate. So for the rest of the year we wobbled between office openings, social engagements, hope, disappointment, loss and waiting on PCR tests. We buoyed ourselves with Ted Lasso, Lil Nas X’s Montero, debates about what is and isn’t cheugy and any other cultural gem or ‘aesthetic’ that might give us momentary lift. Our exhaustion and longing would come and go, even though we didn’t fully have that same freedom. Adam Grant nailed this mood by attaching the word “languishing” to our collective experience.
But now as a new year presents itself, we too have a chance to present ourselves again and think about what reinvention looks like in a world that keeps changing its rules. Pantone is betting that Very Peri, a medium lavender shade, will launch us into 2022 with the creativity we need to meet this challenge. This color, Pantone explains, combines the tranquility of deep blue with the energy of red, offering us creative courage and imagination. But in this cool color there are a slew of other associations -- the irises Van Gogh painted while in a mental asylum, the color of the cocktail Nathan hands Issa Rae in her multiverse reality on season 5 of Insecure, and of course Elsa’s icy, ethereal wardrobe in Frozen 2. The thread? All of these lavendered references conjure emotional tension that must be worked out or better yet, worked through. And isn’t that all of us? Bruised but ready to recover. Choosing to hold on versus just hang on. As we look to 2022, the road to emotional recovery won’t always be easy but it will offer us some relief as we find inspiration in the unexpected and the mundane. The selfish and the selfless. The peculiar and the divine. With that, let’s take a look at the trends and movements that will move us in the new year.
Gen X Flex: Let’s start with some positive news. Gen X, the scorned middle child, saddled between Boomers and Millennials will be put on a cultural pedestal in 2022. Historically this generation, born between 1965-1979 has been depicted in an unflattering light, mainly as defined by other generations who have marked them as too fiercely independent or borderline antagonistic. But turns out receiving Ataris instead of trophies may have better equipped them for more time at home and a society that is going through an enduring disruption. On top of that Gen Z has thrust Gen X culture into the spotlight making every relic feel relevant again, from the Sopranos to Lilith Fair, platform shoes, Grunge Rock and even the Gap Khaki's swing craze. Research has shown time and time again that while Gen X may be the most stressed of generations they are also equipped to handle it best. Maybe listening to Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the Breeders for all of those years helped create an emotional toughness that would have longevity. Though they can be perceived as aloof, Gen X has historically been tolerant of difference and has wisely sat out of the tedious micro culture wars between Gen Z and Millennials, because who cares where you part your hair. In the new year we’ll see a ‘Gen X Flex’ emerge as this underdog generation takes on the role of older statespeople, helping us all find new perspectives in the year to come.
New Blueprints: Over the past 18 months our society has been pressure tested like never before, and there are cracks in the system wherever we look--from family care to economic opportunity, social inequities to climate change. These fissures have catalyzed a great reprioritization, which has manifested into a great resignation. And now individuals and societies are creating new blueprints acknowledging the need for the revolutionary over the evolutionary. From conscious capitalism to B corp designations we are seeing the emergence of “healthy organizations” built around structures of wellness, sustainability, inclusion and equity--this new world is shifting power to employees, and forcing needed change for all of us. According to experts at Stanford University, and detailed in their new report The New Map of Life, there’s no roadmap for the places we are going. Many children born today in the developing world will have the chance to live to 100. We’ll need to rethink models for life, work, and society that are not built on traditional timelines of marriage in the 20s and retirement in the 60s. The elongation of lives will create less mania in the middle for those juggling family, work, stress, and aging parents who have been asking the question: are we doing it wrong? In the new year and beyond, we will see conversations and shifts taking place around these issues: A commitment to lifelong education. Multiple careers in a lifetime. Concentrations of time spent with loved ones outside of parental leave. The widespread adoption of the four day work week. And we’ll all be better off with these new foundations.
Speaking Outside the Box: Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, a reasonable amount of baggage has accumulated beside you. While many of us would like to check our bags, sometimes the best way to escape may be to catch a new train all together. In the new year, there will be noticeable momentum in this direction as political and cultural influentials dissociate from the right, left and center, with some even creating new spaces all together. These outside voices will challenge and provoke conversations in a variety of directions -- and there is a cultural appetite for it. Substack continues to gain steam, offering journalists a platform to create newsletters free from overly influential editors and advertisers. This model encourages writers to bring value over clickbait. Libertarian media is popping up in the mainstream with new spotlights on publications like Reason magazine (tagline: “Free Minds and Free Markets”). Reason’s editor in chief, Katherine Mangu-Ward, is making rounds on national morning and late news shows by challenging the dominant political parties and their lack of flexibility. Adding to libertarian mojo, rising star Jane Coastan, just got a big podcast deal further growing her influence as she critiques both Democrats and Republicans. Fresh povs can also be found from linguist John McWhorter, former conservative Joe Scarborough who has denounced the Republican party, and of course New York’s energetic new mayor, Eric Adams, known for bold ideas and even bolder soundbites. In the new year we’ll hear hot takes that will veer away from predictable party lines, all in time to make the 2022 midterm elections more unpredictable.
MetADverse: In a society that has endured so much, there is an understandable excitement around a new and next frontier. After all, thinking about the future has been proven to generate hope. Which brings us to all the buzz about the metaverse, even if most Americans aren’t sure what it is. Wired magazine defines the metaverse as connected technologies characterized by persistent virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you're not playing. This universe – where value creation is fairly independent of the real world – also includes bitcoin, NFTs and other trendy notions. Despite any confusion, these new markets are creating intrigue and opportunities for brands to reach exciting levels of engagement. WarnerMedia’s Wonder Woman: The Themyscira Experience has been visited nearly 30 million times on Roblox. Facebook plans to spend $10 billion to become a metaverse company. But it’s all fun and games when we are purchasing art, digital handbags and outfitting superheroes. But what happens when some of the more dystopian themes that we experience IRL move to a universe without moral code? Instagram has been linked to depression among teenagers. The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued a warning on the mental health crisis affecting teens as they straddle their lives on social media with the realities of the physical world. We’ve seen misinformation flow freely across once trusted platforms like Facebook and consumers and brands boycotting the company accordingly. So in the new year the more we innovate in the metaverse, the more we will fuel a movement of the metADverse – that is, major detractors who will challenge, question, and work to halt this very meta development.
Quirkouts: When culture fully embraced the phrase “the Covid 19lbs” to discuss the weight gain associated with quarantine life -- it marked a moment for much needed levity and perhaps a signal that we would see a shift in how we talk about weight and working out moving from self-serious to self-deprecating. During much of Covid many were forced to improvise fitness routines -- any time moving outside was considered a win. But even as gyms and fitness classes started to open again, there was a realization that we don’t need to be warriors to ride an exercise bike or be part of a cult-like gym just to get fit. In 2022 expect to see this sentiment grow with the emergence of more ‘quirkouts’ and a fitness and leisure world that will become increasingly strange. From the full adoption of work out dresses, to a rise in plogging – a Swedish sport that combines jogging and picking up waste – to pickleball courts popping up across the U.S. in parks, clubs, schools, mansions and parking lots. Pinterest is even noting the rise in search for activities like lazy workouts in bed. The best part of this movement? Departing from the serious tone of fitness will make exercise less intimidating for all kinds of people, ultimately making it even more effective. Plus no one has to commit their soul in order to play.
Joy & Rest Revolution: Since Arianna Huffington famously said “women should sleep their way to the top,” the notion of sleep has been a hot topic in culture, mainly around its wellness benefits and ability to unlock potential and cognitive ability. During the pandemic sleep and coziness remained top of mind resulting in soaring mattress sales and the golden age for PJ sets. But there is a sea change starting, an idea that positions rest and joy as an acknowledgement of human worth outside of productivity and output. This movement originated in the Black community among female voices advocating for rest among Black women as the ultimate act of resistance in a world that constantly burdens them. The conversation continues to expand as we see a number of feminists challenging the paradigm of women as super heroes, suggesting this narrative enables disproportionate stress and labor. Afterall, time bias proves women’s time is valued less at home and at work resulting in a piling up of tasks that are undervalued, ultimately causing women to devalue their own time and worth. To combat this systemic issue Eve Rodsky, women’s advocate and author, has just released ‘Unicorn Space,’ a call for women to find time that isn’t defined by work or who they care for, but instead time for retreat, wonder and creative pursuit – not because it’s been earned but because it is a right of every human being.
Age of Innerlightenment: With nowhere to go for much of the past year and a half, many landed in their own heads. Time for big reflection meant time for big questioning and the chance to metabolize the individual and collective trauma we’ve all experienced. As we confront the future there is a new acknowledgement that although there are benefits to seeing bright spots in the dark, toxic positivity is actually detrimental to our psyches. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Scott Barry Kaufmann introduces another framing: tragic optimism or the ability to create meaning and connection by digesting negative experiences. This author references Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl who first coined the term by discussing the growth that happens through both good and bad. But while past generations may have relied on faith as a tool to process, that is not no longer common among the majority of Americans. Today just 47% of adults belong to religious congregations compared to 70% in 1999. Luckily a crop of scholars have emerged helping us all find our way and it’s not self help – or even self preservation – it’s innerlightment. Brene Brown has garnered A-list attention with her calls for vulnerability and in her new book, Atlas of the Heart, identifies the 87 emotions that define the human experience while introducing frameworks that help us tell our stories and find our way to our truest selves. Priya Parker unpacks the origins of social gathering and the importance of group experience and social ritual, helping us understand the impact of a distanced world. Esther Perel discusses paradox in society today, a theory that proves two opposing ideas can both be true, inviting us to process what that means for our egos and relationships. This journey inward is enabling us to create stronger outward connections and a new social currency around emotional fluency. With this process comes a kind of peripheral vision that lets us see around corners and widens our lens to see others' fragility and strength along with our own. The magic of 2022 will not depend on any particular outcome, but instead it will live in the odd and joyous process of trial and error, experimentation, dialogue and the will to live with scar tissue.
Adrianna G. Bevilaqua is chief creative officer and MD at M Booth