Breaking down the cultural phenomenon of “Euphoria”

By Riley Dauber
Elm Staff Writer

Since being released on HBO in June 2019, “Euphoria” has amassed a large cultural following thanks to its different depiction of teenagers, even impacting Generation Z’s fashion and makeup trends. The show is also a critical success with Zendaya receiving a Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of lead character, Rue Bennett, and the show itself receiving multiple Emmy nominations.

The show, which is narrated by Rue  and looks at a different character in each episode, follows a diverse cast as they struggle with issues such as drug addiction, sexual abuse, body issues, and mental health.

“Euphoria” has been both praised and criticized for the way it portrays the aforementioned issues, with some claiming it’s either realistic or unrealistic, and some say it glorifies and glamorizes the  issues it depicts.

“My criticism lies in the way it aesthetics the trauma it depicts, an aestheticization that my generation is particularly vulnerable to. Perhaps the only character who truly faces the consequences for her vices is Rue,” Samuel Getachew wrote for Vogue. “The other characters repeatedly endanger themselves and others and yet miraculously continue to avoid major catastrophe or even parental intervention.”

In comparison to other teen shows, “Euphoria” focuses on the teenage experience, rather than putting their characters through unlikely scenarios.

Think of “Riverdale” and “Pretty Little Liars,” two teen shows where the characters are solving murders or mysteries instead of going to class or doing homework. Such shows are full of plot twists, so viewers can solve the mystery alongside the characters.

Even “Gossip Girl” features rich kid parties and confusing love triangles. While these elements are present in “Euphoria,” they are not the main focus. Instead of being a teen show, “Euphoria” is a show about teens and the trials and tribulations of growing up in the age of the Internet and social media.

Because of these messages and themes, “Euphoria” is an ever-discussed topic on social media, mainly TikTok and Twitter. On TikTok, users imitate makeup and fashion looks from the show, while also using songs that were featured in episodes. Other trends include poking fun at the outfits some of the characters wear to school, and speculations about relationships that may occur on the show.

Despite its growing popularity, “Euphoria” has faced criticism for its portrayal of high school which some viewers feel is unrealistic.

In a video by Youtube channel Trope Anatomy titled “Teen Melodrama: How ‘Euphoria’ Got It Right,” “Euphoria” is compared to other shows such as “Skins” and “Thirteen Reasons Why.”

“The creators are completely aware that teens aren’t walking around with glitter and stars over their faces, but that’s not the point,” Trope Anatomy says. “They are capturing a feeling, the feeling that makes for a wonderful viewing experience and the rougher parts of the show a lot easier to absorb, because it’s not all that we are getting.”

The show’s cinematography, with its sweeping shots and use of soundstages, immerses viewers and makes one feel as if they are actually experiencing the situation with the character.

Sam Levinson, the creator of the show, wanted to film on soundstages to make the show look more like a fantasy.

“These are fictional stories that have truth within them. Of course it isn’t representative of the entire teenage experience, because there is no such thing,” Trope Anatomy says.

“Euphoria” is able to balance its gritty subject matter with bright colors and an aesthetic that has become the show’s signature, including its makeup looks and outfits.

Although it may seem glamorous, the real-life issues depicted in the show, such as Rue’s struggle with addiction, deeply impact the characters’ lives. Viewers shouldn’t look to strive to be like the character, but instead find sympathy and relatability through them.

Rue’s struggle may lead viewers to find immense sympathy for her character as well as real-life addicts.

Transgender actress Hunter Schafer, plays transgender character Jules, putting transgender representation on the small-screen and providing viewers the opportunity to experience and connect with similar struggles with gender identity.

Other characters handle their mental health or sexualities, while other characters deal with struggles such as the desire for male validation and relationship struggles.

Season two is currently airing on both HBO and HBOMax, with new episodes coming out each Sunday. While it is important to recognize why the show has its critics, it is also impossible to deny the effect “Euphoria” has on viewers and culture, from influencing trends, having strong representation, and showing viewers a specific version of growing up.

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