In our new-age vocabulary, the word “basic” holds so much more meaning that just being something “fundamental” or a “foundation.” It is a word that has now been transformed into a feeling, lifestyle, business strategy and, most importantly, a conceited insult. Where, why and how this happened is not something that we have given much thought to as we continue to make a decision whether we want to be “basic” or not.
Urban Dictionary defines basic as “only interested in things mainstream, popular and trending.” Everything that does not rebel against trends and popular culture becomes basic, be it drinking Pumpkin Spice Lattes as fall rolls around or having a particular style. Numerous people, including those working at Urban Dictionary, view being “basic” as a negative thing for it is often believed that it equates to being cliché, lacking the creativity and edginess to venture beyond what’s ubiquitous. On the other hand, some have chosen to embody the “basic” aesthetic and have proudly turned it into a lifestyle featuring closets filled with leggings, brunch blouses, a love for different kinds of workout routines and an array of food that majority of us would enjoy irrespective of whether we align to the label or not.
A “basic” lifestyle is often stigmatized as uninteresting and misconstrued as one that lacks depth by focusing only on what’s “well known” or “attractive.” However, unlike any other lifestyle, why is this so prominently divided into two sides? Since when did liking the ordinary become something that should be looked down upon and those who do live by it do so because it makes them happy? The same way that indie music gives happiness to the person who enjoys coming across new, relatively unknown artists, listening to Ariana Grande and taking a break by scrolling through Pinterest works for some. Being basic is an impermanent label that can change; the word itself is a testimony to that after the drastic evolution it has undergone. I believe it’s a feeling of contentment derived from doing certain things, and there is nothing wrong with that. Moreover, being basic does not limit one from being anything else. It is not an either/or situation. I could be basic and enjoy seasonal Starbucks in the trademark holiday cup but still be curious and enjoy listening to relatively unheard artists such as SYML or Noah Kahan.
While we continue to argue the term, its uses and nuances, brands across the world have benefitted from this uprising by effectively turning it into a business strategy. Over the past few years, brands such as Brandy Melville and Lululemon have skyrocketed in terms of popularity and subsequent sales. They have become synonymous with being in vogue, and these brands don’t shy from capitalizing on the recent surge in their fame. The inflation of the brand is reflected through the relatively high pricing of the products which further promotes the image as coveted.
However, the use of “basic-ness” as a business technique is in regard to more than just the goods being sold. Marketing strategies have also evolved with the rise of the “basic-ness.” Today, various companies are choosing to partner with influencers that embody the movement to the T with perfectly-curated looks and aesthetic feeds that so many yearn for. An example is Nordstrom’s collaboration with Danielle Carolan, a college sophomore, but more importantly a YouTuber, with a mass following among teenage girls to market the launch of The Nordy Club, a selective membership targeted towards a younger audience. When validation comes from a successful individual one relates to, they are more likely to try following in similar footsteps and emulate an identical image making these promotions successful. Additionally, the discussion of such collaborations ties back in with the earlier argument. If these looks and products are what countless consumers are looking for, then why is the word “basic” still being used as a criticism that is only applied to a select group — especially women when the entire world seems to want the same things?
Coorporations picked up faster than a lot of us that being basic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is a reason that explains the unprecedented increase in the sale of flamingo pool floats and how restaurants are revamping their themes. Take, for instance, how Fred’s right here in Ann Arbor, which has joined the club with the all white, modern look that encapsulate the same cozy feel that falls under the label of “basic.” Much to our ignorance, businesses have the ability to take something, even an implied critique, and transform it into a bestseller. However, this is not the result of great marketing abilities. Rather, it is the result of human psychology. It is our tendency to desire the sense that we are different and to revel in the fact that we do not follow others. And yet, we still crave what is popular and loved by our peers. We might give it different names, but we end up embodying similar ways and ideas, for at the end of the day, our aims are the same. In a bid to escape being another follower, the earlier generation turned away from the gym to yoga, making it the new basic. At some point or another, every trend or idea is “basic.” The only difference is that earlier, we did not have a label for it, and hence, it came without the stigma.
It is funny how “basic” in itself suggests conforming to particular ideas and being uninteresting, but the evolution of the term and the power that it now holds is nothing short of fascinating. The word has seeped into all aspects of our lives, ranging from the hashtags we use on Instagram (cue #basic) to the ways we define people. A single term now has the ability to invoke a gamut of emotions without truly meaning anything. For if one really focuses on the word, one will realize that the word “basic,” without all the associations it now holds, really does not have any influence — it merely refers to something as simple and uncomplicated and that’s how our understanding of it should be. This is true for more than just a single word. I feel it is high time that we as a society stop making assumptions and associations about everything that people do. Not everything warrants a label, a categorization or even a special mention. We need to just let it be and move on with our lives, focus on taking pride in what we choose to do instead of channeling our energy into micro-analysing the lifestyles of those around us.