20 Trends that Defined Gen Z in 2020
Letter from JUV
Ziad Ahmed, CEO of JUV Consulting
We don't have the right words to describe 2020, but it's fair to say that it'll be a year we never forget.
We have lived through a pandemic, an uprise, a recession, a tumultuous US election, and a moment in time where the word "unprecedented" was used at unprecedented rates. Through it all though, we've responded with humor, power, and innovation -- condemning injustice with protest, tempering boredom with BIZARRE creativity, coping with existential crises by creating memes and TikToks. As young people we have constantly been told to plan for the next step, but in 2020 -- it felt like the staircase no longer existed. So, where did we move towards?
In a mission to make sense of this year, we started a project, and began intimately interviewing dozens of young people surveying thousands more. Our goal was simple: to get a sense of what the moments were that truly defined 2020 from the perspective of Gen Z. We hear a lot of rhetoric about how young people are the future, but we are interested in uncovering how we are processing the present.
Through these efforts, Memes & Movements 2020 was born, and hopefully captures exactly that. We've compiled the top 20 trends that synthesize how young people have experienced this last year -- ranging from obscure TikTok dances to loaded societal critique to hobbies we never thought we'd enjoy. All this, with data to boot.
We're tired of reports that attempt to define Generation Z with the same tired five statistics, with generic cliches, and with hundreds of pages of conjecture by youth "experts" more than twice our age. We were founded on the belief that folks should be talking to us instead of about us. This report was written by Gen Zers committed to learning more about their own peers and how we are collectively transforming discourses around body positivity, fashion, politics, and beyond.
We hope you find value in what we have to share, and it sparks a conversation with the Gen Zers in your life. If you haven't already realized, we have a lot to say. It's time we stop talking about young people as the leaders of tomorrow, and realize that we are the decision makers of today. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that this makes it as the top trend defining Gen Z in 2021.
Moving into the
The real estate market is now turning to the unlikeliest of investors: Generation Z. Following Youtube personalities’ leads like the now-defunct Team 10 spearheaded by Jake Paul, these collaboration houses are both the homes and headquarters for some of the top TikTok creators around. The Hype House sparked the renaissance of Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae — and became the epicenter of Gen Z gossip (*cough*, Chase Hudson). Who wouldn’t want to do choreographed dances in front of a ring light in an LA mansion all day?
of Gen users reported
that their willingness
to keep up with influencers
increased in 2020, as opposed to
who said it decreased,
who said their willingness to keep up with influencers stayed the same
"One thing that collab houses have
impacted is my ability to keep up with
influencers. A few years ago, I honestly
only kept up with a few influencers on Instagram.
Now, it's so much easier to be a
consumer of multiple TikTokers or influencers
because they're all under one roof.
At this point in my life, I know so much
about TikTokers—way more than any celebrity
I've ever liked."
Bay Ridge, NY | 18, he/him
In the early days of shut-down mandates, the group video chat app Houseparty became Gen Z’s secret weapon. Houseparty reemerged in our hearts years after its release in 2016. While we may be digital natives, nothing can substitute young people’s urge for socializing (sans distancing). In the early stages of the pandemic, young people were turning to apps like Houseparty, online games like JackBox, but as we’ve accepted our new reality, the need to replicate the physical in the virtual has tapered off. These new forms of socializing will remain popular Gen Z functionalities in 2021 and beyond, but most young people have realized that in-person social events can’t be truly replicated and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
of Gen Z are now more
interested in attending
social events online.
“Even though Houseparty was super popular in years past, I didn’t download it until March. That's really when my friends and I started Housepartying to play games and really just fool around. We were already group Facetiming to begin with, but this felt like we were socializing in a different way. March through May I used Houseparty so much I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on it 25 hours a week, just spending time with friends.”
Royersford, PA | 17, she/her
Hey there all you cool cats and kittens. With almost everyone on their couches all day, the streaming service boom took off at an exponential rate with the help of the bizarre docu-series Tiger King. The Netflix original spurred thousands of tweets and TikTok trends on Gen Z’s timelines and united the internet once more on the phenomenon of pure “Florida Man” energy. In true Gen Z fashion, it even inspired a viral TikTok audio about the Carol Baskin conspiracy, complete with a mashup of Savage by Megan Thee Stallion. But Tiger King isn’t the only unexpected TV boom that sparked conversations online (UK's Love Island even has American Gen Zers adopting British accents). So as Gen Zers continue to look for new media, we can’t wait to see which unconventional, shocking, or bizarre characters become the next certifiable Gen Z icons.
of Gen Z watched shows
they wouldn't normally
watch during quarantine.
“A lot of bizarre but popular TV shows allow for off screen interaction that creates an experience about more than just seeing the show. It's about discussing it and engaging in finding it funny with your friends, which you can't really get as much from a lot of other, longer, more traditional TV shows just because they’re such a dense commitment. My friends and I love Love Island and Tiger King because there are so many memes and funny references for us to connect about.”
London, UK | 20, he/him
As lockdown turned into more and more downtime, Gen Z found themselves turning to a new form of content: podcasts. Regardless of if you hate to love it or love to hate it, one of the most famous for the 18+ sector of Gen Z is Call Her Daddy, a raunchy talk show referenced in college campuses across the country - think of it almost as the new-age Sex & The City. But back in May, Daddy hosts Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn were caught in a business negotiation that had gone-ugly. The drama even sparked some outraged fans to react on TikTok... and man, I would not want to be Suitman right now. Podcast host drama was almost unheard of at the time, but since then, podcast consumption has skyrocketed across shows and content types, with many familiar TikTok faces and their followers leading the wave.
of Gen Zers say their podcast
consumption has increased
compared to 6% who say it
has decreased in 2020.
“Our generation is constantly consuming content. If there’s a time you can't be looking down at your phone, then listening to it is the easiest way. For me, when I listen to podcasts, it feels like I’m actually learning rather than just scrolling through a feed continuously to see the same content recycled across platforms. That feels very mindless. With a podcast, it's similar to a book because you can get lost in the conversation and you feel like you are part of it. You feel like you're sitting in the room with these people. It's a totally different view.“
@genzconnect, York, PA | 23, she/her
Swiping right on
group dating profiles
Can you blame us for redownloading Tinder during lockdown? With social distancing dampening traditional dating, a TikTok trend of ‘group dating profiles’ inspired a new approach to online dating apps for a young generation seeking love (or at the very least, entertainment). Friend groups created profiles featuring multiple people with game-show style commentary setting the mood, looking for matches that will provide the most screenshot-worthy chats to include in a TikTok video. As a generation terrified of commitment, we are definitely not afraid to put ourselves out there for content’s sake.
of Gen Zers reported
increased activities in
dating apps in 2020,
as opposed to
who stated their
dating app activity
On meeting her boyfriend, Tomas, through his group dating profile:
“Their group profile had a group name and script to follow up with their matches, so I thought it was the most hysterical, creative format! I didn’t even know it was a trend at the time. Other generations have dated simply for an end goal like to get married, to move in together, etc., and my friends and I aren’t on dating apps to accomplish those types of goals. Group profiles are clearly more of a social experience just to get to know people and interact in new ways. This is something that definitely is not just popular for my friend group. It's a whole generational understanding that we don't take ourselves seriously online, especially with the awkwardness of online dating.”
Fort Lauderdale, FL | 20, she/her
On meeting his girlfriend, Sandra, after he and his friends made a group dating profile:
“Everybody in the group was just on the group profile because it was funny. Nothing was serious about it. The only thing that was serious that came out of it was Sandra.”
Fort Lauderdale, FL | 22, he/him
Making it to
Think all there is to TikTok is the Renegade dance? Think again. Gen Z’s favorite app boasts the most personalized algorithm out there: the For You page. Each FYP is a curation of audios, trends and creators suited to users’ tastes. Ever the label-loving cohort, Generation Z has taken to naming different “sides” of TikTok, with ‘straight TikTok’ being the most mainstream form of content such as dancing and lip-syncing videos. But if you find yourself in Alt-TikTok, become acquainted with a whole new set of trends and creators that drive this select niche.
"The sides of TikTok are great on a surface level because I am entertained and I am seeing what I want to see. That's what TikTok does best. But I also think sides of TikTok are great on a deeper level because they allow me to build community with people all over the world and engage with, connect with, and get to know like-minded people who have similar interests. Now on TikTok I can expand my network in ways I couldn't do without logging on."
Princeton, NJ | 20, he/him
These were the most popular sides of TikTok for Gen Z in 2020:
Empathy is imbued in Generation Z’s ethics, but we follow suit with action. In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder in May, young people reacted with disgust and outrage at a policing system that has disproportionately targetted Black and Brown people. The resurgence of ACAB (‘All Cops Are Bastards’ or ‘All Cops Are Bad’) made waves on social media, with some of Gen Z donning the political acronym in social media bios, and the term becoming short-hand for acknowledgement of the racist origins, history, and continuation of policing. The term goes against the traditional response that murderous police are simply “bad apples” and instead points at the systems they work and exist within. Despite its controversy, the slogan sparked national discourse on ‘defunding the police’ as #BlackLivesMatter protests grew larger across the country with several young Black grassroots organizers leading the way. In 2020 and beyond this is by no means a trend, rather a genesis for a new generation of young people leading the way as we speak out, organize, and take action against systems of oppression.
"ACAB literally means ‘all cops are bad’ and some people interpret it as ‘all cops are bastards’. I one hundred and ten percent stand by the statement. It means something different for everybody, but for me, it means that it doesn't come down to whether police are good people as individuals. My mother was a cop. My grandmother was a cop. My uncle's a cop. I come from a family of police officers in some way, shape, or form. I know that my mother, my grandmother, and my uncle are great people trying to help their community. That does not mean that they’re not a part of a system that works to disenfranchise black people."
Queens, NY | 24, she/her
While some of Generation Z took to the streets, others showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement through social media with the dawn of ‘infographic activism.’ Log onto any Gen Z Instagram account during the summer and you'll scroll through copious amounts of information presented as charts, timelines, listicles and beyond. Accounts like @soyouwanttotalkabout took it a step further, creating signal-boost content daily defining and educating viewers through highly shareable content. But, as infographics became the norm, many young Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) activists were quick to point out the flaws in this new-found phenomenon, urging people to do work IRL rather than just confine to reposting on IG. Gen Z wants to educate themselves on global issues, but there is still much more to learn outside of social media.
of Gen Z reads and shares
"I am seeing people who have never talked about politics or been invested in politics before, posting these types of infographics on social media and to me that's awesome. Activists and others working for social change have been struggling for years with raising awareness for their causes. In Georgia, my home state, the lack of awareness combined with voter suppression is really bad, but it's so hard to stay educated on new Supreme Court cases or other important issues. Now, anyone from any background who is passionate about any issue has the ability to post something visual that their followers can digest and share."
John’s Creek, GA | 19, she/her
Gen Z's preferred ways to show support for social
causes we care about:
Enrolling in Zoom
Forget Generation Z — we are the generation of Zoomers. While the end of the 2019-2020 school year was cut off awkwardly due to nationwide lockdowns, the fall promised an equally chaotic terrain with online school. While some schools promised to go back face-to-face, others were determined to make Zoom work in their favor. College students were not so convinced as gap years repopularized among Gen Z for a myriad of reasons, often stemming from financial worries. But one thing is for certain: this was a semester like none other, and one that will affect our views on education forever.
of Gen Zers considered a gap year and 40% even considered moving to a new place
(not at home or at school)
due to remote learning
“In the future I think that as a whole we will start to see this extreme competitive nature break down, even if it's just a little bit. I think we'll see it break down because with the normalization of gap years, so many students are taking time for themselves and taking time to do things that make them feel good and make them feel satisfied- whatever that means to them.”
Los Angeles, CA | 18, she/her
“When I’m getting ready listening to Megan Thee Stallion, it fires me up and I feel like I can do anything. It's a boost, it's empowering, it's inspiring, and it makes me feel like there's no shame to feel beautiful, to want to be beautiful, to care about the way you look, and to be the sexual or sensual person you are. Instead, to revel in the fact that we can actually be open, we don’t have to restrict ourselves, and we know that it's not taboo, so we don't have to hold anything back when it comes to loving ourselves and our bodies.”
Rosenberg, TX | 23, she/her
of Gen Zers likes the song WAP...
but what's better is our
willingness to talk about
topics related to sex, sexuality,
and sex education.
On a scale of 1-10, here's how Gen Z rates our willingness to talk about topics related to sex, sexuality and sex education
(1 = not willing, 10 = willing)
If you still don’t know what WAP stands for, I don’t know what to tell you. Female-led rap took 2020 by the throat and cemented its crowning glory in the minds of Gen Z when Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released the chart-topping hit. The song spurred online debate about female sexuality and autonomy, only heightened by the adjacent rise of content subscription service OnlyFans. With sex education being almost non-existent in the U.S. public school system, many young people are even turning to gynecologists on TikTok for guidance. For the most open-minded generation yet, WAP (or "wet-ass pussy") is an anthem, and perhaps revival, of the sexual liberation movement. Plus, Megan spits absolute bars in the song.
Gen Z is unapologetic and authentic, full stop. Body positivity has been an evergreen value for Gen Z, especially for femme-identifying Gen Zers who have grown up with the pressures of the beauty industry on our screens at every turn. While prior generations may have hidden their belly rolls while wearing a bikini, influencers like TikTok star Sienna Mae Gomez prove that being comfortable in your skin is the purest form of beauty. Gen Z says don’t be ashamed of your bloated stomach after a good dinner — that’s your body saying you ate good! An iconic moment that Gen Z sweetheart Sienna sparked is the squirrel dance (you’re asking what do squirrels have to do with loving yourself… let me finish), a dance that Sienna herself says has no meaning, but we feel it truly embraces the quirky and carefree nature of online authenticity. In JUV’s recent interview with her, she noted, “I started making these more positive videos, which started making me a more positive person.” Preach.
"Body positivity resonates with Gen Z because we're always on the lookout for things that will help us to be who we are and help us go live without being judged, without feeling self-conscious of ourselves and instead just living, existing, and enjoying life".
Marrakech, Morocco | 19, she/her
Pinterest is no longer reserved for middle-aged moms searching for Instant Pot recipes. Generation Z is flocking to the app as a source of inspiration with outfit and home decor mood boards, escaping into their respective ‘aesthetics,’ like cottagecore. Strawberry midi dresses, picnic flatlays, and dreamy flower gardens dominated social media as young people found comfort in the fantastical aesthetic. The allure of cottagecore rooted itself in pure escapism as the lull of quarantine had all of us dreaming of a new lifestyle far away from our childhood bedrooms. Now, excuse me as I daydream about my future vegetable garden and buy another gingham sundress. Cottagecore captured the hearts of Gen Z en masse, but there’s an aesthetic for everyone and every mood, with a dedicated online community at the ready.
of Gen Z recognized Cottagecore
Here are some of the top most popular Gen Z aesthetics:
“A lot of these aesthetics emerging had to do with people finally having the time during quarantine to sit with themselves, not really have to face anybody else's expectations, and instead truly figure out what they liked. So I think it's all about being able to express ourselves in a way that is meaningful to us, but also in a way where we're able to find a community of others.”
Thompson’s Station, TN | 20, she/her
Rethinking our relationship with the digital world
Months into quarantine, we were all overdue for a digital detox. Generation Z understood that need the most, and with many watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, the social media cleanse movement was imminent. Young people logged off en masse, and became more attuned to their heightened screen times. Yes, we may love our phones, but we prioritize our mental health more. Learning to love it or leave it however isn’t working for many Gen Zers, with some feeling begrudgingly stuck on social media as their only option.
Gen Z and their relationship with social media in 2020:
“I'm worried because it doesn't seem like we pay enough attention to data privacy policies, relative to how much of it controls our lives or will have an effect on us in the future. We have been able to use social media both to advantage ourselves personally and as a society, but I do think that we need to question what happens when tech companies become more powerful than governments. If we continue on this path then I don’t think that as a generation we will have the tools we need to live without relying on massive, sometimes harmful corporations. It’s a scary thought, but unfortunately not something you can solve on an individual level.”
Ontario, Canada | 19, he/him
For every Charli, there is an unconventional face that breaks through the crowd and becomes the internet’s most prized discovery. In late September, Ocean Spray’s stock skyrocketed the day TikTok creator @420doggface280 ascended from the For You page to the mainstream media. His famous skateboarding video to the classic 70s tune “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac exuded such immaculate vibes that it transformed cranberry juice from a UTI prevention to the hottest drink in the grocery store. If that doesn’t prove the spending power of Gen Z, I don’t know what would.
Unconventional creators are everywhere! Here are the types of content Gen Z enjoyed most on TikTok in 2020:
“I used to find it funniest to watch things that were somewhat less structured, like talk shows, “Eric Andre”, “Nathan For You”, or things that are absurdist, and funny in an unconventional sort of way. The only time I've ever really felt like I have those moments anymore is on TikTok, where what I'm seeing is really funny and always so unpredictable.”
Princeton, NJ | 21, he/him
Playing Among Us
While we quarantined at home, everyone needed to find new ways to connect. But lawmakers streaming video games? That’s some Gen Z s*#! right there. Online gaming saw major gains for Gen Z screen time, and platforms Twitch and Discord came along for the ride. But Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar really leveled up with Twitch live streams of their ‘Among Us’ gameplays with other popular streamers in efforts to drive up voting registration ahead of Election Day. Imposters in Washington? Not these two!
of Gen Z have
played Among us
Gen Z prides itself in its creativity from our roots in content creation and consumption. We value originality amid a world fascinated with the ‘next big thing.’ So when rug-making exploded on TikTok, many young people were enthralled by the unique creative outlet some took to during the pandemic and others were ready to invest in some new digs. Gen Z knows how to monetize their passions and organically advertise it using the mediums they are already experts in, like TikTok and Instagram. Above all, we are using our creativity to channel our energy into creation during a time of stagnation by taking the time to invest in our passions, cultivate our individual interests, and find what inspires us.
Created by Mush Studios @mushstudiosny
of Gen Z reported an increase in creative tendencies during quarantine as opposed to 11% reporting a decrease and 23% who say it has stayed the same.
“I never knew what rug making was before quarantine, but now I can't stop watching videos of it. What I've realized is that my friends and I don't aspire to a career, we aspire to a lifestyle. I would rather be dirt poor making rugs and selling them online or baking bread in a bakery by myself, than working a nine to five job in a cubicle. What Gen Z is going to take away from this quarantine in this pandemic is that we are going to pursue what we want and we are going to make the future that we want for ourselves.”
Chicago, IL | 21, he/him
Getting Dressed with Harry Styles
Former One Direction member and forever Gen Z darling Harry Styles graced the cover of Vogue back in November as the magazine’s first solo male cover feature. As one of Gen Z’s most stanned artists, fans were enthralled with Styles’ cover. But beyond that feat, the choice of attire — a dress by the genderfluid designer Harris Reed — was a cornerstone of internet discourse on androgyny and gendered clothing. Within Generation Z, the issue was not with his clothing, which was debated by older generations. Instead, we focused on the bigger issue of giving praise for the gender fluid movement to a white cis man rather than those who pave the way: trans and non-binary communities of color. As we continue to disregard the gender binary, young people are demanding that we recognize those who allowed for cisgendered boys to feel comfortable wearing cropped tops and skirts on social media.
Harry Styles - Vogue, December 2020
Photography Tyler Mitchell
On a scale from 1-10
(1 = not at all, 10 = a lot)
here's how societal gender expectations influence the way Gen Z dresses:
"Personally, when I saw the cover I felt disappointed. If they were trying to break norms, then be representative of the queer community and use someone from our community, use a trans person, or any person who identifies as gender fluid or maybe was assigned a different gender at birth. There are so many ways to be more inclusive and representative of the people existing in this space, which is what Gen Z will continue to demand going forward.”
Long Beach, CA | 22, they/them
Gen Z, as progressive as it can be, is not a monolith. With a variety of political viewpoints, there was one thing many young people could find common ground: we were not excited about Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate. Enter @settleforbiden: a grassroots organization of former progressives rooting for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders during primary season who took over Instagram with their witty infographics. With almost 300K followers, the Instagram account was not particularly enthusiastic about Biden, but adamant about its feelings against President Donald Trump. While some of Gen Z is tired of the ‘vote for the lesser of two evils’ narrative, young people were all exposed to a @settleforbiden infographic reposted to someone’s Instagram Story the weeks prior to November 3rd. The movement grew with @TikTokForBiden hitting the map, and both Republican and Democratic “Hype Houses” forming online ahead of the election. Across the political spectrum, online activism reached new levels in 2020.
of Gen Zers have seen @settleforbiden online.
“My parents are Republicans. They're Trump supporters. They had a 2020 Make America Great again flag on our porch. And I am a raging liberal. Finding these spaces online where we can come together is so important and educating yourself is still important no matter what. For me it can be so hard to do that in a physical space, especially being in a red state. I am so, so grateful for the creators that have taught me and educated me and brought awareness to all these important issues.”
San Antonio, TX | 16, she/her
“I actually use zodiacs almost every month to gauge where I'm at with, progress, work and my personal life. I use an app called The Pattern. It's not so much based on horoscopes as it is the numbers of your birth date. I love it. We've grown up with so much turmoil, so horoscopes give us something to look forward to and explain the unexplained.”
Washington D.C. | 23, she/her
Creating Ratatouille The Musical
Theater kids rise! As the year came to a close, bored Broadway stans decided to take matters into their own hands in absence of attending their favorite shows. The regularly memed Pixar’s Ratatouille became the inspiration for a crowd-sourced show, complete with original songs, set design and costumes, all produced on TikTok. With no central coordination, no original funding, and no production team, a series of jokes about an imaginary musical turned into a full soundtrack worth of songs and scenes under a hashtag. Even with the world at its most disconnected, Gen Z still finds ways to come together in the most intriguing ways. Oh, and it was produced for a live event on New Year’s Day of 2021. This year is already off to a better start.
of Gen Zers have heard of Ratatouille The Musical
“Ratatouille The Musical is an example of how people can make something on TikTok that’s bigger than themselves. We have a lot of TikTok trends that are just people doing their own thing, and that's great too. We all are unified somewhat by trends, doing the same actions, dance moves, or using the same sound. But Ratatouille The Musical is more about how we're going to turn this energy that already exists very consistently within our communities into something real that unifies us for a larger cause.”
Portland, OR | 18, she/her
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