The “basic bitch” had her moment about five years ago, when her love of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Ugg Boots, white wine, yoga pants and Friends reruns made her a household name. Now, these preferences are like relics — vintage cultural signifiers of a once-popular lifestyle. But years after the basic boom, we’re in the midst of the reclaiming and mutation of “basic” culture, wherein the moniker can be worn as a badge of pride as easily as it can be wielded as an insult. The new guard, comprising figures like Vanderpump Rules‘ Stassi Schroeder, Instagram influencers, and the crowd trying to mimic and follow their lead, suggests another moment of static cultural monotony.
The phrase “Basic bitch” first appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2009, but its origins date back further within the black community and in hip-hop culture. The initial “basic bitch” was a cheap, boring and self-impressed woman. At some point, the term was co-opted by the (largely white) mainstream, and its connotations varied across communities and corners of the internet. Both the Betches Love This website and the Basic Bitch Today blog — platforms which embraced the shameless pleasures of basic culture, like binging reality TV and getting “white girl wasted” — launched in 2011. Rapper Kreayshawn, meanwhile, led the opposition, mocking “basic bitches” on her hit “Gucci Gucci.”
By 2014, the basic bitch was making headlines. Both Vox and The Cut published guides for understanding her in all her trend-adherent normalcy. College Humor also joined the conversation, poking fun at basic stereotypes in a video titled “How to Tell If You’re a Basic Bitch.” The textbook “basic bitch” posted duck-face selfies on Instagram. She used text acronyms in verbal conversation and doodled inspirational quotes during her free-time. According to Google Analytics, “basic bitch” hit its peak search interest that year.
The conversation finally began to dissipate around 2016, the same year Instagram reached 500 million users. But an updated basic code was being written on the social media platform right under our noses. The new basic, alive and well today, is concerned with relatability and viral appeal, designed and propagated on our screens: photos of avocado toast, Kylie Jenner-inspired makeup, smoothie bowls and the Coachella ferris wheel. It maintains the unchallenged desires and popular interests that helped classify the original “basic bitch.” Only now, she lives on and models her life around Instagram, and she’s too big to fail. She and her fellow brunch-going basics make up the mainstream.
With her brazen demeanor, in-your-face confidence, social media-driven mindset and penchant for pop-culture, Stassi Schroeder fits snugly into the center of this new paradigm. She’s the OG queen bee on Bravo’s drama-filled reality show Vanderpump Rules and a self-proclaimed “basic bitch.” Her new book, Next Level Basic, is a celebratory outline of her most basic tendencies and a defense of basic culture as a whole. Xanax, hot dogs, spray tans and Keeping Up With The Kardashians are all within Stassi’s realm of basic. (Pleasures such as jazz, micro-brews and Daniel Day-Lewis go unmentioned, sadly.)
The book includes a seven-page grocery list of beauty products, a full chapter called “How To Look Hot On Social,” a guide to the best Ranch dressings in the world and a graph indicating how psycho you are based on the charge of your phone (100% is “Meghan Markle status” and 0% is “Literally the worst sort of person.”) “Embracing your basicness can actually make you a happier person for one simple reason— because it’s fun,” she writes in the introduction. “Stop being a hater and enjoy yourself!”
As Stassi demonstrates, basic has become something of an aspirational status for those who can’t afford the brunches, vacations or wardrobe the lifestyle seems to require. (She recommends $300-dollar moisturizer, spur-of-the-moment getaways and regular coolsculpting treatments.) These are luxuries that fall into the basic category because of how often they’re practiced by a certain kind of social media influencer — one that is namely white, thin and wealthy.
Stassi later advises readers to turn interests into obsessions (in her case, that pertains to cults and murder stories) and obsessions into personality traits — not because of genuine intrigue, but because it gives you content to talk and post about. Having a “thing” also makes you easy to shop for, she says.
But, above all, Stassi insists that being basic is about “being yourself,” which may or may not involve skipping the gym for happy hour and blaming your bad habits on astrology. In 2016, to be basic was to give in to your impulses. And in 2019, it’s to perform and broadcast those impulses. “We all have basic tendencies,” Stassi writes. “Admitting those tendencies like a boss bitch is the key.”
The current state of basic is perfectly encapsulated by the very existence of this book— a public diary of someone’s likes and dislikes, an Instagram page printed to paper, vanity and consumption cloaked in the language of self-care. Next Level Basic follows a trend of meta-basic products, in company with “White Girl Rosé,” selfie museums, and T-shirts that say, “But first, coffee.” Let’s call them post-basic. These artifacts seem to have materialized out of cultural boredom, with nothing left to comment on but themselves.
Elliot Tebele, the founder of @FuckJerry and Jerry Media, was among the first to monetize post-basic culture, alongside social media celebrity-turned-entrepreneur Josh Ostrovsky, or, as he is more commonly known, The Fat Jewish. Tebele and Ostrovsky built their cult followings through sharing relatable memes, finding funny tweets and viral videos and re-posting them to Instagram, maybe adding in a caption like “Monday mood” or “Me on payday.” They led a wave of meme accounts, creating viral content about content.
Relatable memes validate our basic tendencies — being hungover at work, the joy of canceling plans when you’re tired, splurging on shoes when you don’t have the money — and, to Stassi’s point, sell them as personality traits. But it’s the ceaseless content and conversation that makes something post-basic, rather than the thing itself. Ostrovsky dug deeper into the self-referential wormhole with a wine collection, comprising White Girl Rosé, Babe Rosé With Bubbles, and Family Time Is Hard Pinot Grigio. Tebele followed suit with the FuckJerry card game, “What Do You Meme?”
We’ve entered a post-basic feedback loop, wherein the mainstream feeds off of itself and follows us everywhere. Basic is no longer just North Face jackets and Starbucks. Basic is written into our social fabric. It’s everything and nothing at once. But beyond the camera-friendly sameness — behind every “Outfit of the Day” and birds-eye picture of breakfast — there’s a yearning for comfort and community. As we delve further into screen-assisted isolation, new basic culture survives because of its surface-level relatability. But what will break through the clever selfies and indistinguishable photos of eggs to push us forward and realize the true yearning? Can we simply keep scrolling to see?
Feature photos by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Bondi Sands and Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank.