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How the internet broke the calendar

Get ready for Happy Fall, followed by Sad Fall.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a video of a bunch of matching women in a meticulously organized formation singing Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” except instead of the lyrics to “All Star,” they were singing about the Tri Delta sorority at Baylor University. I am not a student at Baylor University nor have I ever had the patience or the hair extensions for Greek life at a Southern college, but I knew this video was for me because it is the special time of year when seemingly every TikTok user is thrust into the world of sorority recruitment whether they asked to be or not.

In the year since Bama Rush took over the internet last August, it’s become clear that TikTok works on a set calendar, except it’s slightly different from the regular calendar. For instance, there is no “April,” but there is a period of roughly eight weeks in which TikTok decides to serve you videos of beautiful people frolicking in bucolic settings and you consequently start looking up cottage prices on Zillow. Instead of “September,” “October,” or “November,” we have a section of time that can be divided between “Happy Fall” and “Sad Fall,” which are similar aesthetically but have very different emotional tenors.

Anyway, the Gregorian calendar is in its flop era. Here is the new framework with which we will be organizing the concept of time.

New Year Rebrand

If you scroll through your TikTok feed during this time of year, you might wonder, “Hm, why does everyone have the exact same new year’s resolutions, and why do they all believe they can Amazon shop their way into a new personality?” That’s because the concept of the “New Year Rebrand” almost always idealizes a hyperachieving, beautiful, thin person who devotes all of her waking hours to self-improvement. Fast-forward to a few months later, and she’ll inevitably realize that most of what Americans consider “self-improvement” is silly and mostly futile, leading her to …

Winter Madness

Depending on where you live, the period from late winter to early spring is ruthlessly miserable: It’s too cold to be outside for longer than you have to be, nor is the outside very pretty to look at from the relative warmth of your home. Which means there are even more miserable people spending even more time online. Beware: This is the internet at its most vulnerable, and is often when we get our most circular, pointless discourses, such as whether liking Lolita renders you suspect or whether bimbos can be feminist. But eventually, the sun will rise again, welcoming us to …

What If I Lived In the Countryside?

The flower buds are blooming, the birds are chirping, and you’re wearing a square-cut puff-sleeve dress and fantasizing about owning a little cottage upstate, maybe with some baby goats. Even if you never accomplish this kind of achievement, you can live vicariously through the people who are filming themselves doing it and then posting it online (which sort of negates the whole aesthetic, but let’s not focus on that right now). After watching too many of these kinds of videos, though, you wonder whether those people are posting so much because they’re by themselves all the time and living a life that ultimately seems pretty lonely, bringing us to …

[X] Girl Summer

Staying home is out, and going out is in, baby! It’s Pride month, it’s time for short shorts and halter tops, and just like at the beginning of every year, each summer you get to become someone else. Obviously, Megan Thee Stallion deserves the credit for coining the term “Hot Girl Summer,” but since its debut in 2019, others have iterated on it with fill-in-the-blank versions like “feral girl summer,” “thigh guy summer,” or, really, any kind of summer you want. TikTok’s favorite summer aesthetic this year was “coastal grandma,” a mix between Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give and Ina Garten every day of her life. But before the leaves begin to change, there’s still one more late-summer tradition we must cross together …

Bama Rush

Since it blew up on TikTok last year, the incoming pledges of the University of Alabama’s sorority system are once again on everyone’s For You pages. We now get to shake the cobwebs off all the useless knowledge we shoved deep in the attics of our brains, such as the fashion establishment known as “the Pants Store,” Kendra Scott jewelry, and acronyms like PNM (Potential New Member) and ZLAM (Zeta Love and Mine). Phenomena like Bama Rush happen all the time on TikTok — niche, novel, and drama-filled events that go super-viral and are forgotten about within a matter of weeks — but Bama Rush is one of the few that happens like clockwork at the same exact time each year. Ultimately, however, it’s just a short stop, a fun distraction on the way to …

Happy Fall

The internet has come up with plenty of terms to describe the particular joy of the first signs of fall — Christian Girl Autumn, Meg Ryan fall, PSL season — but for the most part, they fall under the same category, which is: Fall is fun, fall is cute, fall is when we get to wear plaid shirts and drink delicious orange sludge at Starbucks and embrace our own basicness. Because honestly, who cares if it’s cheesy to go apple-picking when the air smells so crisp? At a certain point, though, you realize that the good smell is actually from dying flora, which results in …

Sad Fall

The shift from Happy Fall to Sad Fall occurs around the same time it starts getting pitch-dark at 4 pm and you remember that the sun is going to be on hiatus for the next six months. In Vermont, we have a term for when the leaves are gone but there’s no snow yet — stick season — a term that actually went viral on TikTok recently when the Vermont artist Noah Kahan released a song of the same name. But there are more aesthetically pleasing ways to experience Sad Fall; consider “cabincore,” which is autumn’s answer to spring’s cottagecore, or “spooky szn,” in which you can pretend like you’re “entering your villain era” (even if it means you just put on a black corset and a cat-eye). Prepare to get back in the holiday spirit in a few weeks, though, because soon it’s time for …

Home for the Holidays

The holiday season offers the rare gift of seeing people on the internet spending time with their families, whether it’s teaching their grandparents a silly TikTok dance or getting progressively drunker whilst avoiding the “So how’s your dating life going?” questions from nosy relatives. It is also, crucially, when you can finally receive confirmation that that one kid you had a feeling was super rich is indeed super rich, based only on the crown molding in his parent’s historic home. When you’re overwhelmed by the parties and the people, TikTok offers a precious little escape from the less enjoyable parts of the season, which will soon give way to …

The Week Between Christmas and New Year When Time Stands Absolutely Still

There’s literally nothing going on in the world, so naturally it’s time to revisit everything that happened on the internet this year and make our predictions on what will happen in the next one. TikTok trends might be literally meaningless and trendwatching is dead, but that’s never stopped us from attempting to squeeze even more content out of these already deadened, soulless viral phenomena. Happy new year!

In conclusion: Throw out your calendar and replace it with this one. By next year, it’ll be the only one that matters.

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