Moneybox

Millennial Is Killing Google Searches for Hipster

A woman with her eyes closed leans against a wall in the sun.
“I can’t be forced to read this trend piece about hipsters and millennials if I have my eyes closed.”

Stop all the blogs; cut off the PBR. Hipster as a search term in the United States was finally surpassed by millennial in 2018.

Yes, I know that hipster describes a Brooklyn-born subculture character circa 2002 and millennial is the term for the 73 million Americans between the ages of 22 and 37. (It should be no contest!) But for many news readers, each word has functioned as a catchall to describe whatever it is kids these days are up to. Now one era of trend pieces has finally, firmly yielded to the next.

The changing of the guard also feels long overdue. It has been 3½ years since the word millennial became so ubiquitous in media coverage that a popular browser extension replaced millennials with snake people. (The extension also produced a memorable New York Times correction.) It has been five years since the writer Tom Hawking astutely identified the shift in culture writing, noting that “millennials have replaced hipsters as the mainstream’s cultural punching bag of choice.” But it takes a while for the observations of media professionals who spend their entire waking lives online to filter into American reality as it’s reflected in Google Trends data.

A five-year graph of search interest in “hipster” (red) and “millennial” (blue).
A five-year graph of search interest in “hipster” (red) and “millennial” (blue).
Google Trends

Avocado toast was once “the tip of the hipster spear.” Now it’s a global meme about millennial financial problems. Other trends made the jump: Craft beer. Beards. Not having a career. Did “hipster” culture just go mainstream? More likely, hipster, as an adjective, long ago ceased to connote anything beyond “a thing that young people are doing.” (“I’m not sure how precise a meaning it conveys,” the New York Times copy chief wrote in 2010.) Therefore, its late-period uses are in many ways interchangeable with those of millennial, which describes by definition things that young people are doing. Coffee, for example, was “hipster.” Now it’s “millennial.”

One type of hipster trend piece took something that was actually very common, like wearing Chuck Taylors, and declared it and its adherents “hipster.” (The other type talked up things that nobody, except poor Justin Peters, actually did.) Afterward, people who did the extremely normal thing would defend themselves against the charges of hipsterfication.

Millennial trend pieces, by contrast, take something niche and pretend it’s universal. Like Gatsbying. Most of these pieces are negative: Millennials are killing exorcisms and boxes and the middle child. Millennials don’t have can openers. They don’t go running. Or buy cars.

And so, where once a young person nervously sought to exempt his own good taste in coffee from the hipster pejorative (“I was drinking good coffee before it was cool!”), today we marshal routine defenses of our 70-million-odd peers from the insults of internet trend pieces aimed at millennials. It’s nice to see the generation coming together! Nobody was a hipster, but there’s no getting away from tens of millions of young people who love to dunk on social media. In the end, it’s pretty hard to generalize about America’s most diverse generation, except to say that we are worse off financially than our parents and grandparents. It’s no fun, but that’s the millennial trend piece.