“Are the Obamas cheugy?”

The question, innocently posed by a friend, has been rattling around my brain for days. And truly, it’s a difficult one to answer.

Barack and Michelle personally? Likely not. But the act of being really into them — listening to the former president’s podcast with Bruce Springsteen, or actively looking forward to the former first lady’s new Netflix series? Definitely cheugy. I think. Maybe.

But let’s rewind a bit, to bring the uninitiated up to speed. The word “cheugy” (pronounced CHEW-gee, with a hard G) has spread through certain corners of the online discourse like a forest fire in dry brush — the brush being the distinct lack of new conversational topics after a year spent at pandemic-imposed remove. Invented by Gen Z, it has become a particular fascination of millennials, who have become obsessed both with understanding what cheugy means and with not being cheugy themselves.

According to the New York Times and numerous follow-on trend pieces, the term describes someone who is out of date or trying too hard. “Cheugy” is a near cousin of “basic” and “uncool,” but somehow different, at least according to Gaby Rasson, the now-23-year-old software developer who coined the term way back in 2013. A cheug strenuously attempts to stay on trend; the problem is that the trends they’re following are from 2015: Starbucks, chevron patterns, the term #Girlboss, jokes from “The Office.”

As a topic of conversation, “cheugy” is near perfect. It’s basically harmless — not a political meltdown, vaccination conspiracy theory or police killing. And it allows for the same level of self-regard as a horoscope or personality test. Are you cheugy? Am I? Are the things we like cheugy? How do we stay on trend?

Millennials could back-and-forth about this for days. But our obsession with defining this minor Gen Z roast says more about us than it does about the term itself. We’re worried about being cheugy because we’re worried about getting old.

For more than a decade now, millennials have been the “it” generation. We joked darkly about our avocado toast as we were shafted by the boomer-controlled economy. But at least we could be safe in the knowledge that we were being talked about.

Not so anymore. The favored generation is now the one after us: Gen Z. They’re here with their wide-legged jeans, impenetrable slang and disdain for our Obama-era trends. The media is wondering what their experience of the pandemic is, how little sex they’re having. Political energy is shifting in their direction, too — less technocracy around health care and more “big bets” on fighting climate change; less #Girlboss energy and more “preferred pronouns.”

By now, millennial concerns are rote. Yes, yes, we’re burned out, beleaguered by student debt and still struggling to buy real estate. But the oldest millennials turn 40 this year; at this point, no one is coming to save us. We are expected to have grown up by now, and with that should come a willingness to let someone else take center stage. When people speak of the “kids these days,” they’re not talking about us. It’s causing us some anxiety.

But maybe it’s also fine.

Rather than trying to keep up with Gen Z (which we can’t, anyway, because our knees are getting stiff), millennials might want to recalibrate and consider what we can do.

We may be losing cultural power, but we’re still rising as a political and economic force. As we come into the dominance of middle age, we can ensure that we don’t saddle the next generation with our problems — by pushing for real action on climate change rather than sweeping it under the rug; by addressing racism head-on rather than pretending it doesn’t exist. As we become the bosses, we can try not to repeat our elders’ mistakes. We can, in fact, retire the “hustle culture” language and pay a sustainable wage.

The cheugy discourse may be a comforting way to re-center ourselves, but it’s also a self-referential trap. Gen Z has already moved on; worrying about being cheugy is cheugy in itself. Millennials can’t stay atop the trends — because we’re no longer setting them.

Acknowledging that our time in the spotlight has passed would be a healthy step forward for the millennial generation. But if that realization is too discomfiting, think of it this way. Millennials, we’re not cheugy — we’re just aging like a fine rosé. Let’s go ahead and embrace it.

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