Awkward, in a good way

by Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights

Awkward. Quirky. Weird. These probably aren’t the first words that come to your mind when envisioning the most popular girls in high school. But we’ve been hearing more and more in our research with Millennial girls that being quirky is actually something to brag about. High-schoolers we met with over coffee in New Jersey defined their friend group as “quirky” and “weird,” and described the funniest, most popular girl in their class as “awkwardly funny” (they were also quick to point out that girls were definitively funnier than boys)

For a generation that prides itself on being unique and creative, it’s only natural these traits come paired with a dose of quirkiness and awkwardness. Being totally unique often means you’ve got to be a little random and offbeat – case in point, hot young actress Chloe Moretz waxes poetic to Seventeen (http://ow.ly/bTJ1k about her love of geeky Xbox game Call of Duty and explains, “I’m fun-loving, a complete nerd. I’m ridiculously random. I was on video chat with my best friend and I just broke out in a song about ramen noodles… I started doing all these weird bass noises… you could definitely say I’m weird.”

Similarly, on Hello Giggles (http://ow.ly/bTqkN), two bubbly high schoolers claim to relate to Taylor Swift’s “nerd” character much better than her “cheerleader” character featured in her video “You Belong With Me.” Senior Nicole provides the rationale, “We’re quirky and weird, and we don’t really take ourselves too seriously. We’re always fooling around and laughing!”

So it’s no surprise that Millennials are anxiously awaiting the return of Jenna Hamilton in MTV’s “Awkward” tonight (check out #Awkward on Twitter). In a study MTV recently did analyzing the defining traits of popular female characters and celebrities, Jenna’s top three were: “smart,” “funny” and “attractive” … not bad for a character that’s also nerdy, awkward and quirky.  Her Tweet-able, witty quips have a distinct Millennial sensibility to them – for example, when describing a guy she likes, she states, “He was a remedial speller, and that was proof enough for me to exonerate him.”

Yet there’s certainly shades of being “awkward,” and probably only a Millennial can understand the full nuance of when someone is “awkward in a good way” versus “sooooo awkward” (eyes rolling.) Being able to come up with the perfect #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen based on something funny in your life is desirable; being the girl known for writing something totally awkward on a crush’s Facebook wall is not. As one high school senior in our New Jersey Starbucks meet-up was quick to point out about her group of friends: “We’re weird, but not ‘weird weird.’ We’re ‘funny weird.’” And only a high school girl can truly understand when this delicate line has been crossed!

A Tale of Two Generations in The City

Jana Steadman, MTV Insights

Comparisons between HBO’s Sex and the City and Girls were both inevitable and plentiful. But the head-to-head between the Gen X world of Jimmy Choos and the Millennial hipsterdom of Modcloth was just too tempting for us. So here’s MTV Insights’ rundown of a few Gen X versus Gen Y-isms between the Ladies and the Girls:

On Parents:

Gen X: Carrie never mentioned her parents, not once in 94 episodes and 2 movies. Parents are, for the most part, a Gen X no-no. Not cool. Not interesting. And certainly not characters in your TV show.

Millennial: In the very first episode of Girls, Hannah’s parents are trying to retrench a long-standing and long-suffering “peerenting” role. They financially cut Hannah off in the face of her classic play, “All I’m asking is for $1100 a month from you for the next 2 years.”

Peerenting: Boomer parents looking to avoid authoritative parental stereotypes, became more like life coaches to their children, and offered a peer style relationship with them (http://ow.ly/aPgJe) . This flattening of the family power dynamics is fundamentally different to prior generations and is rippling through society, workplace, culture, and commerce as Millennials come of age. 

On Economics

Gen X: The ladies of SATC all appear to have relatively fulfilling, high profile careers. We scarcely hear about complexities in the workplace, access to sufficient funds, or economic woes of any form, besides perhaps the odd quip about overspending on Choos. Despite being essentially a freelance writer, Carrie manages to somehow live in a brownstone, dress designer, and drink Manhattans.

Millennial: Hannah is apparently highly educated and a talented writer yet her “essay” work thus far has gone unpaid and unpublished. All the Girls are either unemployed or underemployed and certainly doing battle with the economy. The joke is, quite literally, unemployability, the unpaid internship (which may turn into “something”), the inappropriate job interview…

MTV Insights “No Collar Workers” study (http://ow.ly/aPgn7) found that 7 in 10 Millennials feel that they are underemployed yet 90% agree that they deserve their dream job. Seventy-one percent feel that they are “too talented to sit in a cubicle.” Millennials crave job-topia but are often forced into work below their talents.

On Romance

Gen X: Carrie was looking for “…real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.”  While searching for that everlasting love, there were casual sexual encounters which were empowering, exciting, and glamorous.

Millennial: For Hannah the notion of romantic love is somewhere between a dark joke, a mixed signal, and an urban myth of an “adventurous woman”. Sex lives are the domain of awkward hookups and “abusive rhetoric” while affectionate, considerate men are thought to be boring at best. The loving relationships are there, but they are between the girlfriends (despite the odd friendship flake-out, like being late for your own abortion when your friends show up to support).

In MTV’s studies we have heard repeatedly about the complexities, inversions, and paradox of modern romance (http://ow.ly/aPgup) . One of these syndromes we coined “running the bases backwards”. There are however many factors we see contributing to the complexities including role reversal between men and women, the impact of being raised by a generation of feminist mothers, negotiating romance in public through the lens of social media…

On Humor

Gen X: The ladies of SATC are admired for their beauty, style, and glamorous lifestyle – and  similarly for the stylishness of their witty repartee. Even their one-liners and double entendres are well honed and beautifully coiffed.

Millennial: There’s an almost deliberate de-glamorization of Hannah, from her beige waist-high stockings to the game her boyfriend plays with her midline. The humor too is unrelenting and non-redeeming, but has a kind of inverse-aspirational quality - being so fast, layered, reference-laden and irreverent.

MTV Research coined “smart and funny is the new rock ‘n’ roll,” and found that nearly 7 in 10 Millennials would “rather be a nerd than a jock” (http://ow.ly/aPgha). Authenticity and humor are such a critical currency of Millennials, but Millennial humor is designed to be posted, tweeted, shared, etc.

Hannah and Carrie sit down at the keyboard at the end of an episode: one is busy starting a wordy column designed to make its way to from the musings of a celebrity journalist to the pages of good old print media. The other is typing something opaque and random in 140 characters or less, to be tweeted to hundreds of followers on her social graph. Through one lens, it’s just two girls writing about love and life in the city. Through another, the two are dwellers from different planets discussing things that are worlds apart.