Taylor Swift did not invent “squads.” You know this. I know this. We know that the concept of “squad” spans decades, and as pointed out by the talented Zeba Blay back in August, it’s a word that once stood for black solidarity before morphing into what it means now.
Which I think is a terrific starting point for this conversation: what does #squad even mean now? From friendship to sisterhood to photo ops on red carpets at award shows, #squadgoals and squad culture have morphed into branding. Squads have replaced cliques both in that squads are bigger and better than their mean girl predecessor, but like the groups we were scared of in high school, they too fly an exclusionary flag. This year, friendship has become a currency, and squads as we now know them are less about camaraderie than they are about power. At least in the pop culture sense of the word.
In Taylor Swift’s video for “Bad Blood,” she assembles the ultimate squad to fight her fictional nemesis, played by Selena Gomez. Cara Delevingne, Lena Dunham, Mariska Hargitay, Kendrick Lamar, Ellen Pompeo, Hailee Steinfeld, Gigi Hadid, and nine more famouses made up Swift’s A-team, and the mini-movie and weeks-long campaign helped make the video one of the most talked about of 2015. It also cemented Taylor’s “squad” as the ultimate collection of Hollywood It People.
From there it grew. Whether via Instagram photos or guest spots on Swift’s 1989 tour, celebrities came out of the woodwork to join her in squad solidarity. Everybody was her friend. Everybody was in her squad. And yet, despite her messages of sisterhood and BFF-ism, you couldn’t help but hear — albeit quietly, if you were a normal — “You can’t sit with us.”
Arguably, “squad” is meant to connote solidarity and strength through numbers; to allude to ride-or-die friendship and family. But the more we’re seeing pop culture’s definition sweep through, the word has become less about the former, and more a representation of the collection of cool people. And recruiting friends based on their cultural relevance isn’t conducive to legitimate friendship. Instead, it’s simply the process of assembling the cast for ideal group shots on social media.
Of course, this isn’t to say seeing famous women band together and to champion friendship over rivalries is a bad thing — far from. For younger pop culture consumers, seeing favourite famouses hang out and support each other is head and shoulders above seeing them tear one another down. But at the same time, to look up to a particular squad and to compare yourself to them is a mistake. Especially since after most of us spent high school doing just that with cliques, and we all know how that turned out. (Spoiler alert: not great.) Arguably, squads as we now know them are 2015’s latest spin on exclusion. They’re not about one’s pride of friendship, they’re about one’s pride of relevance. The bigger, the better, etc.
And that’s disappointing. To be proud of your friends and to love and to support and to brag about them is a huge part of having them — but to parade and to emblaze them with a I’m-better-than-you #SquadGoals marker not just devalues friendship, but tells everybody else that their own friendships mean less. If her squad is for real, I think it’s great if Taylor Swift is friends with all of those famous people. But I certainly don’t look at my own friends and think, “Let’s aim to be more like them.” That would be ridiculous.
In short, I’m sure 2015 meant well. I’m sure that the assembling of various humans to form ultra-hip groups was meant less to send the message of exclusion than it was to teach fans to draw strength from numbers. I’m sure Taylor Swift isn’t in the market of collecting people, because that would be upsetting and also I’m sure quite lonely. I’m sure #squad wasn’t meant to be the new word for clique, and that it especially wasn’t meant to redefine or replace “friendship.” I’m sure that at no point did anybody knowingly think, “You can’t sit with us.” And so I hope that in 2016, groups of friends can be just that. And that come next year, red carpet poses aren’t proof that a friendship group matters.
The post 2015 in review: Are squads just a new spin on the high school clique? appeared first on FASHION Magazine.