But Y Tho explores a plethora of funny, strange, and peculiar trends to provide long sought-after answers to questions that have been swimming in all our heads.
When Dakota Ladd posted a TikTok video showing off her new custom-made license plate, she immediately went viral for her cheeky nod to the latest, hottest Twilight meme. “This is perfect,” she mouthed in unfettered excitement before the big reveal.
Printed along the frame of her bronze-colored car plate is the phrase, “Bella! Where the hell have you been, loca?”
The super niche reference would have completely gone over the heads of most people a year ago. But more than 10 years after the premiere of the first movie in the series, an obscure nine-second scene from the sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon, has inexplicably skyrocketed to virality. In it, a spirited Jacob (the werewolf played by Taylor Lautner), runs towards protagonist Bella (Kristen Stewart) in a joyful reunion.
“I definitely have noticed a resurgence of Twilight lately, probably within the last year,” Ladd, a 25-year-old pet portrait artist in California, told VICE.
The first movie in a groundbreaking saga, Twilight kick-started a vampire craze in the late 2000s. Based on the book series by Stephenie Meyer, The Twilight Saga is a thrilling love triangle involving vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) on one end and werewolf Jacob Black on the other. At the center of it all is Bella Swan, our clumsy human main character. With the massive fandom came just as many haters, who made fun of its cheesy dialogue and distinctly gloomy setting, among other things.
As someone who was part of Twilight’s target demographic when it first came out—and therefore a witness to all the cringe—I didn’t expect it to age well. But, in what is now known as the Twilight renaissance, people are rewatching the series and raving about it online.
“It's a guilty pleasure,” said Ladd. While some are completely new fans, many are rewatching the series through a new adult lens that they did not have when they watched it for the first time as teens.
But, seriously, why is Twilight popular again?
Nostalgia, Netflix, New Fans
When Twilight premiered in 2008, cinemas around the world were filled with moviegoers—mostly teen girls—eager for a vicarious taste of epic, supernatural romance.
Vee Elle, who lives in Canada, was a Twihard fan from day one. She remembers devouring the first book in a day or two, and even braved a snowstorm to get her hands on the second book “New Moon” and third book “Eclipse.”
“Something about the story at that time was exactly what I needed—maybe because it was a love story and I’d just gotten out of a relationship,” said Vee Elle, who prefers to use her online pseudonym to keep her professional life and online persona separate.
More than a decade later, the millennial remains a huge Twilight fan. She now cosplays as the clairvoyant vampire Alice Cullen (played in the movies by Ashley Greene) at the Olympic Coven, a Twilight-themed acting troupe. They perform at the Forever Twilight in Forks Festival, held every year in the town of Forks, Washington, where Twilight is set.
During lockdown last year, Vee Elle started doing Twilight-related TikTok videos and blew up for her uncanny Alice Cullen content. She now has close to 400,000 followers on TikTok where she participates in viral trends, all in character as Alice.
Like 2000s fashion trends, pandemic nostalgia got people revisiting precious childhood memories. And TikTok became a treasure trove for people to reminisce about Twilight. On the app, the hashtag #twilightiktok, along with others like #twilight and #twihard, have amassed billions of views combined.
While the Twilight renaissance was brewing on TikTok, last August, Meyer unleashed upon Twihards “Midnight Sun,” a novel recounting events from the first book through Edward’s point of view. Then, the Twilight movies arrived on Netflix this July for viewers in the United States and immediately stirred up a binge-watching storm.
“It’s given a whole new level of accessibility to people who had never seen the movies before, which creates new fans, new people wanting to visit Forks, new content creators with their own unique perspectives, and new cosplayers,” said Vee Elle.
A 19-year-old artist in California who goes by Kaylee Jaye on TikTok is one such content creator. She is especially known for her Bella Swan cosplay, where she incorporates the characteristic mannerisms of Stewart’s character into contemporary memes—her timid demeanor, perpetually furrowed brows, and the relentless hair-stroking as a soothing mechanism.
In a viral video that has racked up 1.5 million views, Kaylee presents her take on Bella as a gaslighting vampire, a nod to the absurdist “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” meme.
Kaylee Jaye admitted that she used to be a vehement Twilight hater, until she was recently reacquainted with its fan content.
“I was actually one of the many who despised Twilight when it first came out. I think I was around 10 or 11, and I was firmly in my not-like-other-girls phase so I wrote off anything even slightly feminine, including Twilight,” said Kaylee Jaye. “Now that I'm older, I have a much more nuanced view of the series.”
I could relate. When Twilight had girls swooning with its star-crossed story arc, I was stuck in my own cynical preteen phase of rejecting anything “mainstream” and “girly.” This meant that I would scoff at my Twihard sister who bought the entire set of novels, but took secret pleasure in reading them anyway.
But, like how I eventually started wearing pink and watching romantic comedies again, I’m just now beginning to unironically enjoy the things that my younger self would call lame.
In an attempt to understand its enduring fandom, I found myself sitting down for a second viewing of Twilight, the first movie in the series, on Netflix.
The corny dialogue and teenage awkwardness made for engrossing entertainment, but what struck me the most was how uncomfortable Edward and Bella’s supposed meant-to-be relationship made me feel. Sneaking into a girl’s room and watching her sleep? Telling her you shouldn’t be friends, then confusing her by making moves anyway? Those seemed like major red flags to me.
I learned that I wasn’t the only one feeling iffy about the relationship, which felt creepier than the forests at Forks. Despite being a Twihard for over a decade, Vee Elle said that her view of The Twilight Saga has evolved with age.
“I look at it a lot more critically—the things I romanticized in the beginning, like Edward and Bella’s relationship, read a lot differently to me now than they did then,” she said.
(L-R) Actors Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, author Stephenie Meyer, and actor Robert Pattinson arrive at the premiere of Summit Entertainment's “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2” at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images/AFP
Lisa Bode, senior lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Queensland in Australia, told VICE that the movie was, at its heart, a teen romance.
“Everything—from casting, intimate cinematography, performance, music, and, of course, the narrative centered on the ordinary girl who is singled out for attention by the mysterious, weirdly gorgeous, dangerous boy—worked towards this affective appeal,” she said.
While the relationship between Edward and Bella was, for many young viewers, the stuff of fantasies, the current Twilight renaissance seems to have left blind romanticization in the dust. As The Twilight Saga carries on its pop culture reign with more discerning fans, what was simply loved (or hated) as a soapy love story, now has to reckon with its more problematic elements, such as the toxic romance between Edward and Bella, the non-consensual nature of werewolf imprinting, and its inaccurate portrayal of Native American culture.
This is the case for Ladd, the “loca” car plate owner. “I’m a fan in the way that I find some things in Twilight very problematic, but I love how kitsch and cringe it is,” she said.
“Twilight” Is Cool?
In the current revival, people are doubling down on memes and keeping Twilight references on top of current trends.
Bode, the pop culture expert, pointed out that the Twilight fanbase is no stranger to poking fun at their problematic faves. In fact, back in the 2000s, they were already teasing the cringiness of it all—the cheesy dialogue, the over-the-top makeup, and the fact that vampires glitter in sunlight. The personalities of the actors outside the movie were also a huge draw, like Robert Pattinson’s out-of-pocket interviews and self-effacing DVD commentary.
“The extratextual material encouraged an ironic viewing which helped to ameliorate the shame of loving a ‘bad’ film,” Bode said.
What’s interesting, though, is that while Twilight is considered a campy favorite like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, many now love it unironically.
From pottery to cosplay, and videos shot with a Twilight filter, people are incorporating Twilightcore into their own passion projects.
TikTok user @cullensinforks, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her privacy, has carved out a niche on TikTok posting things or scenery that remind her of Twilight, often with a filter that gives a distinctive Twilight tint.
“Now, it seems like a trend to like Twilight, versus back then where you were not very cool if you liked the saga,” she said.
“Now it seems like a trend to like Twilight, versus back then where you were not very cool if you liked the saga.”
Rose Frankel, a potter who showcases her Twilight-themed creations on TikTok, noted that Twilight straddles that weird line between cool and cringey, but is glad that it’s no longer taboo to love it openly.
“Kids, and especially girls, get to love Twilight without as much fear of ridicule,” said Frankel. “When I was into it, I didn’t talk about it too much because it was so ‘in’ to hate on it and to make fun of people who enjoyed it.”
As teens-turned-young-adults like myself reckon with our femininity and pop culture preferences, there is perhaps no better time to reevaluate our thorny relationship with “trashy” vampire romance.
So excuse me as I revenge binge-watch the rest of the Twilight movies, in honor of the teenage memories I lost because I was too busy feeling insecure to see a human fall in love with a vampire.
Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.