Still from Euphoria

Is 2022 really the year of the villain?

According to the internet, we should all be entering our 'villain era'. Spoiler alert: it has little to do with actually committing crimes.

by Laura Pitcher
21 April 2022, 8:00am

Still from Euphoria

In the latest season of Euphoria, Cassie fell from the heights of being a once-beloved character to being universally hated. “Well, if that makes me a villain, then so be it. I can play the fucking villain,” she said as she stormed on stage during Lexi’s play. The line has now become a viral audio on TikTok, and despite the Maddy versus Cassie discourse, the idea of being a self-proclaimed “villain” has also shifted: something once considered despicable is now almost aspirational. “Is it just me or has every girl in this world gone into their 'villain era for 2022,” one TikTok user asks. But what does entering and embracing your “villain era” actually mean?

While pop culture has always been fascinated with the “bad guy” (Joker, true crime podcasts, etc.) and recent binges like Inventing Anna and The Dropout prove we love a good scam, our current fascination with villains has little to do with actually committing crimes. Instead, the trend encourages tapping into the less agreeable parts of ourselves and maybe tuning into “villain mode” playlists on Spotify. Entering your “villain era” is a viral mental health trend has become synonymous with asserting boundaries: it’s the antithesis of people-pleasing.

The rejection of people-pleasing in exchange for villain-like tendencies has been mostly embraced by women on the internet, often coming with the messaging that by doing so you’re tapping into your “divine feminine” or “dark feminine” energy. Jacqueline Wraith, the founder of Evergreen Mystic Co, says tapping into this energy requires achieving equal parts of both masculine and feminine energy. “In my spiritual belief, we all have both masculine and feminine energy within us, but a lot of us are stepping into our masculine energy, where everything is clear cut and step-by-step,” she explains. “I teach people the dark feminine side, healing inner trauma that we try to hide from the world and nurturing not only other people but ourselves.”

Whether you believe in energy healing or not, Jacqueline says the villain era is all about empowering yourself. “When it comes to being in divine energy, there’s such a thing as being too much in your ego. Again, it is about finding a balance.” This is where villain era messaging can enter murky territory. Setting boundaries and advocating for yourself is one thing, but completely disregarding how your actions impact other people (like Cassie) is true villain-like behaviour.

Rachel Wright, a psychotherapist based in New York, finds it disheartening that focusing on ourselves and setting healthy boundaries is associated with the “villain era,” since this should be a common practice. “I despise the idea that putting yourself first is villainous,” she says. “It worries me that it is considered being a ‘bad guy’ and not the norm — or what a great human being needs to do.” However, under the structure of white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism, oppressed groups are often expected to be “agreeable” at all costs to their own health and wellbeing. The reclamation of the villain, by women and especially women of colour, then becomes the active rejection of agreeability.

For some women, entering your villain era is just a more amped up way of rejecting societal standards. “When I teach girls how to find confidence from internal validation instead of male validation,” wrote one viral TikTok using Cassie’s Euphoria audio. Another listed her “villain era” as having girls nights, existing unapologetically and going on self-dates. “I’m seeing folks be in a sexual renaissance, put themselves first and finally set healthy boundaries with the people in their lives,” Rachel says. “When we put ourselves first, our relationships have an opportunity to thrive.”

With this in mind, Los Angeles-based diviner Porsche Little proposes that we rename this cultural shift our “superhero era.” “I don’t think we need to demonise this awakening by calling it a villain era,” she says. “We’re rescuing ourselves from low self-esteem, and terrible judgment calls we would be making from moving with all emotion and zero logic. I think it’s okay for women to lean a bit more on our egos.” Perhaps this is why many women online — with mascara stained cheeks — are declaring that their villain era begins after crying or being heartbroken.

No matter what we call it, Porsche thinks the collective decision to step away from people-pleasing this year is bound to shake up the dating scene. “I think that our villain era should always start with intention and understanding of what we are trying to achieve in the long run. As long as there are intentions and clear boundaries, I don’t feel it’s much to worry about,” she explains. “I am afraid for these men though. With women using more logic and fewer emotions, it’s gonna be kind of hard for them to play old tricks. Guess they didn’t see this one coming.”

Whether you label it your “villain era,” “superhero era” or you’re tapping into your “divine feminine,” the reality is that not letting people walk all over you is far from being villainous. There are enough actual villains in this world that don’t need another excuse to perpetuate disrespect, but this new era isn’t for them. 2022 is shaping up to be the year where chronic people-pleasers reimagine a world where they don’t need to be liked by everyone at all times. If entering their “villain era” helps them do that, then so be it.

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more opinion pieces and internet trends.

mental health