My brother emailed me a picture of him and I when we were in our twenties. “Hey sis!” he wrote. “Me and you when we were Millennials!”
I enjoyed his acknowledgement that our generation uses “Millennials” to describe young people these days, because we can’t bear to actually say “young people”. This would imply that we are no longer young, which is impossible because we grew up listening to Public Enemy. And that’s something very few people can come to terms with.
When I was a “Millennial”, I worked in an old people’s home. I played them records in the afternoons so they could bliss out to music they were raised on. It was all Max Bygraves and Vera Lynn. For all I know, they hated it but were too polite to say: “Actually, I’m more into improvised drumming. Do you have any of that?”
Perhaps when I’m in a retirement home, a well-meaning but annoying student will come and play the music of my generation. The other residents and I will sit in a circle in our wheelchairs clapping along to “Smack My Bitch Up” by the Prodigy.
But can I really imagine a world where my generation get old? We went to tons of marches chanting “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” and got wasted in the pub afterwards. So how can we not be young anymore?
I was just saying to a 20-year-old friend of mine (and by “friend” I mean “babysitter”) that I totally love the Stormzy. He may be young enough to be my child, but he speaks to me. I am, after all, from the 80s, the decade where rap and hip hop had real meaning. Join in if you know this: “Lot of talk and lots of action, Roland Rat’s the main attraction with a penthouse suit, swimming pool, pretty young guinea pigs playing it cool.” I challenge the mighty Stormzy, reigning king of grime, to name-check domesticated rodents in his ditties.
Admittedly, we have changed. We have more wrinkles and our chants are in iambic pentameter, but 70s babies will never be old.
We were the ravers, the clubbers, the ones who woke up with a traffic cone, a kebab and a dancer from Bermondsey in our beds (if that dancer happens to be reading this, you left your MC Hammer trousers at mine. How did you get home?!)
Today’s Millennials, like all young adults, are demonised and patronised. We mock their “safe spaces” at university (by “we”, I mean “I”) and roll our (again, “my”) eyes at the way they go up at the end of their sentences? Which make them sound really unsure of what they are saying? Just talk with conviction?
But this is exactly what creates a generational divide, isn’t it? Being irritated at a shift in culture and changes in our vernacular. In order to stay connected and not disappear into “they don’t know they are born” territory, I have to accept the brutal misuse of the word “literally”. I literally do.
Millennials these days have some things much easier I did. Sure, they can’t afford a mortgage in London unless they lived to be 253. They have to pay tuition fees despite my chanting “EDUCATION IS A RIGHT! NOT A PRIVILEGE!” until I was hoarse for much of my own youth. I’m sorry about that, young people. I really am.
They may know the sting of being cancelled or even dumped by text, but it’s unlikely they will know the dignity-destroying trauma of actually being stood up.
If you happen to be either a Millennial or Angelina Jolie reading this, “stood up” is when you physically turn up to meet a date and they don’t come. You can’t call them or receive a message from them because phones do not exist. You wait and wait, constantly giving it “another five minutes” – but you stay.
People pass you. Clock you constantly gazing down the street. You try to look nonchalant as you read your book. But everyone can see you have been stood up. You read the same paragraph 36 times. Eventually you slink off after a couple of hours, dragging your self-esteem home with you.
We had to go out on the pull to get laid. Dress up, go to a club and snog someone at the end when the DJ played the slow song. If we “swiped” someone we liked, we’d get arrested.
I looked at the photo my brother sent. I looked at my creamy, taut skin; my crazy, glossy, pre-hair-straightener Nineties curls; my eyes shining with the excitement of being alive at a time when you could still reliably jump over the tube barriers.
I know in my heart I’m no longer the girl in the photo because, nowadays, before I step into a pub, I stop for a moment to admire its hanging baskets.