Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

The TikTok-Fueled Twilight Renaissance Is Upon Us

The popularity of TikTok's "Baseball Alice," sums up the unexpected renewed interest in Twilight with one utterly perfect cosplay
Graphic: Elena Scotti (Photos: Screenshot via YouTube, Screenshot via TikTok, Shutterstock)
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Twilight’s Alice Cullen, Bella’s precognitive vampire pal with an iconic pixie cut, looks pretty good for a woman who is slightly more than a century old. More surprising is her unexpected talent for TikTok. In one video, which has amassed almost 3 million views since it was posted in May 2020, @maryalicebrandon (the character’s name before she joined the Cullens) replicates the famous high-kick straight over her head, a wind-up for her vampire baseball pitch in Twilight, the first installment in the series of film adaptations. In another, captioned: “POV: You’re trying to impress your brother’s new girlfriend,” she applies lipgloss before skipping out of the room (in her baseball gear).

Of course, it’s not actually Alice Cullen, or even actor Ashley Greene, who played her in the Twilight movies. Instead, it’s a woman cosplaying the character with loving, painstaking attention to detail, complete with feathered hair and golden contact lenses and—frequently—a perfect recreation of Alice’s outfit from the over-the-top vampire baseball game from the first Twilight movie that is profoundly satisfying in its sheer specificity.

“I think the most response I really get on my cosplay is baseball Alice!” said the woman behind the Alice Cullen account that captivated me (who uses the name Vee Elle when she’s doing cosplay) when I reached out for a phone interview. “People really love baseball Alice.” No, they really love baseball Alice: “So many people tell me, Alice made me realize I was a lesbian, Alice made me realize I was bi.”

“I’m just trying to give people what they want, so I focus a lot on baseball Alice, because I know she’s what people want to see! And she’s very recognizable as a costume,” Vee Elle added. But she doesn’t limit herself to baseball Alice. Sometimes she’s Alice in the ensemble when Bella met the Cullens, wearing a little black shrug and a delicate ribbon choker; sometimes she wears a ruffled white shirt with a vest over it, a look that some will recall from the halcyon days of the late 2000s.

Vee Elle got into Twilight in 2008, in the aftermath of a breakup; she was instantly hooked, stumbling out into a snowstorm to buy the sequels. She convinced her friends to read the books, and they told her they’d pictured her as Alice while reading the books. Initially, she admitted, she hadn’t much noticed Alice. “Being heartbroken the way I was, I was kind of focused on the love story between Edward and Bella,” she explained, before clarifying it seemed swoony and aspirational at the time, but, “Of course, now, in retrospect, I’m like, eh, maybe not!”) Gradually, she came to relate to Alice—her outlook and her sense of style—and decided to try out some Alice cosplay.

More than a decade later, she’s still at it, the closet of her second bedroom devoted to her Alice ensembles, which range from a full collection of “screen-accurate” looks to her imaginings of what Alice might have worn in the eras that aren’t covered in the Twilight saga.

Twilight was widely reviled when the books and movies first shot to success, around 2008 to 2012—an easy punching bag for cultural critics and ridiculed by other fandoms for “ruining” Comic-Con with its supposedly hopeless sparkly vampires. But around the 10th anniversary of the movie in 2018, the tone around the franchise began to shift. Zoomers too young to have experienced the initial frenzy are reading the books and checking out the movies, which were available on Amazon Prime and have since relocated to Netflix, where they have been sitting at the top of the most-watched list for weeks. It is hugely popular on TikTok; Vee Elle herself has amassed more than 320,ooo followers.

“It’s crazy, for a pretty niche account!” she said. “Not only do you have to like Twilight, you have to like cosplay, and you have to recognize the character to want to follow me.”

It makes perfect sense, considering the powerful corner of the entertainment industry that Twilight helped create. One of the big corners of TikTok is BookTok, which is dominated by fantasy YA. Zoomers on TikTok have inherited a pop culture landscape that was, in a very real sense, transformed by Twilight’s impact.

The baseball scene, in particular, epitomizes the enduring camp appeal of the Twilight saga. The Cullens love to play baseball for reasons that are never fully explained; they must play baseball during thunderstorms to hide the sounds of their games. They all wear slightly old-timey baseball getups. Carlisle Cullen, the “dad” is, for some reason, wearing a scarf, which seems dangerous. It sounds like an absolute nightmare to film, as cheerfully recounted by several of the cast in this 2018 Entertainment Weekly oral history: “At one point we had to stop production. People’s makeup was running down their faces, it was cold, it was wet, and it just felt like everything was falling apart.” Everything is a washed-out blue and the vamps, of course, look like corpses. In the crowning touch, the soundtrack is “Supermassive Blackhole” by Muse.

The whole thing is resolutely, absurdly over-the-top—and, with a decade’s worth of distance from its movie theater debut, absolutely wonderful. “Even if you’re not a Twilight fan, you’ve probably seen the scene disconnected somewhere,” Vee Elle pointed out. “It’s just immediately recognizable. Even non-Twilight fans are like, oh, that’s from that movie.”

Meanwhile, a core group of Twilight fans has kept the faith all along—like Vee Elle and her compatriots in the Olympic Coven, a group of cosplayers formed in 2011 to provide a sort of Disney princess experience for the Forever Twilight convention in Forks, Washington. (Yes, “Jasper” appears with regularity on Vee Elle’s TikTok.) There’s something a little reminiscent of one of the iconic fandoms in this timeline, even though it would most likely infuriate its members: Star Trek, which was never a huge ratings success and was kept alive by hardcore fans after its cancellation. (Twilight, on the other hand, was a huge financial success in both book and film form.) Vee Elle makes the same comparison: “It’s interesting to me how it is quite parallel in terms of niche and campiness and the fandom really driving things and keeping it alive, and yet Twilight is so reviled in the same nerd spaces that make Star Trek so beloved.” It’s not a secret why; Twilight is a swoony romance originally targeted to teenage girls, sparkly vampires and all.

At the same time, she acknowledges there’s a new dimension to discussions of the books, which is a positive development. “People are viewing it through a critical lens that is actually talking about important issues now, and not just saying ‘Twilight sucks’ as a blanket statement,” she said.

This isn’t a side hustle that she’s hoping to turn into some sort of TikTok lottery ticket. “This for me is completely a hobby, it’s a labor of love, it’s a creative outlet,” Vee Elle explained—something completely separate from her job. “It’s this little thing that I turn to and say, ok, I’m feeling creative today. What can I create as Alice?”

“I think it was treated like this very weird thing back in the day,” Vee told me. “There was a major taboo around being a Twilight fan, especially if you were talking to, like, men. You were kind of considered crazy immediately. But now I think it’s kind of niche and camp to be a Twilight fan in 2021,” she suggested. “So at least we have that going for us!”