I recently rewatched Twilight—who hasn’t, at this point?—and boy, was it a trip. The Cullens are startlingly frigid in their sexiness, Bella gasps through every line she delivers, and the T-shirt-over-long-sleeves outfits run rampant. Even worse is how outlandishly into each other Bella and Edward are. Did I really think this was cool 10 years ago? But to my surprise, my boyfriend, a famously pragmatic man, loved the film, claiming that it was unlike anything he’s seen from the last decade of cinema. He was onto something.
Twilight is completely devoid of irony. Between its indulgence in the sublime and embrace of all things gothic, it is an earnest, unabashed ode to the 2000s. And while this self-seriousness might feel antithetical to the “carefree, live in the moment” sheen of indie sleaze, they are, in fact, one and the same. At least, that’s according to Alyssa Allemand and Jenalee Emmert, the hosts of “TwiHard Recovery Club” podcast Say It Out Loud. “There’s just something about the overall vibe—the angst and the grunge, the punk attitude, the dark humor,” Allemand told Jezebel.
“Indie sleaze” is a new term coined by Gen Z TikTok to describe the fashion of the late aughts and early 2010s, which was characterized by a certain grunge maximalism, as Cassidy George wrote for Vogue. From fringe scarves, to aggressively neon tops, to graphic prints (all worn together, of course), there are few other words that can adequately describe the indie sleaze aesthetic other than absolutely unhinged. But beneath its superficial IDGAF energy, indie sleaze also possessed a darker side: Because these fashion numbers were often worn to parties where over-the-top intoxication was the rule more than the exception, the genre is also marked by an undercurrent of uninhibited vice and a culture of interpersonal toxicity.
As a whole, indie sleaze’s ambivalence treads a fine line between being overcome by the worst of human nature and indiscriminately enjoying the best that life has to offer. It possesses a delicate combination of cynicism and celebration that both Say It Out Loud and the Twilight Renaissance at large (remember the whole Team Edward and Team Jacob thing? It’s back, baby!) balance pretty well.
“So much of the original indie sleaze was created when our culture romanticized different forms of abuse, from eating disorders, to drugs and alcohol, to abusive and codependent relationships,” Emmert told Jezebel. “I think Twilight grabbed that idea of being really emotionally tethered to a partner in a way that feels like you can’t breathe without them.”
It’s this kind of close, honest analysis of the Twilight franchise that Say It Out Loud meditates on. Allemand and Emmert’s podcast emerged during the beginnings of the lockdown, smack in the middle of what is now known as the Twilight Renaissance. Born in part out of a strong nostalgia for the franchise (the two hosts, who are roommates, would take turns reading a chapter of the books out loud to each other at night) and wanting to see a past obsession in a new light, the podcast itself stands critical of some aspects, like Bella and Edward’s codependent relationship, the way race is portrayed in the books, and even Bella’s toxicity as a character. But it makes sure to revel in the franchise’s most enjoyable parts, which happen to be its most indulgent—namely, its banger soundtracks and deliciously meme-able dialogue (Allemand and Emmert sign off each episode with a call and response of: “As if you could outrun me,” and, “As if you could fight me off.”).
And while I’m sure everyone above the age of 16 can now recognize how…yikes Edward and Bella were for each other, Allemand and Emmert offer sharper, more subversive takes on the franchise that few others have said out loud. Take Meyer’s religious background as a Mormon and how it shapes the book’s undertones about Bella’s reproductive choice, for example. “There’s a reason it feels very…maybe not anti-abortion, but more pro-life,” Emmert told Jezebel. Or how a postcolonial feminist reading of the books reveals how the Cullens see themselves as a morally exceptional sub-clan of vampires, while Jacob Black’s family is almost exclusively characterized by their poverty and monstrosity. “[Meyer] basically makes a colonial relationship [between] an Indigenous tribe and white colonizers and Americans, but just disguises it with werewolf and vampire language,” Allemand notes in the episode “Is the Twilight Saga Racist?”
Revisiting the series has also let the hosts think about their personal lives differently, especially their relationships. They wouldn’t go as far as to say that modern dating is filled with literal monsters, but they can’t help but see how some of today’s most toxic dating habits tip their hats to our favorite pulse-less heartthrob. “My biggest take is Edward Cullen normalized ghosting,” Allemand told Jezebel. It’s a topic that the duo covered in their two-part episode “Should Bella and Edward Break Up?” where they brought on marriage and family therapist Rhea Lyons to discuss whether or not the most defining relationship of the 2010s was toxic (it 100 percent was).
“Girls really idolized [Edward], and he was literally dishonest with Bella. Not only did he break up with her without a proper explanation, but [he] literally just left her in the woods, unsafe,” Allemand said. And then, “He just came back at the end. I remember reading the last chapter of that book, he was just kind of gaslighting her.”
In some ways, it was Edward’s very identity as a vampire that helped him get away with being a shitty boyfriend. In fact, it’s what made us want him so much more. “It’s part of the alternative culture of rejecting this idea of like, ‘Oh, I want the jockey Men’s Health front cover boy,’” Emmert told Jezebel. “‘I want the weird quiet guy that rides a motorcycle and like, doesn’t talk that much, and maybe has a secret, but he’s really sexy.’” However problematic Edward’s behavior was, the series captured reality. “Twilight got the feeling of teenage romance right. It’s a little stupid, very careless, and it feels like this one person is your whole life, because you’re only 17 and nothing else matters,” Emmert said.
“Those dynamics are a true part of our culture. So I think overall, what Twilight shows are parts of culture that do exist, but the series itself doesn’t do enough to correct or critique them,” Allemand added.
More than a decade away from the TwiHard fans they once were, Allemand refers to their process of embracing Twilight’s good, bad, and monstrous as “inner child work,” which is playful as much as it is healing: “When I was younger and consuming the series for the first time, it was all about the drama,” she said. “That’s also where the humor comes out: recognizing that maturity and growth, and realizing you took yourself too seriously in middle and high school.”
In a metaphysical sense, projects like Say It Out Loud embody the psychic split that is central to indie sleaze—one that is strikingly characterized by both pure pleasure and pure suffering. Its resurgence in 2022 feels like more of a sign of the times than anything. In the face of a crumbling society and a planet that’s on literal fire, why not spend every waking moment obsessing over the most unserious melodrama of all? Say what you want about nostalgia and earnest critique, but the Twilight Renaissance is also a coping mechanism, an enthusiastically hedonistic balm for getting through our present moment. “Even looking at music right now, Paramore is coming back, Arctic Monkeys are coming back, My Chemical Romance is coming back,” Emmert said. We need it all.
Like all good (and problematic) things, Allemand and Emmert are keenly aware that the Twilight Renaissance will eventually come to end. But while we might ditch the smudged makeup and neon tights in a year or two (God, I sure hope so), the duo remain optimistic that some parts of the TwiHard community will be forever. “I think fandom is hopefully immortal,” Emmert told Jezebel. “Also, those first couple of soundtracks are evergreen.”
If you need me, I’ll be sobbing to Bon Iver’s “Rosyln” on repeat, reminiscing about a time when the worst thing that could happen to a human girl was picking the wrong monster to love.