“I’m sitting here, crying in my prom dress,” is the chorus of a low-fi, hand-clappy track by the singer mxmtoon—and now a hyper-literal anthem for American teenagers. On TikTok, teens are sitting there, in their prom dresses, talking to a camera, feeling very sad.
This is what prom night looks like in 2020. Rather than spending a night out dancing with friends, teenagers have been shoved back inside with their parents because of the pandemic. Americans have celebrated prom since the late 19th century, even during depressions and world wars. Families tend to spend many hundreds of dollars on the event, and its place in popular culture as a high-school rite of passage has been romanticized by just about every teen movie ever made. The idea of forgoing it would be ludicrous for many teens in any other year, and awkward little two-person quarantine proms with decorations-by-dad were once the stuff of apocalyptic fiction. But now, this is prom.
The teens of America are getting through it by posting. And bless them: Their dances are goofy and their song choices are good and their outfits are fun to look at—so fun, in fact, that I nearly ordered a heavily discounted prom dress from Macy’s, just to have for home. Teens are doing all they can to re-create the joy of prom online, but these videos are yet another test of how well the internet can be used to hold on to life as we knew it. Does coordinating with friends over iMessage to edit together a TikTok video feel anything like a prom?