The Overarching Cultural Impact of HBO’s New Show, ‘Euphoria’

What started as an adaptation of one man’s story transformed the world of television, fashion, and beauty.


Shaira Jafar

Akunna Njoku ’21 commonly sees the nation- wide impact of Euphoria through her “explore page on Instagram [that] is chock full of people recreating makeup looks” and “a creative showcase [where] a dancer danced to “All For Us” (the song from the ending scene of Euphoria).”

“Teens-in-Crisis Horror Show” and “provocative” are just some of the phrases being used to describe Euphoria, the new teenage drama TV show. With a TV-MA rating and a fifteen dollar price tag for an HBO monthly subscription, ‘Euphoria’ may seem unappealing to its target audience of high school and college students. However, the show has brought a wave of cultural change. 

Created by Sam Levinson and executively produced by Drake, ‘Euphoria’ centers around the life of a sixteen-year-old student, Rue Bennet. The cast consists of actors with varying levels of experience and popularity from  Zendaya (‘The Greatest Showman’, ‘Spiderman: Homecoming’) and Sydney Sweeney (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Everything Sucks!’) to Hunter Schafer and Barbie Ferreira – models for whom ‘Euphoria’ was their first acting job. The storyline focuses on a group of high school juniors who deal with everyday relationships and high school drama, but also addresses more serious issues such as assault and perjury. 


Each episode starts with a prologue narrated by the main character, played by Zendaya, that depicts the childhood, ambitions, and family life of one specific character. Each character also has a unique music track created by British singer-songwriter Labrinth that plays during each of the prologues. He incorporates a fusion of gospel, electronic, orchestral, and R&B music which stands out from the scores of other teenage dramas that usually consist of music from the Top 50. Labrinth’s unique sound is a defining characteristic of the show, and alters the mood of many scenes. 


‘Euphoria’ has impacted more than just the world of music; it has changed cinematography. Levinson experimented with lighting and angles on paper. When the time came to implement those ideas, the cameramen were ready, allowing them to capture beautiful scenes. The show has an ethereal aesthetic and so the majority of scenes incorporate purples, pinks, and blues into the lighting or general setting. The scenes are also filtered to look brighter or more intense depending on what the specific character feels. According to FilmSchoolRejects, Levinson wanted the audience to feel like “[they are] breathing with the characters and [they are] with them. And that [they are] not distracted by what’s going on behind them. [The audience is] very much in their world and their perspective.” The tracking (one continuous scene from one character to the next in the same location) and upside-down shots fulfill Levinson’s wishes, providing an unusual perspective on scenes and creating fluid transitions which effectively immerse the viewer in the characters’ lives. 


However, the depiction of emotions goes beyond just camera work. ‘Euphoria’’s makeup artists, Kirsten Sage Coleman and Doniella Davy, use makeup as a form of self-expression. Characters such as Maddy and Jules are known for their out-of-the-box eyeshadow looks and relatively bare faces. Jules has an eclectic, airy personality, so the makeup artists used a lot of pastels and geometric shapes on her eyes. Maddy is known for her confidence and cheeky attitude, so her makeup consists of sharp winged liner and rhinestones. The makeup artists correlate characters’ makeup and their identities, a construct that has influenced the real world. Many of the show’s viewers are now inclined to try out more avant-garde looks in public. Even some brands on the New York Fashion Week runways such as Cynthia Rowley, Anna Sui, and Christian Siriano used the ‘Euphoria’ makeup looks as inspiration for their runway models.

 According to the Hollywood Reporter, Levinson wanted the characters’ makeup to challenge the status quo and be used as “a way of transcending mainstream archetypes and stereotypes [by] embracing a more fluid, boundary-pushing mode of self-expression.”  ‘Euphoria’ also explores other aspects of life such as a character’s family life, romantic relationships, and self-perception. Due to the complex, encompassing nature of the show, Akunna Njoku ’21 believes that Euphoria is “genuinely a good show to watch that tells revealing stories that many youths might be able to relate to.”

Makeup is “a way of transcending mainstream archetypes and stereotypes [by] embracing a more fluid, boundary-pushing mode of self-expression.” – Sam Levinson

Although Euphoria is rated TV-MA (due to some scenes and language) and requires an HBO subscription, it is worth the trouble. The show portrays many everyday problems and one can learn from what the characters do and say in probable situations. People all over the world resonate with the show in so many different ways. Any viewer can gain something meaningful by watching the show.