on empathy and world-building (3/28)

On June 16, 2019, the pilot episode of HBO’s Euphoria was released to the public, drawing a modest 570,000 viewers to the platform.

Just over two years later, in January of 2022, the second season was released following the critical acclaim of the debut. This time, viewership reached over a whopping 13 million – over a 200 percent gain from the previous season.

Show-runner Sam Levinson had struck a raw nerve with Euphoria. Beyond the millions glued to their screens, the show garnered around 34 million tweets, and was the number one trending topic on Twitter for months surrounding its release – not to mention the most-tweeted about show of the decade.

The show’s story, though centered around a group of high-schoolers dealing with addiction, transcends age and background by tapping into universal human experiences – yearning for connection, tapping into raw emotion, struggling to find your identity. And the outpouring of tweets mirrored this unflinching search for empathy:

Even with casting two of the world’s biggest stars in Zendaya and Jacob Elordi, Euphoria grew not because of its cast, but because of its characters. Because of its storyline. Because of its reality.

“Singing isn’t just about belting it out, is it,” Mr. Booth, the pianist from Zadie Smith’s Swing Time claims. It’s not just who has the most wobble or the highest note, no, it’s about phrasing, and being delicate, and getting just the right feeling from a song, the soul of it, so that something real happens inside you when a man opens his mouth to sing, and don’t you want to feel something real rather than just having your poor earholes bashed in?” 

In a conversation with Vanity Fair, Zendaya even said that Rue, the protagonist, wasn’t just a brainstorm of ideas from her and Levinson – she was a collection of other people. She was a group of memories, of traits, of people that she had witnessed throughout her own life. In many ways, Rue wasn’t fictional – she was the most real character in all of television.

It’s not that art imitates reality – it’s that art is reality. It’s not just about singing. It’s not about hitting that highest note. It’s about reflecting, about sharing the stories of those we care about, those we hold close to us. Without the people we love, the places we cherish, the memories we hold, there’s nothing unique – there’s no story to tell in the first place.

The worlds we create, however different they may seem, are nothing more than a reflection of our spaces, our views, a bridge formed between our internal worlds and the external realities we all share. By stepping outside of our minds and our insecurities, we not only create art, but we create connections, relationships, conversations, and a whole new environment to share. 

Euphoria's explosion isn't a peek into teen drama, but rather a glimpse into a collective unconscious. Millions found themselves in Rue, not because all teenagers are addicts, but because her struggles are resemblant of this yearning for connection that we all share.

The same goes for our art – it’s not just a reflection of reality, but also a whisper of something deeper, a shared narrative waiting to be unearthed.

Unleashing this shared narrative – that’s the purpose of creating.

Don’t just craft a story, craft a connection.

You never know who might be on the other side.