Essay Online

Search History

Featuring Adrienne Rich and Charli XCX

By Cat Zhang

  • August 24, 2022

As someone who writes about internet trends, I am in the business of overanalyzing minutiae, so you’ll have to forgive me for how earnestly I’m taking this assignment to excavate my search history. Once I locate some curious little phenomenon online — a Japanese song from the eighties going viral on TikTok, an influencer becoming famous from exaggerated facial choreography, a pop musician recreating a medieval trades guild on Discord — it’s off to the races! Any friend I have who’s still in school will immediately get a text asking for their JSTOR access, while I feverishly type “filetype:pdf” into Google. But it’s not all serious stuff. When I search things like “Björk why am I the only one in this club popping my fucking pussy,” there is no further examination needed — I’m just bringing my music critic coworkers a little meme as a treat. 

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence

Most of my friends are queer, and even before I thought critically about my sexuality, I identified with queerness in the sense of rejecting a normative life: not wanting to get married, not wanting a child. In college, as one does, I became very influenced by second-wave feminist polemics against (heterosexual) romantic love, and I saw something terrifying in how much psychic energy women wasted on trying to find an ideal (male) partner, at the expense of friendship and real community. Still, I would speed into what I knew were doomed affairs with (mostly) guys I didn’t really like, and I got burned out because everything felt like a rehearsal. 

But recently I started thinking about queerness in a more serious and personal way. Part of what accelerated this was discovering that Elif Batuman, whose books I really admire, stopped dating men at thirty-eight after reading Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” At some point, I started casually seeing this girl, and I was surprised at the camaraderie and understanding I felt with her. Having only come out recently, she was sheepish about going through what she saw as a second adolescence, and there was something really nice about the idea that we were figuring things out together. But then she disappeared, and then I had a series of other confusing encounters. So last week, in an attempt to do some emotional homework, I read “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” which — I gotta be honest — did not help me resolve anything.

“Alex G ‘Runner’ lyrics”

I don’t know if it’s working professionally as a critic, or just getting older, but I feel like I’ve lost a sense of enchantment. I appreciate many songs aesthetically, enjoy how they sound, but music rarely feels deeply personal to me anymore. Then I fell in love with “Runner.” I want to listen to it all the time. 

At first I see this song from the perspective of an awestruck little boy looking at an older brother figure. “They hit you with the rolled-up magazine” is like — the older brother is being an absolute goof, and it’s wonderful, because he’s your hero. All you want to do is be just like him. By the latter half of the song, it sounds like Alex G is singing about an illicit gay relationship: “I have done a couple bad things.” To me, the song is about having a really pure love for a complicated person, maybe because you were too naive to see their faults. There’s a mythical quality to the eponymous “runner” —  he’s like a cowboy, blazing through your life, and now he’s probably gone. The song makes me think of a past roommate, who made me feel like everything would be okay as long as I could be around her. I loved her so much, and half the time I can’t even be mad that she left, because she changed my life. My runner, my runner.

“Charli XCX Himalayas fancam”

Okay, tonal shift — on Friday, one of my coworkers sent me a fan edit of American automobile magnate Henry Ford, set to Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom.” So I had to send him a fancam of continental plates colliding to form the Himalayas, set to Charli XCX’s “Crash.”


This is a really cool website that covers tech stories outside of the West. I like reading about crypto and then anything related to Chinese internet subcultures.

“graphic eyeliner”

Some people have smoking as their conversation starter. I don’t smoke, so I find that trying to turn your eyelid into some sort of abstract art is an easy way to get people to come up to you. I browse through Instagram and TikTok for inspiration. 

“Flash Mobs”

I find it frustrating that as an adult your primary mode of social interaction is going to a bar, buying an overpriced drink, and regurgitating details of your life. Don’t get me wrong — I like bars! I will pay the $15 for a glass of skin-contact wine. But I’m bored of talking about myself. I want to go to a trampoline park. I want to make Photobooth music videos. I want to do a giant choreographed dance with my friends — and drag them all to rehearsal!

Even as you grow up and accumulate more freedom via actually having purchasing power or whatever, there is this corresponding narrowing of social life. Everyone is busy, and there’s less room to do things that are just dumb and funny. You do a lot of individual hangs, instead of dicking around as a group. Anyway, someone started a flash mob at Pitchfork’s music festival during Toro Y Moi’s set, and I thought that was very inspiring. My coworkers and I were going to a show at Nowadays the week after, and the guys playing (Two Shell) are trolls anyway, so I was like… what if we all just did the Macarena? I got shut down immediately. The reaction was like: girl, what?


Cat Zhang is a Brooklyn-based music critic and internet culture reporter. She’s currently an associate editor at Pitchfork.