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Camp is a slang term used to refer to something so bad that it became good. The slang, popularized by the LGBTQ+ community, was derived from the French word “se camper” which means to pose exaggeratedly. The term was first used by the high fashion industry, with references dating back to 1909. It was incorporated as a common term among Gen Z internet users around 2019.
The term "camp" is an aesthetic style related to something appealing for its bad features and ironic value, disrupting common aesthetic values attributes such as beauty, taste and comprehension. The term is also used to classify high art, which mainly consists of works of art that feature lively, audacious and dynamic expressions. One of the first definitions of "camp" was published in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1909:
Camp – "ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual"
For decades, the term "camp" was almost exclusively used by the high fashion industry, being brought online and cemented in an Urban Dictionary definition years later. On January 27th, 2022, Urban Dictionary user urmomshotcorn wrote the most-voted definition of camp as "so bad it’s good. except it’s gay." This more recent usage during the 2000s online expanded the term to any form of art (music, television shows, movies, etc). (seen below).
Camp burst out of the fashion industry after the 2019 Met Gala event, which had as its theme “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” looking at camp as an aesthetic sensibility. The event brought a significant increase in searches for the terms "campy" and "camp" in May 2019. On May 10, 2019, American singer Lady Gaga used her Twitter account to post a video showing her dress for the event and a caption explaining the term camp as "a part of who we are. It’s not something that we have to try to be.” The tweet received 493,000 views and 36,100 likes in four years (seen below).
“Camp is a part of who we are. It’s not something that we have to try to be.” Watch the full video on
VogueMagazine</a>! <a href="https://t.co/8AY3EOd0yQ">https://t.co/8AY3EOd0yQ</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/hausofgaga?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#hausofgaga</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/metgala?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#metgala</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/metgaga?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#metgaga</a> <a href="https://t.co/6CrPgPHXMe">pic.twitter.com/6CrPgPHXMe</a></p>— Lady Gaga (ladygaga) May 11, 2019
"That's Camp" is an expression used to point at something or someone doing "camp" behavior. For example, On April 11th, 2023, Twitter user @HausOfBitchs posted a picture of Lady Gaga singing about hair while wearing a fake bald cap and playing a hairy piano. The user added in the caption that "there's nothing more camp" than this performance by the singer, garnering 2,600 likes and 328 retweets in a week (seen below).
The Collins Dictionary definition of "high camp" refers to something that is "consciously artificial, exaggerated, vulgar, or mannered; self-parodying, esp when in dubious taste." The term is often used to describe something so camp that it needs to be put in a different category. For example, Twitter user @joeynolfi used the term "high camp" on March 11th, 2020, referring to a moment in which the actress and TV presenter Whoopi Goldberg repeatedly said “welcome to The View” to empty audience chairs. The post garnered 1.2 million views and 61,300 likes in three years (seen below).
Whoopi Goldberg repeating “welcome to The View” to empty audience chairs is both peak apocalypse horror and high camp. pic.twitter.com/VZroTYVT0N— Joey Nolfi (@joeynolfi) March 11, 2020
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