Cupcakes are a thing. Or at least they were a thing. Crumbs made headlines in July when it announced that it was closing its doors for good after more than a decade of business. Many attribute it to one factor: the cupcake craze is on its way out.
While cupcakes started out as no more than sugary fixtures at children’s birthday parties, they became a hit when franchises like Sprinkles and Crumbs opened, boasting fancy flavors like chocolate marshmallow and chai latte. Even though the average cupcake contains approximately 500 calories, their trendiness rendered them almost impermeable to criticism. Carrie Bradshaw conspicuously chomps down on a Magnolia Bakery cupcake in an episode of Sex and the City, while celebs like Victoria Beckham openly endorsed Sprinkles, and cupcake consumption (or at least photos of said consumption) became somewhat of a cliché among food and style blogs. As a teenager at the height of cupcake mania, I was obsessed. I remember poring over the Sprinkles menu online, planning exactly what I would order, as excited about my initiation into the craze as I was about actually trying the cupcake.
When I studied abroad in Spain, I wasn’t too surprised to find a small shop called Cupcakes. Even though I was in Córdoba – a city so ensconced in its Andalusian culture that I couldn’t even find a decent burger – the word “cupcake” needed no translation. Unlike hamburgers and hot dogs, which both have Spanish translations, cupcakes seem to transcend their edibility. There’s no translation for cupcake because only the original name properly recollects all of the cutesiness and glamour of the dessert.
After hearing the hype about Magnolia cupcakes and specifically reading about them in a Chick lit novel, I was thrilled to get my paws on one of the famous red velvet morsels when I got to New York. I apologize if this opinion is too polemical but it sucked. It was dry, and the icing was just flavorless and sugary, not unlike those grocery store cupcakes moms brought to elementary school when it was someone’s birthday. My adolescent fantasies where crushed.
Not to go all post-structuralist on a dessert, but I think the cupcake trend constitutes what Gilles Deleuze would call a “capture.” Put simply, capture happens when something obscure is co-opted by a culture and brought into the mainstream. Whenever we describe something as a “thing,” capture is probably involved. Given the ubiquity of cupcakes in the media and across the globe, I’d say the cutesy American dessert from childhood has gone mainstream.
Unlike Magnolia, Crumbs was subtle, yet complex; the frosting was not just another iteration of the sweet cake but added its own distinct flavor. I’ll be sad that Crumbs is gone, not because it brought me closer to being Carrie Bradshaw, but for a simpler reason: it was good.
So why do cupcakes seem to be less and less of a thing? Expanding waistlines? Or will cupcakes, like crop tops, disappear for a decade and then reappear? I’d like to think they’re going out of vogue because people are realizing that they aren’t real. The media’s capture of cupcakes is incomplete. They’re portrayed as quirky and cute and trendy, but the hype hardly matches the dessert itself. Cupcakes are like people: sometimes they’re good, sometimes they suck, but they can’t be characterized in any singular way.
Post by Kirsten Martin. Art by Angeli Rafer.