Euphoria’s Maddy - A New Kind of “Mean Girl”

Maddy Perez is the Queen Bee of Euphoria High, but unlike the cruel Heathers and Regina Georges we’re used to, she has a heart. Like the stereotypical “Mean Girl” ringleader, she’s popular, has lots of confidence, and some anger issues… The difference is, Maddy’s a really good friend, rather than a cruel despot, and her anger tends to be justified, not indiscriminate. Maddy is the character you get if you take the Alpha “mean girl” seriously and look into what made her and what it’s like to be her.


Nate: “I still love you.”

Maddy: “But why?”

Nate: “Cause you’re smart and cruel… but not really…” -Euphoria, 2x04

Maddy Perez is the Queen Bee of Euphoria High, but unlike the cruel Heathers and Regina Georges we’re used to, she has a heart. Like the stereotypical “Mean Girl” ringleader, she’s popular, has lots of confidence and, well… some anger issues. But when a Regina George-type is sabotaged, we cheer along, while audiences want to see Maddy succeed. The difference is, Maddy’s a really good friend, rather than a cruel despot, and her anger tends to be justified, not indiscriminate. She also has bigger actual problems than, say, a few unwanted pounds of weight gain. Maddy is the character you get if you take the Alpha “mean girl” seriously and look into what made her and what it’s like to be her.

So what makes Maddy such a special version of the high school Queen Bee?

Chapter One: Maddy’s Heart – what makes her different

Queen Bees on screen are often cruel. Mean Girls’ Regina George rules over her cohort with an iron fist. Heathers’ ringleader Heather Chandler plays sadistic games of croquet. Maddy can be harsh (and violent), but there’s justice to her anger. When she attacks someone, it’s typically because they actually did something wrong, not just because she wants someone to pick on. So while other Queen Bees are respected outwardly but secretly hated, Maddy is truly respected.

Queen Bees always have a tight posse, but most seem to choose their friends based on superficial qualities –making it more about how useful her followers are to reinforce her power and popularity. Maddy is friends with a more varied group. Regina’s plastics practically wear a uniform, while when Cassie dresses like Maddy, Maddy’s weirded out. Another common “popular kid” trope is that they have a friend in middle school who they ditch for not growing up to be “cool” enough. But Maddy is still best friends with her childhood friend Kat, who wouldn’t fit, for example, Regina George’s harsh body standards. She’s not too image-obsessed to be publicly friendly with Cassie’s shy little sister Lexi and her friend Rue. And Maddy isn’t just nicer than other Queen Bees, she’s a genuinely good friend – empathetic, fiercely loyal, and loving. She listens and pays attention to her friends’ inner lives. That’s why – while it’s a win for Regina George’s followers to turn on her – it’s heartbreaking when Maddy’s bestie Cassie betrays her by sleeping with Maddy’s ex Nate.

Queen Bees almost never get vulnerable. They tend to hide their weakness to maintain their image of a strong leader. Psychologists know that anger is often a way to hide other emotions, like sadness. With the more comedic Queen Bees their anger is left mostly unexplained (and therefore unjustified), but with Maddy, we get to actually see the vulnerability behind the fierce exterior. She talks to her friends about what hurts her, especially about Nate, even if she still makes sure to sound calm and matter-of-fact. And the show also lets us see Maddy in very private, scary moments, when she is terrified and hurt by Nate.

Queen Bees tend to come from privilege – they’re mostly very wealthy and very white, reflecting how real-world popularity often is tied to material advantages. But Maddy is Latina and seems to come from a middle class background. Even as a little girl, Maddy notices class differences and becomes determined to change her position in the hierarchy. So while other It girls are (at least partially) born into their status, Maddy makes herself into a person others admire.

Part of the difference between Maddy and the typical Queen Bee stems from Euphoria not being a comedy, so that means Maddy’s not written as a cartoonish villain or a one-note joke. The show also has a more ensemble focus, so Maddy gets depth instead of just being a one-dimensional supporting character. But more fundamentally, Maddy moves the Queen Bee character in a new direction because she’s framed as both a popular girl and (gasp) a good person.

Maddy: “This shit is hard and confusing. The last thing you need is to feel worse because you’re not feeling something you’re supposed to feel. Do what feels good to you”- Euphoria 2x04.

If you think about it, the classic portrayal of Queen Bees as automatically mean and shallow shows condescension towards teen audiences. It implies that a) if girls strive for “power” and popularity they must be jerks and b) that teens are so naive and stupid that they blindly idolize rich thin white girls even when they’re terrible people. So by re-writing the Queen Bee as aspirational and human, Euphoria shows a respect for teens that is rare in older media.

Chapter Two: Maddy’s armor - confidence from the outside in

The core of the Queen Bee is confidence, and no one gets this better than Maddy. Maddy was always self-possessed, but we learn she added to this innate quality by building up her outward confidence like a kind of armor – realizing that the secret is simply appearing confident. So what makes this portrait of a Queen Bee different is that Maddy’s highly aware of the constructed nature of confidence. She essentially invented herself as a Queen Bee by making a conscious choice to develop confidence, and she’s even secure enough to generously share that insight with others.

Lexi: “Everyone feels stupid. You felt stupid? Yeah I did and then I chose just not to feel that way.” Euphoria, 2x07.

Because Maddy understands that looking confident has the same effect as being confident, she makes sure that every inch of her outward persona radiates teen girl power. She moves in a self-possessed way and almost never looks flustered. When she talks she often sounds a little bored, a classic cool kid move. She uses fashion as a weapon. Her fits can be aggressively revealing, but they seem as though they’re less about looking sexy, than simply flaunting the confidence it takes to pull off that kind of outfit. Maddy’s makeup and hair are another part of her arsenal. Her edges are always perfectly laid down, and her makeup is heavy and super bold. Euphoria’s make-up artist Donni Davy said “A Maddy wing is always the sharpest wing. Sharp like a knife to cut through whatever stands in her way”.

Since Maddy’s confidence is built from the outside in, it makes sense that she would put a lot of stock in appearances. She studies the mannerisms of the rich women she sees at the nail salon, she imitates porn to keep Nate happy, and she tries on the outfits of Samantha, the well-off woman she babysits for, (literally putting herself in Samantha’s shoes). Maddy’s role model is a character in a movie. Like Sharon Stone’s Ginger, Maddy appears both very noticeable and sort of enigmatic at the same time, because of the total control she exercises over her image. But if someone crosses either of them, they’re in big trouble – they each have a scene where they burst out violently in a very public setting, attacking a person who angered them. But mainly, Maddy admires and copies Ginger’s approach to men.

Chapter Three: Maddy’s Achilles heel- The Nate Problem

Maddy’s focus on appearances leads to her biggest strength – her confidence – but her interactions with her toxic on-again-off-again boyfriend Nate examine how, especially with young people, too much focus on appearances can also make them vulnerable to danger, and even mask ongoing abuse.

Maddy initially gets interested in Nate because he looks like what she wants. He’s the star quarterback, and behaves like a real gentleman. Nate cares about appearances too, hiding the parts of himself that don’t fit what he thinks he must be. Between the two, the entire relationship looks aspirational, but feels contractual. She looks and acts like a girlfriend should, and he gives the gifts a boyfriend must give. Both Maddy and Nate are acting out what they think love is supposed to look like, and since they’re the star couple of Euphoria High, they also reinforce that this is what it’s supposed to look like to everyone else. But in private, their relationship is physically and emotionally violent. The writing underlines how men like Nate who performatively act the most chivalrous can also be the most misogynistic, controlling and volatile. Maddy tells Nate she’s a virgin because she knows it’s what he wants to hear , and she’s so aware of Nate’s obsession with her purity that she lies about whether her interaction with Tyler was consensual, leading to an innocent guy getting badly beaten up and terrorized.

Seeing hyper-confident Maddy terrified and broken by Nate takes all this Queen Bee high school dynamics to a different, more serious place. And the portrayal reminds us how poorly we understand, as a society, what a victim is.Maddy is the last person you’d call “weak” or “naive” or who would seem susceptible to someone like Nate’s manipulation. But abuse victims can find it incredibly hard to leave for a number of reasons, for example because their self-esteem and identity have been greatly damaged.

While Euphoria makes sure to clarify that the mistreatment Maddy suffers is in no way her fault, she, like many young people, falls for the fallacy that play-acting the picture of real love, is enough to create real love. Eventually the truth of their relationship rises to the surface where everyone can see it. When a police officer tells Maddy

Detective Riley: Trust me when I tell you that the person that did this doesn’t love you.” Euphoria 1x05

,the line cuts through the perfect veneer Maddy is holding on to, and in season 2, Nate’s public betrayal with Cassie is the final nail in the coffin ruining the illusion of the outwardly perfect love story Nate and Maddy both cared about projecting.

So where will this Queen Bee go in the long term? Audiences tend to expect the typical onscreen cool kid narrative – peaking in high school, and eventually becoming an unsuccessful and immature adult. But Euphoria makes everything grittier, so the washed up path Maddy could go down feels way scarier. The second season raises the prospect of her getting forever stuck with Nate, and it draws a parallel between Maddy and Nate’s mom, Marsha, who married the wrong guy (Nate’s dad Cal) when she got unexpectedly pregnant. Like Nate and Maddy, Marsha and Cal clearly also care about appearances – they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and upstanding reputation in the town, while Cal lives a secret double life and Marsha knows about it to some degree. But the show gives us hope for Maddy not going down Marsha’s path. Season 2 introduces her elegant and wise new mentor, Samantha, who helps Maddy gain a new level of maturity and insight into her drama with Nate and Cassie. It’s symbolic that Samantha gifts her vintage dress to Maddy, as though she’s inviting Maddy to follow her life trajectory, growing from an impulsive “mess” into someone who’s happy and together. And Maddy both literally and figuratively dodges a bullet when Nate acknowledges that their relationship is now truly over. When Maddy tells Cassie that she’s now at the start of the vicious cycle, we get the sense that this Queen Bee is ready to move on to a new, hopefully healthier chapter.