We all need a little tough love sometimes. The same way we lean on the friends who tell us like it is, clock us for our worst habits and impulses, and thoroughly (but lovingly) roast us for our faults, astrology apps like Co–Star (launched in late 2017), The Pattern (launched in May 2017), and Vice’s Astro Guide (launched in May 2019), are predicated on our not-so-secret love for being dragged by our cosmic fate. Screenshots of the push notifications users receive from these apps heavily circulate on social media—becoming memes in their own right—with Instagram users, specifically, making a point to share the daily shots that their go-to apps take at them.
The apps themselves are brilliant in their simplicity, though each works a little differently: Co–Star uses a combination of NASA data, your astrology chart, and their own secret tech to generate horoscopes that sort different areas of your life into three categories: “power,” “pressure” and “trouble.” Co-Star uses a mix of writers, astrologers, and artificial intelligence to create horoscopes with unique (and sometimes extremely real) messages about what the stars have in store and how we can best react to the curveballs coming our way. Similarly, Astro Guide utilizes birth data (date, location, and time of birth) to curate horoscopes written by a number of professional astrologers that offer and give easily understandable overview of cosmic events.
These apps allow us to track different parts of our charts—and check in on what’s happening in the charts of our friends, lovers, crushes, and nemeses. If you’re interested in checking your daily horoscope—or want some personalized counseling from the stars—astrology apps are the next best thing to making an appointment with a professional astrologer. I was skeptical about these apps at first; they seemed like another way for tech brands to capitalize on the momentum of viral astrology meme accounts that accrue impressions and followers while also mimicking those gimmick restaurants where the waiters are purposely mean to you. But I eventually caved, downloaded these apps and became attached to them— especially when they seemed to zero in on a weak spot.
“It’s not enough to simply analyze someone’s natal chart and give them boring, dry information about it,” says Banu Guler, CEO of Co-Star. “Your friend wouldn’t talk about astrology like that with you. Your friend wouldn’t talk about your love life, or work problems or your apartment hunt like that either. We believe Co-Star’s voice resonates because it’s straightforward, deep and oftentimes funny.” In the last few days alone, my apps have told me that “reading your rising sign horoscope won’t make you less of a jerk, but it may help you understand why you’re being a jerk” (okay, fair); another advised, “it’s time to grow past your fundamental injuries from when your primary caregivers failed to understand you” at 11:50 a.m. (I note this because my pronounced daddy issues should not he mentioned before noon). A few months ago, one asked, “When was the last time you felt proud of yourself?” Astrology apps can come across with the love of a friend, and yet, we love them so much more when they’re mean to us. It just feels more real.
Though astrology is an ancient practice, it has more recently been used as a more mainstream way to use the stars and planets to look a bit closer at ourselves and the ways we move through the world. And, not unlike other internet artifacts and subcultures, a cultural fixation on astrology wrecking us says a great deal about what we think about ourselves. “I feel like we all secretly want someone to tell us what to do,” says Sierra F., a social-media manager based in New York. “The push notification is private and not intrusive—I asked for its advice when I enabled it. I can choose how much of the advice to apply. But when it’s mean, it’s like a little pep talk or life coach.”
A fellow Libran friend and I love to share memes that go for the jugular: We tag each other in posts that acknowledge our near-pathological need to avoid social discomfort, to compliment and charm people (even if we hate them), and to adjust parts of our personalities in different settings to make things run smoother. These are elements—or shortcomings—of our shared sign that we identify with and have analyzed over wine nights and long phone calls without any mention of the stars. The less-than-gentle ribbing from meme-y astrology content offers up another way to normalize our faults and subtly talk about these parts of ourselves.
“People have been primarily engaging with each other through platforms that offer little to nothing in the way of helpful tools or insight. Once people began interacting with Co-Star, they not only appreciated how astrology can be social and useful but also how it can be honest, brutal and often funny,” Guler says. “The memeification of the push notifications was a surprise to us because the voice reflects how we talk to each other in the office and with our friends. So when it took off the way it did, we thought, maybe we’re assholes! But the beauty in it was we saw how our approach resonated and got people engaging with astrology in a new way.”
After all, in a world where we’re regularly expected to adopt a relentless, saccharine and often self-help-y positivity, it’s nice to find spaces where we’re allowed to acknowledge (and maybe make peace with) what we lowkey hate about ourselves, the ugly/less functional parts that we kinda still love, and all the things in-between. It can be a relief to see that—via the stars or an app or a super accurate meme—we might be known better by ourselves, and by others, warts and all. “Somehow the Instagram astrology memes always know what I’m judging myself for at the time, and come for my neck at the time I’m least ready and most deserving of their brutality,” Rebecca T., a grad student in Syracuse, New York, says. “It’s tough love that we may not always be prepared for and won’t let ourselves admit, but astrology makes people feel more free to look at their thoughts or their behavior with a critical eye. If it comes from the stars, [then] it’s not a value judgment on who you are as a person. It’s a more objective way to examine your personality traits and the way you approach your relationships.”
While astrology apps can help foster a critical sense of self-awareness, it also has to come from an informed perspective that knows how to read a natal chart. That’s one of the reasons Annabel Gat, Astro Guide’s senior astrologer, says that we should be very mindful about where we’re getting our astrology content from. It isn’t wise to pummel yourself with reductive, base-level memes that overlook the nuance of your natal chart. “Good horoscopes don’t just string together a pre-populated calculation of the aspects, or geometry, between the planets during their transits,” says Gat. “Astro Guide uses professional astrologers because so much of astrology is context, nuance, inclusion, and empathy—we bring a human understanding of the world, which is more meaningful and useful.”
Just like when you sit around with your friends and vent or wallow in a bit of self-loathing, there comes a time when you need to engage with the critique and figure out how to better yourself. “Self-awareness can be powerful, but it’s only productive–and good for your cosmic wellness, as we say at Astro Guide—if you can do something constructive with it,” Gat says. Getting dragged might not always feel good, and you may have seen a few friends announce that they’re muting their app notifications or removing the apps entirely. But despite the surprising pain that can come from a harsh notification first thing in the morning, there’s something about getting your daily dose of tough love that helps us feel more seen—and if that means we’re able to better be aware of ourselves, our needs, and our potentially regrettable decisions, then the daily dragging is well worth it.