A lot of people will be scared here – a lot of people.
E-Boys, Old Town Road and Renegade, Oh My!
TikTok is everywhere. If you know the references, you hear them all over campus, in dining halls, classes, and dorm rooms. Unlike Vine, the references aren’t just quick sayings. They are snippets of songs, viral dance videos, challenges and more. So what is this app that has seeped into our lives in such a short period of time?
TikTok is now declared the “seventh most downloaded mobile app of the decade” from 2010-2019. Launched in just 2017, it reached that status within the small span of two years, despite competing with around two million apps in the market. TikTok is defined as a “video-sharing social networking service” and is owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance. Chinese censorship rules prevent TikTok from being on the market there, so the app is run through a separate server. Despite this, ByteDance launched “Douyin,” which is basically the Chinese censorship-approved equivalent. ByteDance is currently owned by creator Zhang Yiming; his startup company is now worth $75 billion in US dollars, and he is the ninth richest person in China. In 2019, ByteDance reached 1 billion users. Now knowing all this, why are people still ashamed to say they download TikTok?
A potential reason is an association many people have with TikTok and Musical.ly. Though the name officially changed in 2018, Musical.ly was of a pretty different nature. Aimed at a younger audience, the app was made for 15 second to 1 minute videos of lip-syncing songs. Popular Musical.ly users include Jacob Sartorius, Baby Ariel and Mackenzie & Maddie Ziegler from Dance Moms, all of whom are younger teenagers.
Unlike Musical.ly, one of the main types of content posted to TikTok is comedy-centered videos. Some try to compare it to that of Vine or Instagram comedy, but the creators on TikTok seem to be their own brand of funny. The platform is so open-ended, unlike the others mentioned, that the comedy videos really are of all types.
The concept of using TikTok to gain fame through the platform is becoming more and more common. For example, 17-year-old Loren Gray has 38.6 million followers on TikTok, making her the most followed person on the app. Her fame has allowed her to make appearances at Teen and People’s Choice awards, have her own Snapchat show and launch a music career.
CNN recently published an article detailing some new information about the viral “Renegade” TikTok dance. The dance, set to the song “Lottery” by K Camp, often had its fame attributed to TikTok star Charli D’Amelio. That particular dance set to the song was one that propelled the 15-year-old to fame. But now, it has been revealed that the actual creator of the dance is 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon. Though it definitely begs the question of how we can fact check something like who created a dance? Harmon did eventually get recognition. She has appeared on Ellen, performed at a NBA game and got a shoutout from Michelle Obama.
D’Amelio, on the other hand, is now a part of the “Hype House” of several TikTok famous teens who live in Los Angeles. Only four out of nineteen members actually live in the house, but many other TikTok creators drop by to make videos together in the mansion.
“E-Boys” are another phenomenon that has been popularized by TikTok. Similar to goths, the fashion trend often involves black nails, skateboarding, beanies and chain necklaces. It has become both a trend and a meme on the app and the internet. Some of the most popular creators on the app market themselves as “e-Boys,” which could definitely explain the popularity of that type of video on TikTok.
Fame from the app is not just for those who create dances or dress like e-Boys. “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X peaked at number one on Billboard for a record-breaking consecutive 19 weeks. Many attribute the explosion in popularity of the single to its TikTok famous “Yeehaw Challenge” in which the song is used as the sound. TikTok brought such fast success to Lil Nas X that radio stations had to take the audio of the song from Youtube and he was quickly signed to Columbia Records.
Relatability is also a huge theme on the app, with videos about family, school, friends, relationships and everything in between being posted every day. Not only is “relatable” a common hashtag used, but it has also inspired TikTok compilation videos on Youtube under the same theme. Ithaca College student Anna O’Neil likes making and watching TikToks, but said: “TikToks making fun of unhealthy habits like drinking, drugs, etc, are popular because they make you feel less guilty about your own habits.” Regardless of opinions on this, the relatability aspects of many of the videos are what has helped the app gain so much attention.
There are, of course, haters. People especially dislike those select few who have gained fame on TikTok or flat-out state that the content is just not funny. Others think TikTok is the best social media comedy out there, especially after the discontinuation of Vine. Just like any other media platform, content quality will always be debated.
Another issue with the app is around who should be the target audience due to the fact that the user age range is so significant. TikTok has created a restricted mode for younger users called Family Safety Mode. Techcrunch.com stated that it features “screen-time management controls, limits on direct messages and a restricted mode that limits the appearance of inappropriate content.” It is an interesting feature and definitely begs the question of how a company is supposed to approach the issue of censorship with an app that is used by such a variety of ages.
Creativity on the app, in general, is highly debated; some say the content is extremely original while others argue that a lot of the videos are just copies with the same sound. The renegade song and dance combo is a great example. Yes, making a video with the same idea is not original, but there is an audience that enjoys the act of learning and recreating it.
The success of the app is often attributed partially to the algorithm that it uses for the “For You Page” aspect. Vice did an entire article detailing how the page works and how it establishes what content each user would most enjoy. Though there are many theories, including various Reddit threads, the most common theory is that the app shows new videos in batches. After that, it determines their success rate by a ratio of “likes-to-views.” We have no way of proving what exactly the algorithm is, but has clearly been successful.
It seems that perhaps the initial resistance to the app is starting to fade as celebrities join in and companies work with it. Will Smith, Cardi B, the Jonas Brothers and Tony Hawk are just a few who have created celebrity TikTok accounts. Pop icon and “Truth Hurts” singer Lizzo is known for posting on hers, including a version of the “Renegade” TikTok. In September 2019, the NFL announced a “multi-year partnership” with the app and created an official account to bring NFL content to the platform.
It will be interesting to see how the app does in the next few months as it gets more publicity with celebrities and companies. It must be more than just a coincidence that “Old Town Road” and “Truth Hurts,” both of which became famous from TikTok, were the songs that launched their artists into fame and left them each with Grammy nominations. Despite the criticisms, it does not seem like the now staple social media entertainment app is going anywhere.
Brennan Carney is a second year Journalism major who’s she’s ready to name them. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.