A Bunch of People, From Professors to Diplo, Consider the TikTok Craze

Published April 23, 2020

Instagram is an ad. Twitter is a war zone. Do people still use Facebook? Meanwhile, TikTok has emerged as the social media phenomenon of the moment, a conversation driver that turns teens into overnight celebrities, and their parents into out-of-touch boomers. One of the most downloaded apps in existence, the Beijing-founded social network boasts around 800 million monthly users, who use it to create and share 15-second videos of everything from viral dance challenges to Dadaist comedy skits to gonzo cooking shows. But, like most things on the internet, TikTok also has a dark side. Here, we ask a bunch of people, from professors to Diplo, to talk the Tok.

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DIPLO

Musician

“TikTok is a good place to have your data hacked, do dances, and represent teen culture worldwide, and have your data hacked.””

A.G.

High school junior

“YouTube is enough. I’m not ready to go down that rabbit hole. My friend Karley is up until 3 a.m. every night looking at TikTok.”

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MILO CONROY

Curator

“The ‘For You’ page on TikTokis the best movie ever made and they make it every day. It works like the ‘Explore’ function on Instagram. If you don’t follow anyone or make an account, you’ll see only the most pre-scient videos. Trust the algorithm.”

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ALICIA NOVELLA VASQUEZ

Model and actor

“I’m an archivist rather thana user, scrolling for the weirdest, darkest holes on the app. I want the most raw content I can find. I feel like people love TikTok because it’s based on doing whatever you want. And then shit pops of. You can put glue on your foot and stick it ina bag of rice and you’re on the ‘ForYou’ page.”

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ANNA O’BRIEN

@glitterandlazers on TikTok (4.4M followers)

“Social media content up until now was aspirational, created to drive us to want to achieve the same life, look, and experience as others. With Tik-Tok, it’s transformational; it’s about taking something that already exists and reimagining it in your own unique voice.”

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MATTHEW DOYLE

Filmmaker

“TikTok makes me feel young again, and not in a good way. If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, you’ve experienced Involuntary MusicalImagery. Colloquially known as earworms,’ this term is defined as ‘a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.’ If Instagram weaponized FOMO, TikTok is like an assault rifle that shoots ear-worms directly into your brain.”

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K CAMP

Rapper (whose song “Lottery” sparked the Renegade dance phenomenon)

“I just create vibes and let the world get inspired by them. I’ve had plenty of hits before, you can check the catalog. But ‘Lottery’ was one that I didn’t expect to go up like that. Me and Reazy Renegade made the song together on a day in New York while I was on tour. We knew it was a smash, but watching it unfold on TikTok has been crazy. When the youth support a record on a platform like TikTok, it forces the rest of the industry to adapt and catch up. When the story unfolded thatJalaiah [Harmon] created the dance, my homie Pat hit me and told me that Jalaiah’s mom was a friend of his. He connected me to the Harmon family and I invited her to my studio complex in Atlanta. The rest is history.”

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MANDY HARRIS WILLIAMS

Artist and critic

“I love TikTok (my favorite account right now is @UrDoinGreat), but as we approach the election, let us consider the cultural politics. The popularity of TikTok, coupled with its predominant usages, represents a high point in the history of Black cultural distillation and pilfering. Technology makes it so that you don’t have to actually be around Black people to pick up Black culture: Many white kids would be horrified to learn a real history of Black social life in America, much less social dance; and they insist that their Black cultural vocabulary, movement, lilts, and tilts are actually ‘internet culture.’ The sharing would be no biggie if it weren’t for structural racism: The West has an unabated history of black ‘motion capture’; undervaluation of all performing arts and black people, labor, and time; exclusion in ‘fine art’ educational and exhibition spaces; and, of course, preferential treatment for whites who demonstrate their taste of the ‘other,’ or soul. TikTok tends to enable wide-spread white access to and augmentation of social capital (in the form of likes or followers) from Black culture, while minimizing the Blackcreators who deserve to be recognized and remunerated for their impact.#BrownUpYourTikTok and#BrownUpYourFeed and #PayBlack-Creators.”

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LAUREN M. JACKSON

Professor and author of White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue…and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

“Context is shorn so the content may circulate more efficiently. Race arrives without warning. Blackness is undermined for the ease of its manipulation—but then again, that’s been true for much longer than there was ever such a thing as TikTok.”

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CAMILLA DETERRE

model and interior designer

“There is this language without words on TikTok. It’s kind of like emojis come to life. I don’t engage with TikTok so much, except to re-search contemporary culture. I did post on Valentine’s Day. Everyone was posting their person. When I went to my last 24 hours on Instagram, the last video I had of Cruz [Camilla’s person] was of him eating popcorn from between my toes. I posted it on Stories and it went viral. No, wait—it got like 100,000 views, that’s not viral. It did well, though, so I posted it on TikTok, which took it down within the hour. I was looking at their guidelines and it’s very post-#MeToo post-internet activism. The language is vague, broad, and very of-the-moment. No bullying, no trigger-ing, no content depicting sexual arousal or gratification. It says no PDA, basically. No fetish, and no asses allowed.”

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AUDREY WOLLEN

Writer

“There’s going to be a whole generation of youth who don’t dance in a three-dimensional way like they’re oriented toward a screen so they never turn or move out of frame. Very noticeable at parties.”

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MATT HILVERS

artist and dancer

“From one of the first viral videos,‘The Dancing Baby’ (1996), it stands that virality has always been fundamentally rooted in dance. The sole purpose of TikTok is to produce viral content without context so that I, and my last brain cell, can watcha 30-minute compilation on You-Tube at 4 a.m. Has anyone mentioned that a clock goes tick-tock?”

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JOSHUA CITARELLA

Artist and theorist

“Since I first wrote about TikTokback in November 2018, the platform has been redesigned to attract brands and influencers while push-ing out the fledgling communities that originally made the space so fascinating. On today’s TikTok, you can scroll for hours and no find a single collaborative video; duet chains have all but disappeared. These changes do not mesh well with the emergent collectivities among the younger generation. As a result, the platform will have trouble maintaining a consistent userbase and continue to experience a high turnover rate.”

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NATHAN TRISKA

@nathantriska on TikTok(7.5M followers)

“The TikTok aesthetic is either you becoming a devoted e-boy/e-girl ora softboy/softgirl. There’s really no in-between, and I’m definitely a softboy.”

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ALICIA NOVELLA VASQUEZ

Still a model and actor

“Oh my gosh. A softboy is kind of like a sad fuckboy, a seemingly un-problematic straight guy who’s really sweet and cute, but he’s hot so he’s just breaking hearts and be-ing reckless. An e-girl is the new emo girl.”

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YUEHAO JIANG

Artist and professor

“Living in Los Angeles, I check con-tent on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, on a daily basis to make myself feel connected to what’s trendy on the Chinese internet. If we think about the content on Tik-Tok as time-based memes, com-pared to image memes, they allow people to explore the form creative-ly in many more aspects, such as background music, lip-syncing, choreography, or a camera filter. It’s addictive because there are end-less trends and subgenres to explore, and their turnaround time is very fast. Douyin has a diverse group of users, from a 10-year-old boy making funny jokes toa 70-year-old grandma doing cooking shows. And because of its e-commerce function, content is made to sell or promote products, from in-influencers making traveling hotel reviews to farmers showing fruits on their farm.”

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SCUDDER

Professor and @whistlegraph on Tik-Tok (61.7K followers)

“I’m teaching an Intro to Video class, and my students are required to have TikTok. When Instagram came out, phones weren’t that good at taking photographs, so the filters were engaging. The Instagram filter of TikTok is the soundtrack. Phone cameras can take HQ videos now but can’t produce the same production-quality sound. TikTokoutsources this lack by using audio files of songs. You feel like you’re on the level of the celebrity with the music, and that becomes the mechanism to create new celebrities. From a musical perspective, the best way to get your song listened to is to put it on TikTok. My friend boen, a music producer, has one track that’s really surging on Tik-Tok. It’s being used by niche communities and blowing up.”

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PATRICK STEADMAN

Programmer

“While American regulators are finally starting to take a hard look at TikTok, Silicon Valley doesn’t seem to be concerned with the fact that a Chinese app has been number one in the U.S. App Store, consistently, for almost two years. During this period, American software developers have been working toward gender inclusivity and other ethical considerations, while Chinese developers at companies like ByteDance (who are paid a fraction as much as developers at Facebook or Google) are simply struggling for their right to work less than ‘996’: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6days a week. If Chinese apps re-place American apps on the devices(and brain stems) of American teens, Congress won’t be able to exert pressure on Mark Zuckerberg to regulate content and advertising, and American software engineers will have to decide whether they see their Chinese colleagues as unethical competitors or potential allies in a larger fight.”