Ladies and Gentlemen, we are back once again with another installment of “Everybody’s a Creator.” This week we are tackling an up and coming group of influencers, that some are arguing are the next powerhouse social media celebrities. This group is interesting because as much as I hope to educate you in this blog, I had to first educate myself. Even as a self-declared social media qween, I am too old to be fully versed in the world of TikTok. And trust me when I say this isn’t your Ke$ha’s Tik Tok (literally every article made this joke, I apologize for the lack of originality).
Let’s start with what is TikTok, and back track from there. TikTok is defined as “a media app for creating and sharing short videos.” However, the TikTok we have today is actually a combination of two nearly identical apps. Muscial.ly, the predecessor, was originally launched in 2014 by Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang, two Chinese entrepreneurs. In late 2017 the company was acquired for a measly $1 billion. The purchaser was a company called ByteDance, ByteDance is a Beijing-based tech company, who owned the original TikTok. In August of last year, TikTok officially absorbed Musical.ly, and all the accounts and videos were automatically moved to the TikTok platform. Why combine the two? Well other than the fact that they are nearly carbon copies of each other, the apps served different demographic communities. Musical.ly had a monthly following of 100 million active users, primarily based in the Americas and Europe. While pre-Musical.ly TikTok had 500 million monthly active users in Asia. An interesting detail, worth noting is that a standalone version of TikTok still exists in China, with 300 million users. It is called Douyin and this is due to the country’s restrictive internet rules.
But this still begs the question what is TikTok, who uses it, and what do they use it for? TikTok has a wide range of content. But the most popular style of content is lip-synching. The videos are a maximum of 15 seconds. There are various futures and edits that can be done to the videos. There is a massive database of songs, effects, and sound bites. There are Snapchat-esque filters. Users can also upload their own songs, which then are available to other users to take and lip-sync. This collaborative nature, and the playing off of one users to another, is at the heart of the app. Due to this it was natural to add a “duet” feature. This makes it so you can reply to someone’s video, and then it will create a “split-screen diptych,” and the videos play together to create the final product. This allows for an infinite string of reactions, which honestly is kind of the point of the app.
Now I want to get into a little bit more of the generally weird culture of TikTok, but first you need to understand the magnitude of this strange video app. The most up to date statistics are from 2018. The app has over 500 million global monthly active users, with 6 million US downloads in the month of November alone. For comparison, Facebook has 2.27 billion monthly active users and Instagram has 1 billion; however, Twitter and Snapchat have only 336 and 186 million respectively. In September, it “surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat in monthly installs in the App Store.” This led to ByteDance, passing Uber as the world’s most valuable startup. It is currently valued at more than $75 billion.
With its user base in perspective, lets talk about how this app is being used. As I mentioned above, the bread and butter of this app is lip-synching. Let’s digest that for a second. Half a billion people are downloading, and using, an app to make 15 second videos of them singing along to a song. The weirder part, they are watching other people do it. The weirdest part, some people are better than others, and are finding fame off of this app. But, I am getting a head of myself. Though it no longer exists, we can’t forget about Vine, and it did not die from lack of fans. Those videos were only 6 seconds. So TikTok is offering more than double the content. But why do I want to watch someone lip-synch? I guess I should be fair and explain that it is not all lip-synching. There’s also sketch comedy. However, as we learned from Vine and Instagram, not everyone is funny, and skit comedy is hard. So to avoid actual effort, TikTokers lip-synch scenes from movies, TV, and other people’s standup (including other TikTokers). And yes this is as weird as it sounds. There are also dancing videos and magic tricks. Honestly picture Vines, but with much less originality and heavy editing. Editing. It’s all about the editing. I’m not sure why, but most of the videos have a lot of effects, from speeding things up and slowing them down, to auto-tuning and sound editing. I guess this is where some originality comes into play. Additionally, a lot of the videos are based on “challenges.” Think “In My Feelings” challenge, based on the Drake song. Basically, some how a certain song, activity, or style of video becomes popularized, and everyone on the channel tries to recreate it.
However, many people commend the app for how different it feels from other social medias platforms. In the age of perfectly edited Instagram photos, the genuine and silly nature of TikTok can feel refreshing. It’s just regular people posting lip-synching videos. Of course this in practice can be very “cringy,” and has led to whole categories of “cringewothy” content. This has become a goldmine for YouTube commentators, who make entire videos making fun of these awkward to watch TikTok videos.
The best part is that TikTok has its own “ecosystem” of stars. These individuals are supposedly better at making lip-synching videos and have amassed millions of fans. Some major names to know include:
- 16-year-old German twins Lisa and Lena (32 million fans)
- 18-year-old Baby Ariel (29 million fans)
- 16-year-old Loren Gray (29 million fans)
- 16-year-old Jacob Sartorius (19 million fans)
All of these creators have released their own (non-lip-synced) singles since finding fame and a following on TikTok’s predecessor, Musical.ly. Prior to releasing music, TikToker stars are able to make money through brand sponsorship, as well as, in-app gifts. Fans are able to give gifts, worth real money, of anywhere from 5 cents to $50 to their favorite creators through the app.
However, the app is not without issues. With a user base that is incredibly young, anywhere from 13-24, and then antidotal reports of children even younger than 13 (which is against the rules) accessing the the app, there are many incidents of the platform being used for creepy and pedophilic purposes. There are hundreds of cases involving children as young as 9-year-old unintentionally exposing “their full names, phone numbers, and schools by including the information in public videos.” Additionally, “many of these accounts received creepy messages from adults asking young girls to ‘be their girlfriend’ or requesting their cellphone numbers.”
TikTok is a weird phenomenon in my eyes, but the new generation loves it, and when it comes to the future of tech that means a lot. Will we one day see TikTok surpass Facebook and Instagram?