Illustration by Eleanor Dalton
Since being released, TikTok has become a worldwide phenomenon, branching far beyond western culture. But this isn’t the first time a social media app has blown up; in 2013, the release of Vine, owned by Twitter, brought an entirely new subgenre of internet culture into light. For three years, the viral six-second videos grew in popularity, while some companies even capitalized on its popularity selling Vine quote merchandise.
On October 27th, 2016, Vine announced uploads would be disabled, and by January of 2017, all previously uploaded videos were archived to be viewed by users. The “Death of Vine”, as it was dubbed by many internet users, is said to have a few causes; first, with Twitter as its parent company, Vine lacked massive profit margins. With its limited ad space and minimal branding and merchandise, the app on its own wasn’t profitable enough to give Twitter reason to keep it running.
With the fall of Vine came the rise of Musical.ly, where “Musers” would be able to lip sync and dance to popular music. Yet its success was short lived; despite being released in 2014 (while Vine was still allowing updates and posts), its success only came after Vine’s fall.
In September of 2016, Musical.ly’s parent company, ByteDance, released a second app, Douyin. Because of instant success in China, the app was soon launched internationally within the year rebranded as TikTok. It goes without saying that TikTok was equally successful, especially compared to ByteDance’s previous attempts. With a plethora of new features, the app allowed users to not only lipsync as they did with Musical.ly, but also release their own fifteen second videos, like with Vine.
As of May 2019, TikTok has topped the iOS charts for the fifth consecutive quarter, now reaching over one billion downloads, despite the app being restricted to those thirteen and older, and receiving a $5.7 million Federal Trade Commission fine for collecting data on minors.
Looking at TikTok’s audience, this success doesn’t come as a surprise; the app itself provides its users a platform to communicate with others their age, since over 40% of users are aged 16 to 24 years old.
We expect nothing less, of course; 45% of the global population uses at least some form of social media, and 41% of social media users are younger than 25. So it’s natural that TikTok would receive at least minimal success.
But the reach of ByteDance’s most recent release was unexpected. Virtually every label present in millennials and Generation Z can be applied to at least a few TikTok users. From eboys to soft bois, VSCO girls to athletes, band kids to choir kids, it seems everyone has a place on TikTok, no matter your social status.
The LGBTQ+ community has embraced TikTok as a platform for interacting with others in the community, dubbing themselves “TikTok wlw/mlm” (Women Loving Women/Men Loving Men”). Others use TikTok as a sort of dating app, popular audios including “That’s My Type” created by Saweetie allowing users list the traits they look for in a partner to the tune of the song. Another dating app type TikTok audio is “Indigo” by 88rising & NIKI, where users list their own traits, the audio cutting off after the line “You know I’m your type, right?”. For both types of videos, popular comments would have flirty or suggestive tones, leading to an increase in online relationships, especially for minors who can’t use applications initially intended for dating (Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, etc.)
Other than a dating app, many songs have become popular because of the TikTok’s success, such as “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, which topped the charts for multiple consecutive weeks, even earning a collaboration with Billy Ray Cyrus. Some TikTok users post their original content searching or ‘clout’, essentially meaning recognition or influence in political or social circumstances.
But not all TikTok users are searching for internet fame or social interaction; Major League Baseball’s account posts edits and posts the best plays from the previous night’s game. From a non-entertainment standpoint, many TikTok users spread the word on how Hurricane Dorian affected their area and how they stayed safe, providing life-saving information to other users. It’s clear the audience has branched beyond the original demographic, from teenagers and young adults to anyone even remotely interested in social media.
While its introduction was sudden, TikTok was popular nonetheless, and has now created an entirely new branch of internet culture, filling the hole left by the fall of Vine with a new perspective. Overall, TikTok has brought a multifaceted platform to social media users, appealing to virtually every niche audience, with a variety of content no matter what hashtag you search with.