When senior Kai’Enna Tucker saw a video on the popular app TikTok about herself, everything felt unreal—crazy almost—as a fan of hers took a small gesture from her as a life-changing moment.
“This guy was following me for a while,” Kai’Enna said, “and I followed him back. He made a video about it, like freaking out. It kind of freaked me out. I was like, ‘Oh, I have a fan.'”
TikTok, an app that was once called Musical.ly, allows for people such as Kai’Enna to become creators, also known as TikTokers, posting video content for others to view. These videos range from dancing trends such as to the song Obsessed by Mariah Carey, stories from the creators themselves, and comedic comparisons and jokes.
With this open space of creativity, TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity amongst teenagers, allowing for certain creators to become famous. No matter who you are, anyone has the opportunity to put themselves out there and collect a mass of people who want to see more, much like the structure of apps such as Instagram and Youtube where fame can come rapidly and randomly.
This fame comes from the followers, people who just scroll through the app, and Kai’Enna has 29,800. 29,800 people subscribed to her content, following her personality, watching her—all creating an unfathomable idea for an everyday teenager. Yet having been on the app for almost two years, right before the switch to the name TikTok from Musical.ly, she has amassed this large following that still leaves her unnerved by the idea.
“It’s really weird when you think about it,” Kai’Enna said. “I don’t see myself as famous or anything, but then the other people are like, ‘Holy crap, you’re famous.’ But when that video came out, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, people actually like me. This is weird.’”
The idea of people following her for what she does may still feel strange, but it’s the core basis of TikTok: following, viewing, and enjoying short clips of varying interests. For Kai’Enna, these fan experiences helped her realize that the people who follow her are real, and they enjoy what she does.
Junior Daci Funaro also shares this sentiment of how unreal it feels to have followers of any amount. Since Daci started creating videos in early August of this year, she’s been steadily gaining followers and currently has over 7,000.
“For me, 6,000 is still a lot of people,” said Daci, who had only 6,000 followers at the time of the interview. “It’s kind of really impressive of myself because I don’t know why people find me entertaining. It’s something that I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ I cry every time I hit like a thousand-mile mark. It’s like I have to power to be able to create stuff [on TikTok] to make other people feel some type of way when viewing TikToks. It’s just kind of incredible.”
Creators such as Daci and Kai’Enna can be normal, everyday teenagers using TikTok as a way to entertain themselves who suddenly find themselves collecting a community of fans. While some celebrities are on the app, kids and high schoolers are the majority users. For Daci and many others, she never imagined herself where she’s currently at.
“Really, [creating TikToks] started off as a joke,” Daci said. “But then it turned into something where I got a lot of positive feedback. I’ve been gaining 1,000 to 2,000 [followers] a week, which may not be blowing up, but I’m creating content for people who somewhat find whatever I do entertaining. It’s just kind of fun.”
This shy “kind of fun” has helped the app and the TikTokers themselves have a place in today’s world. For Daci, it was just a way to be funny—while concurrently chasing after her crush on the app—and enjoy herself.
The humor crafted from this “just for fun” attitude has given TikTok a mammoth amount of users. As an app that is continuously growing in use and popularity with teenagers, it had over 500 million monthly users in February of 2019. One of the users and a devoted Danny Devito fan junior Paityn Reens finds that the unexplainable humor in the app is key.
“[TikTok]’s really funny,” Paityn said. “It’s the funny content [that’s popular]. The dancing or the being cute or whatever that some people try to do—[TikTok] is just the funny content that makes it big.”
Catering to users such as Paityn, TikTok’s main feature is the For You page. Implying exactly what the name means, an algorithm based on what has been liked and watched by the user shows similar content and jokes to them. This feature is much like explore pages on other apps; everything is based on the user and is liked and enjoyed.
Through showing this similar content and showing similar creators, communities of shared interests have been established. For users, as Paityn attests, there’s a difference between creating content and viewing it, but there’s something for everyone.
“Everybody posts a lot,” Paityn said. “I don’t really create a lot of stuff, so I don’t really know what that community is like, but I enjoy watching people’s creative content. Honestly, I just kind of like it when it’s barely legible humor. You can’t tell that it’s supposed to be funny; I don’t know how to explain it.”
Even for unique senses of humor like Paityn’s, there’s content and a place for it, welcoming everyone and anyone to use, love, and find a community on the app. This minuscule, simple aspect of connecting interests has evolved into the most idiosyncratic aspect of TikTok for users and TikTokers alike.
“The thing that makes TikTok unique is in the hands of the users themselves because everyone’s different,” Daci said. “It’s all curated based on [the] For You page. [There’s] not just one specific, designated niche that anyone can fit into, which makes it unique because everyone is able to find what they love. There are cosplayers, there are the actual comedians, there are the lip syncers, there are the dancers—the list goes on and on and on, and there’s really no way that you can just put it in a box and, you know, slap a label on it.”
Through the content, people, and communities, bonds are built. For Paityn, Daci, and Kai’Enna, these communities have equated to making friends and finding people who bring a sense of similarity to the table. And for creators in these communities, they share a similar sense of not taking it too seriously.
As Kai’Enna said, creators know that the app can be perceived as ‘cringey’—a word for embarrassing, but she views it as “what makes [them] closer.” Producing these videos, funny or serious, helps each creator connect with each other but also with themselves; every post is putting themselves out there, and for Kai’enna, that has changed her mindset.
“When I first started posting videos, it took me a while to finally press post,” Kai’Enna said. “It got me really nervous, but now I’m just kind of like, ‘Whatever.’ I’ll just post whatever I feel like.”
This infectious attitude of the freedom that comes with the app has taken on many different forms. From confidence to quotes, Paityn has noticed that TikTok has become a version of the beloved, and dearly missed, app called Vine.
“I think [TikTok]’s going to be kind of like Vine,” Paityn said. “There are some things, like the way I act, [that] I’ve picked up from it, and people don’t realize [the influence].”
And while the possibility of someone not understanding these new-age quotes and jokes from the app may be awkward for Paityn in moments, it proves the power of an app in this generation.
Becoming one of the biggest entertainment apps that’s all based on the users—a majority of them being teenagers—has set TikTok apart and encouraged its exponential growth. This app has morphed into one big inside joke for everyone that’s on it with fame and influence. Its usage is spreading to FHC, and Daci is right there for it.
“If you don’t have TikTok, what are you doing?” Daci said. “The inside jokes and whatever that goes on with the trends and whatnot, that’s—in a way—[meant] for its users specifically. People outside of [the app] hear about it, too, from other platforms such as Instagram. It is kind of connected in a way and really influences all of us.”