TikTok has become a ‘major cultural force’

The highest form of flattery: TikTok has more active monthly users than Twitter and Snapchat.

Is TikTok reinventing creativity? On the viral app, users upload funny, weird and clever 15-second videos. Is the new format creating a new short art form, like the sonnet or the haiku?

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was just a senator from Illinois, British singer Jay Sean released a song called Ride It. The catchy tune peaked at 11 in the UK singles chart, then faded into obscurity.

That was, until DJ Regard posted his 20-second remix of Ride It on TikTok, a wildly popular micro-video sharing app. The clip went viral, TikTok users created four million videos of their own featuring the song, and DJ Regard was quickly signed by Sony Music.

He can’t believe his luck.

“Everyone can be successful on TikTok,” he says.

TikTok lets users upload and share short videos from their smartphones. The app is a smorgasbord of lip-syncs, comedy sketches, dog tricks and much, much more.

Loved by teenagers across the world, the app has been downloaded over one billion times in 150 countries. Over 66% of its members are aged below 30, but many are much younger than that.

TikTok’s boom has been called “the rise of creative social media”, but the app’s big focus is on collaboration and copying. You can “duet” with another user by replying to their video, and the app shows you viral songs and repeated jokes, inspiring its users to riff on existing content.

But can the videos be called “creative” if they are not original? Or is TikTok reinventing creativity?

Innovate, imitate

Don’t be ridiculous, say some. These videos are empty, mind-numbing, quick-fire entertainment. It is not creative: it is the troubling end-point of growing up with a smartphone in your hand.

But invention isn’t just about being original. It’s about taking what has been done before and building something surprising from it. The most successful TikToks include unusual video effects and great comic timing. We should celebrate that so many young people are creating something, whatever it is.

You Decide

  1. Why is TikTok so popular?

Activities

  1. Define “creativity”. Compare you definition with your friends’.

Some People Say...

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish artist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
TikTok uses artificial intelligence to predict what videos a user will enjoy, based on what they have watched previously. The app is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance.
What do we not know?
If TikTok is here to stay. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg clearly sees it as a serious competitor to his social network.

Word Watch

Obscurity
When something is unknown or unimportant.
Micro-video
TikTok videos can only be up to 15 seconds long, although creators can mash together clips from different footage.
Smorgasbord
A buffet-style meal with lots of different types of food. Used metaphorically here.
Lip-syncs
When someone mimes the words of a song without singing. The term was popularised by RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Collaboration
Working together.

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