Internet Cultured: TikTok’s sudden fame will not wear off anytime soon

Last fall, I wrote one of my first columns about Vine, the iconic six-second looping video app that was laid to rest in 2017. At the time, Vine’s now-historic videos were still widely circulating on Twitter, where they were almost memorialized for their impact on modern-day internet culture. From how users employ sound effects, punch lines and fast-paced editing, the app was foundational in shaping a new wave of how content was produced, and many of its former creators have since gone on to establish wide-reaching YouTube fame (David Dobrik, Cody Ko, Dolan Twins, and more.). 

Clearly, Vine was such an ingrained staple of the digital sphere that absolutely nothing could dethrone it, right?

Well, it’s amazing what can change in two years’ time. What were once-laughed at Vine references have now started to feel like dated jokes, all thanks to the rise of a little app called TikTok. (OK, not so little anymore).

TikTok’s explosion crept up on me with almost no warning. Earlier this year, though a few of my peers in Reach, a social media club on campus, hopped on the app’s hype early, I still was hesitant to buy into it. While my friends climbed the ladder of TikTok success, I still refused to download it and create an account because I felt it was another fleeting trend that would die down soon enough and wasn’t worth my time. Then came the summer, when, upon some giving in and independent exploration, I one day fell deep into the rabbit hole of the app’s “For You” page. After hours and hours of scrolling, I unashamedly will say I’ve been hooked ever since.

Still, I often have to remind myself of the platform’s legitimacy because, truth be told, there’s a slight generational gap between my age group and that of the predominant TikTok user. The app is swarmed with everything Gen-Z and, though I identify within that group, I do acknowledge that I’m on the older end of them.

After inundating myself with TikTok culture for a couple months, my time at VidCon (as I wrote about in my most recent column) erased any remaining doubts I had about its significance in the online world. In the past, VidCon has been thought of as a celebration of creators and fans mainly in the YouTube space, but from the moment I stepped into the Anaheim Convention Center, it was clear TikTok was taking the week by storm. In almost every direction I looked, there were groups of kids filming every viral TikTok trend imaginable, so it’s no surprise the TikTok party was one of the biggest and most out of control events of the week (I missed out, unfortunately).

But, if you are like I was and are still questioning whether TikTok is worth paying attention to, maybe the app’s more than 1.2 billion global downloads will be a convincing enough statistic (not to mention that it’s surpassed the popularity of YouTube, too).

How did the app get so popular seemingly out of nowhere? Well, it turns out its growth is not as out of the blue as it appears. The app is a product of the major Chinese internet company ByteDance, who acquired the app (oh yes, you remember the one) in 2017 for $1 billion. The two were originally kept as separate platforms before was merged into TikTok in August 2018, bringing over all of its creators and fans, too. What was once the joke of the internet, much like Vine, has quickly become its new darling, as many already-popular creators on other platforms (again, David Dobrik) have also jumped on the app to expand their reach.

Of course, I can’t end an analysis of TikTok without bringing up how it has birthed so many of today’s internet subcultures like e-boys and VSCO girls (who, truthfully are just 2019’s MagCon boys and Tumblr girls). Oh yes, don’t even get me started on how journalism internet culture has also capitalized on TikTok — looking at you, Washington Post.

Though Vine has by no means been completely thrown off its high horse, slowly but surely the Vine references have gotten replaced by TikTok ones and tweet threads of Vines have turned into TikTok ones. Vine will forever hold a special place in our hearts but, for now, TikTok is the future of internet culture that we must face. So, to my fellow older Gen-Z peers who still say, “I don’t get TikTok,” it’s time to start scrolling.

Rowan Born is a junior majoring in journalism and law, history and culture. She is also the social media director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Internet Cultured,” runs every other Monday.