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The Rise of TikTok

Last February, TikTok user Montero Hill, whose alias was Lil Nas X, uploaded a song entitled, “Old Town Road” to the popular app. It started out as a meme that went so viral that record labels took notice. Eventually, country music legend, Billy Ray Cyrus, found his way on to a remix of the song. “Old Town Road,” then became the longest-running number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and held steady for 19 weeks, dethroning Mariah Carey, before Billie Eilish dethroned him. It went on to be remixed several times with features by BTS, Young Thug, and Mason Ramsey.

Initially, Lil Nas X had been promoting his song on several social media channels with minimal success, but the song’s catchy beat and the hook caught on with TikTok’s community under the hashtags, #cowboygang, and #yeeyeejuice. TikTok’s culture is designed for its users to help each other get popular quickly, so success on the app isn’t unusual or as hard to come by as on other social media networks. Ava Max, Supa Dupa Humble, and The BoyBoy West Coast are among other artists who have seen a meteoric rise to stardom by utilizing the app’s quirky conventions.

“I found out about [Doja Cat] through TikTok,” Drea Okeke, another immensely popular TikTok user, also known as Drea Knowsbest tells Teen Vogue about the “Moo (B*tch I’m a Cow)” singer whose song went viral from TikTok users’ covers. “When there’s a trend or challenge, people are doing the same thing to the song so when you hear that song you know it’s from TikTok, and you want to go listen to [full] the song. Saweetie ‘My Type’ is a huge track right now [on TikTok]. People are making videos about their type. A lot of rappers are blowing up [on TikTok] and people love it! A lot of female rappers too. If people aren’t getting brand deals, they’re getting song partnership deals.”

Drea, who has amassed 3.2 million followers since TikTok’s re-launch last summer, frequently uploads comedic videos and works with multiple brands like Chipotle, Peace Tea, McDonald’s, and more. The Los Angeles-resident credits her success to being authentic but also collaborating with various users around the world.

“It’s a global app so you can actually see the analytics and you can see where people are seeing your videos from,” she says. “It’s so much cooler than other apps [and] it helps out with Gen Z as they’re growing up. [They’re] not going to be so closed-minded.”

TikTok was previously Musical.ly, where people would upload lip-synch videos. In 2018, a Chinese tech company, ByteDance, acquired Musical.ly and merged it with its own lip-synching app, known as Douyin. The result was TikTok, which debuted last August. By September 2018, it had surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat in monthly installs, with more than one billion downloads.

TikTok staff, and its users, 60 percent of whom are 16-24 (in the US), describe it as a collaborative space where it’s easier to go viral than other social platforms. TikTok’s appeal is the endless display of 15-second videos featuring campy special effects, dancing reaction videos, and trending hashtags like #ThatsMyType, #HeyGirl, #EGirls, and #EBoys that are reflective of various subcultures represented on the app — no matter how random — including what Drea describes as a “weird obsession with Peppa Pig.”

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