9 Memes That'll Help You Understand TikTok
For most adults over 25, TikTok seems a scary, inscrutable place for teens and, therefore, it is best to be avoided. You aren't necessarily wrong! TikTok is full of agents of chaos (staring directly at @moneysigneric) and 16 year olds, yes, and there are plenty of lipsyncing holdovers from the days whence it was still Musical.ly. But it's also an app full of some of the funniest and most clever memes since we lost Vine, made by and featuring people of all ages, from babies to the elderly. Best of all, you don't really have to curate a feed -- TikTok mostly works algorithmically to hand you the videos it thinks you want to watch.
By now, TikTok is undeniably a modern cultural hub and arguably the biggest artiber of good memes and breaking new talent of the moment. Many of the biggest influencers are signing with Hollywood agents or independently amassing engaged followings that most publishers would kill for, as they upload videos edited within TikTok (or mobile iMovie), using its surprisingly robust video and audio effects palette, about trending recipes (dalgona coffee? TikTok), torturing Animal Crossing islanders, mainstreaming e-boys and e-girls (Milly Shapiro, what happened??), sowing chaos in this new virtual learning environment, and so much more within subculture communities (wildlife, anime, painting -- you name it). What we're saying is that TikTok is no longer a place to be ignored. Follow us into the shallows of recent memes you should know about to fully grasp the vibe that is TikTok.
If there's any one thing someone could say TikTok is "for," it's the art of the viral dance, which takes the tried-and-true meme format -- do something and then make everyone else start doing it -- and marries it with a concept simple enough for everyone to try out but complex enough to keep your friends impressed. From the "Renegade" to Kesha's "Cannibal" to "Supalonely," dance trends have swept through the app pretty much since the day it went live, and at only a few seconds long each, they're easy enough to learn. The dances have also been instrumental for more than a few artists to get their work out there -- in tribute to the teen who created the "Say So" dance, Doja Cat did a few of the steps in her music video.
"Put a finger down"
We all know the basic mechanics of the "Never Have I Ever" game: You start with 10 fingers up, and you put one down each time a player says something that you have indeed done. The "put a finger down" trend started off in a similar way, with TikTok users creating audios that other users could use in their videos focusing on certain topics or interpersonal relationships -- "sibling edition," "best friend edition," "hoe edition," etc. Then, what started to happen was users began starting off videos with the phrase "put a finger down," but continuing with a very personal, bizarre, or hilarious story that clearly only happened to them. Oversharing is the essence of TikTok.
When you have a lot of something, you're the CEO of that thing. You're the world's expert. Those are the rules, on TikTok, at least. A lot of frogs? You're the CEO of frogs. Good at editing your videos? CEO of edits. Does your house have a lot of windows? You're the CEO of windows. There's also a popular audio you're bound to hear if you scroll through TikTok even for 15 minutes, called "CEO of speaking french," of a person attempting to imitate the French song "Le Festin," sung by Camille for the movie Ratatouille, that's basically gibberish, which usually pops up when someone's about to film an unsuccessful cooking attempt.
If you're not a member of Gen Z, or a youngish millennial, you might not be overly familiar with The Fairly OddParents, a show on Cartoon Network that aired from 2001 to 2017 (It ran for 10 seasons????? What?????) about a young boy named Timmy Turner who has two fairy godparents that grant him all of his strange wishes. What you need to know is that, occasionally, a character named Doug Dimmadome would appear, wearing a fancy white outfit and a cowboy hat, and it became an in-joke for the animators to make his hat look taller every time you saw him. A remix of the character, who was voiced by veteran voice actor Jim Ward, saying his name set to the song "Casin'" by glue70 made its way onto the Internet, and then made its way onto TikTok, where users would upload videos set to the song of themselves making art projects featuring Dimmadome's endless hat. Most delightful were the videos made by a group of boys who fashioned themselves a Doug Dimmadome costume, with a posterboard hat that grew by a few feet in every video.
"It's corona time"
TikTok is a strange, irreverent place, so it makes all the sense in the known universe that its creators would find a way to turn a worldwide pandemic into a meme. The result is someone saying "it's corona time… hey, it's corona time right now" over and over again over the intro of club track "Don't Stop the Rock" by Freestyle from 1985. According to the Los Angeles Times, user @playboierik21 made the original sound that's blown up to remind the world to wash your hands and wear a mask outside and for less sincere, more deranged content about opening doors with your mouth (see: above).
"Ayo something traumatic happened that changed my life check"
Every social media platform has the ability to do a "storytime" feature, and whenever you hear this particular audio, of a girl saying "something traumatic happened that changed my life cheeeck," you know the video you're watching is probably going to get pretty dark. Users use text on screen to tell stories about the wild, crazy, and sad events in their lifetimes, set to very serious music. But not even sincere memes are safe from becoming jokes, and now the "storytime" function of this audio has given way to videos that start the same way, but instead of a story, the subject of the video -- usually a pet or a small child -- gets bonked on the head by a Snapchat facial distortion filter. It's funny, trust us.
Audio of the crying girl
Small tragedies and doing things you'd rather not do finally has a (short) backing track: this immediately identifiable, if you've seen enough videos utilizing it, audio clip of a girl crying. Though it's tricky to pin down exactly where the sound came from, it seems like user @wweagleweagle is the original source, uploading "Трагедия" (which translates to "tragedy" from Russian) over a clip of her lying in between rows of harvested root vegetables. It's come in handy for everything from doing your math homework (see: above, one of the first viral instances of the crying girl audio) to the painful act of voting for Joe Biden.
But I'm shy
Thank TikTok (and Twitter) for people pointing their index fingers at each other and turning their knees and feet inward (and the doe-eyed pleading face emoji) to indicate that they are shy. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, jump-starting in early February 2020, when more and more people uploaded videos of themselves doing a thing (ie. skateboarding, picking lemons, working out, etc.) "but I'm shy," typically set to a spritely ocarina-based cover of the Kokiri Forest theme by @daviderikramos from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time N64 game. It's stupid and addicting, and once you know it, it's hard to not to find excuses to work shy guy gestures into everyday life.
"This message is for Rachel"
This is TikTok's bedroom intruder. What originated as a viral video, posted to Twitter in 2018, of a woman, Jasmine Collins, flaming her "big fat white nasty smellin' fat bitch" manager Rachel over a voicemail left at the wrong number blew up as a full-blown phenomenon on TikTok when the audio was set to the audio of "Act Up" by City Girls, a full two years later in February 2020. People memorized the voicemail as if it were a dramatic monologue -- frankly, I don't reject that idea one bit. "This message is for Rachel" is High Art.
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