TikTok 7.12.2019





REBECCA JENNINGS (The Goods reporter): Okay. So the best kind of TikTok is when you like, you see a kid doing a stupid challenge and then you see their parents’ reactions. So this guy is like has like a Kraft Single. And then... right... now….


REBECCA: He throws the Kraft Single like the glass sliding door

SEAN: <Laughs>

REBECCA: And you just pan to the dad who's like...

<CLIP> DAD: Why would you do that?!

REBECCA: It's just a beautiful piece of cinema.


REBECCA: One of my favorites is this is growling dog and it's growling at the exact same time as you hear this cover of an Ed Sheeran song like one of those really cutesy wedding songs.


REBECCA: And the cover’s like, “Take me into your fucking arms.”

SEAN: <Laughs>

REBECCA: And the dog's mouth is moving at the same time. And it looks like the dog is lip syncing.

<SONG> ED SHEERAN COVER: Take me into your fucking arms….

SEAN: <laughs>


REBECCA: Another one of my favorite TikToks is this girl who's just like in her bedroom and she's just like...

<CLIP> GIRL: Ummm, so I think I broke my glasses...

REBECCA: And then her cat bites her at the exact moment.

<CLIP> GIRL: Ow! Coffee just bit the hell out of me! What the fuck! My life is falling apart!

REBECCA: “Ahhh my life is falling apart!” 

<CLIP> GIRL: My life is falling apart!

REBECCA: And she just zooms in right at the perfect moment.

SEAN: <Laughs>

REBECCA: Again, a genius. These children are geniuses. <Laughs>


(Talking over theme)

SEAN RAMESWARAM (host): The dog barks the profane version of the lyrics in sync with music.

REBECCA: Yeah <laughs>

SEAN: Almost perfectly basically

REBECCA: Yeah <laughs>


SEAN: Rebecca Jennings, you cover the Internet and its culture for The Goods. Is that why you are like a rare adult person who actually spends time on TikTok?

REBECCA: That is part of the reason, yes, but also because TikTok is like a uniquely joyous app that I just love. And I've also turned on all my co-workers to it. So it's twofold. Yes.

SEAN: I think some of these jokes, I mean, which clearly you and I love and a lot of people on the internet love….

REBECCA: <Laughs>

SEAN: … can seem a little niche and like a little subculturey.

REBECCA: <Laughs>

SEAN: But how big is TikTok getting right now?

REBECCA: TikTok is absolutely enormous.

                SCORING - HERE’S THE PLAN


CBS’S VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: TikTok is the latest app to capture the attention of teens and young adults across the world. The app came as the number one downloaded app of 2018.

CNBC’S JULIA BOORSTIN: TikTok is a social media phenomenon and it poses a big threat to Snap and because the app has broad copyright agreements. Many of the videos are users lip singing to popular music.

TIKTOK WOMAN: PSA, there needs to be a TikTok Anonymous I am addicted. I feel like I've been watching videos for five minutes and it's been two hours and I go up to someone only to see my new TikTok video. They're like, what's TikTok? I'm like, Susan I can't be your friend. I don't need that kind of negativity in my life. 


REBECCA: As of late June, it has around a billion worldwide monthly active users that's including the Chinese app which is called Douyin and TikTok which is where it's known around the world. It's still not at the point of like Facebook, but that is a huge, huge part of the population.

SEAN: And like, I guess the most comparable apps that we've seen to TikTok, like Snapchat and Vine come to mind. never got quite this big right?

REBECCA: Totally TikTok is much much much bigger than Snapchat and Vine.


SEAN: How much value does this app now have that it's got a billion users?

REBECCA: So its parent company ByteDance...

SEAN: ByteDance?

REBECCA: ByteDance. Yeah. As of last fall it became like the world's most valuable startup.

SEAN: Wow.

REBECCA: ByteDance was most recently evaluated at $75 billion dollars.

SEAN: Damn.

REBECCA: Which is more than what Uber was worth when it was a privately held company.

SEAN: Hmm.

REBECCA: And that was back when the company had about half of its current monthly active users. So one would imagine it's worth a lot more than that now.


SEAN: Where does this app come from and what does it mean? What does TikTok mean?

REBECCA: Well the name TikTok means, as far as I know, nothing. It is not related to the Kesha song which is a bummer because that song is great.

        <SONG> KE$HA - Tick tock!

SEAN: Yeah.

REBECCA: But TikTok is essentially like the second version of Music.ly which was an app that was mostly known as like it as a karaoke app where you could go on and you could lip sync to music and people got really famous off that. And then Music.ly was acquired by the company ByteDance. And in August and September of 2018 it was rebranded as TikTok and then launched internationally and it's essentially the same thing as what Music.ly was. But TikTok is much weirder than Musical.ly ever it was. Of course people are still like singing to like music all the time on tech talk but that's really not what the app is known for.

SEAN: What's it known for now?

REBECCA: It's more known for like the style of comedy that actually mostly came from Vine and Snapchat but it's much more like weird surreal like goofy a lot of inside jokes a lot of kind of like edgy humor that you would not think of like as like things that 12 year olds... actually, no. Twelve year olds love edgy humor. What am I talking about?

SEAN: You want to pull out your phone and tell us how it works? How exactly do you use TikTok? I don't have the app because I'm scared.

REBECCA: I can't open it up because it'll immediately start playing videos. 

SEAN: Really? Like you don't even have to access them it'll just start playing them?

REBECCA: Yes and that is actually the best thing about TikTok which is that it's just like an endless stream of videos. It's sort of like if you logged onto Facebook and Instagram and you saw a whole feed of stuff without even like friending or following anybody.

SEAN: Hmm.

REBECCA: You can really be a passive viewer of TikTok in a way that you it's harder to do with other social media apps.

SEAN: So that's what the viewership experience is like what is it like to actually post stuff? What do you do?

REBECCA: You press and hold to film, and then you can stop pressing and then continue to hold and that will create like a cut.


REBECCA: The classic use of TikTok is you find a sound that you see someone else using or that you search in like a little database of sounds and songs so you can pull from and then from there you can easily do something with her lip sync or dance or whatever to that song that a lot of other people have done the same thing with. So in that sense you can hop on a viral trend really easily by like downloading the same song and making your own version of what that song should be. So there's one that I saw last night that was basically used one of the songs from La La Land called “Another Day of Sun.” And at every beat drop they show a different outfit that they're too scared to wear in public.


REBECCA: So like the first thing that you see when the song starts is like, here's some outfits that I'm too scared to wear in public. And then like drumbeat. And then you see one outfit and then another drumbeat and then a different outfit. <Laughs> Another one is a song called “The Git Up”.


<SONG> BLANCO BROWN: Right now, I just need you to get real loose...

REBECCA: It's like a country trap song similar to “Old Town Road” but you just do like a silly dance to it while you're it's like a tracking shot of you walking and dancing.

<SONG> BLANCO BROWN: Gon' and do the 2 step then cowboy boogie. Grab your sweetheart and spin out with 'em. Do the hoedown and get into it (Woooo Whoooo Whoooooouuu)

REBECCA: Another one I really like it's from the song “Work” by Iggy Azalea from I'm pretty sure like 2014.


<SONG> IGGY AZALEA: They don’t wear these shits where I’m from.

REBECCA: She's just like ‘walk a mile in these Louboutins’. And then what you see is people putting their feet in objects that should absolutely not have feet in them like traffic cones. I saw one on like two rolling stretchers that this like EMT guy was doing. And it's extremely funny. A lot of things go viral when someone has like a catastrophic fall and it looks very painful.

        SCORING OUT 


MAN 1: Can you turn around?

MAN 2: I don’t know.

MAN 1: Catch me! Catch me! Ahhhh.

MAN 2: Didn’t do it. Is it still recording? It is!

MAN 1: Did you get me falling?

SEAN: I was just at home for like the Fourth of July weekend and my mom lives in the same house as a small child. I would say she's a fifth grader and her life is TikTok which gives the impression that, like, the kids love TikTok. Is it mostly young people who use it?

REBECCA: So that's like kind of the joke right? It's like people that are like 10 years younger than I am are like Oh my God I can't believe I'm still on this app. I'm so old. Like, it has this ethos of being like four kids and very young teenagers. Most of the people that I see on my feed are probably like older teens and you know what? A lot of boomers. So it's like Boomers and Gen Z-ers really love TikTok. It was some people that I don't see a lot of as are people my age that are in their mid late 20s or early 30s like you don't see a lot of like true millennials. A lot of Gen Z, a lot of boomers.


REBECCA: A lot of greatest generation. Is that the one before Boomers?

SEAN: Really? They’re on there?

REBECCA: There's a real community of like elder TikTokkers. It's really charming.

SEAN: What did the elder folks doing on the TikTok?

<CLIP> TIKTOK ELDER: Hit or miss? I guess they never miss, huh? You got a boyfriend? I bet he doesn’t kiss, ya. Muah.

REBECCA: They have big fans.

SEAN: OK, so there are some older folks on there but it’s mostly like, Gen Z-ers. Does it make you feel old?

REBECCA: <Laughs> Yes, it does. I feel like I should be apologizing for being there because I'm like crashing the kids table. <Laughs>

SEAN: It’s obviously a lot of fun. But is there a dark side to TikTok? I mean... there is. Because it’s social media.

REBECCA: You would be correct. Obviously TikTok is really popular with kids and TikTok like most sites is really bad at verifying the age of their users. And there have been a lot of sort of scandals around the world of people going on there and talking to kids that were like broadcasting from their bedrooms saying where they went to school doing these really these things and of course kids are going to do because they don't know not to do them. It's obviously a great place for child predators and there's been a couple of instances of that. And then TikTok was apparently collecting data for children under the age of 13. And the FTC actually gave them the highest fine in history for collecting data on children under the age of 13. They were slapped with a almost 6 million dollar fine for that in February.

<CLIP> NEWS: The FTC saying in a statement this record pill these should be a reminder to all online services in Web sites that target children we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.

REBECCA: And these problems were the same as the ones that Musical.ly had, too. In 2017, there was a 7-year-old girl in Indiana who was asked to send like shirtless photos of herself by a stranger on Musical.ly. And then a 25-year-old in California was charged with like sexual exploitation of children under 12 through Musical.ly. So these, these are problems that pre-date TikTok.

SEAN: But I guess those problems can be found on most any app, huh?

REBECCA: Yeah for sure. It's just that TikTok is really really really popular for kids. TikTok is one of those perfect things it's like.


REBECCA <dramatic voice>: Are your teens TikTokking? Like...


REBECCA: It's a really good like fear-mongering device. Because to be fair. Horrible things have happened and it's like the latest teen app and people love to freak out over stuff like that. But for the most part it's like very very joyous and funny and lovely.

SEAN: The answer that question is yes. Your teens are using TikTok.

REBECCA: Yeah. <laughs>

SEAN: And it's not going anywhere.

REBECCA:  Sure... it sure isn't. I hope it doesn't. I hope it doesn't go anywhere else but on the go the way of Vine

SEAN: And Vine sort of died because it couldn't really figure out how to make any money for Twitter which owned it at the time. Is TikTok making any money at this point?

REBECCA: So yeah they are certainly trying to. Like TikTok used to be completely ad free and now it's sort of like every like fifth or sixth scroll. You will see an ad. But people -- individual users  -- are definitely making money off of TikTok.


SEAN: Up next, from TikTok to the top of the charts.


JESSICA FISHER (TikTok user): I'm Jessica Fisher. I'm an actor living in New York City, and I make TikToks.


JESSICA: I'm known for making astrology videos. But that wasn't the one that got me... I guess the fame <laughs> that I have. It was very odd. It happened overnight. I just did a video of me dying my hair with henna. I put the henna in my hair. To this song literally just the sound of somebody playing ukulele and said check back tomorrow to see what it looks like. And literally overnight I got 45,000 more followers. So I had 50,000 the next day and it was it was like every second I refresh and have another hundred or two hundred three hundred followers every second. It was the craziest experience.


JESSICA: Waking up on that morning with all those followers was really exciting, but also a little bit terrifying because I made all these dumb videos of me lip syncing to things and then I thought to myself, Oh God, people are now watching these. People are commenting on them and have opinions about me. ‘You should never use henna in your hair, it'll kill your hair. You're such like a clown, you're like an idiot’ and all these things, and I was like Oh now I have haters. That's a new thing.


JESSICA: I woke up with all these followers and I thought oh gosh I'm an actor. I should probably do something with these and I'm a Gemini and there's this thing that I've always gone through whenever I tell people I'm a Gemini they're like oh God I do not want to be your friends stay away from me. So I made a video that was like that.


<CLIP> JESSICA’S TIKTOK: So I'm a Libra some a little bit boy crazy. I'm a Leo. I don't leave the house without looking my best. I'm a Gemini. Oh so you're a bitch, two-faced crazy bitch. Don't tell her any secrets, crazy slut.


JESSICA: And that got very popular. And that's what my followers now know me as doing. I'm hoping to use TikTok as a way to jumpstart my career. When I'm looking at getting agents, I'm telling them that I'm an influencer. But since TikTok isn't monetized, it's not really the platform to grow a career at the moment. They can use your videos for it if they want. So there are some creators that have their videos in commercials for TikTok and they won't get anything from it. As far as going viral, yes, it is useful for recognition and getting your name out there and your face and your content out there. But I wouldn't argue that it's good for if you're trying to make a career out of monetizing your art.


SEAN: Alright, Rebecca: for people like Jessica, TikTok may be great for building followers fast. But not yet great for making money on the app?

REBECCA: I think what I would be interested to see is when and if a lot of these really really funny teens are going to get like talent scouted. But what has happened for sure are the artists that have TikTok songs that go very viral on the app, they can make a lot of money from that.

SEAN: And we've actually talked about one of those artists on the show before his name you might know him for having the number one song in the country: Lil Nas X.

REBECCA: I sure do know him.


REBECCA: So after he his song “Old Town Road” went like super viral on tech talk because it had this great b drop it gave people like automatically something to do.

REBECCA: This is the yeehaw challenge if I remember correctly that you transform from like your normal self into like your country self.

SEAN: You literally are like wearing your sweat pants sitting on the couch and then the beat drops


<SONG> LIL NAS X: I got the horses in the back. Horse tack is attached. Hat is matte black. Got the boots that's black to match

REBECCA: And you’re like on a horse

SEAN: You're wearing your country western shirt


SEAN: You got your bucket hat on.


SEAN: And you are countrified.

REBECCA: Exactly

SEAN: And the virality of this particular meme propelled will X to being the most popular artist in the country this year.

REBECCA: I think also because the song is a fuckin banger.

SEAN: <Laughs>

REBECCA: So that is mainly why but yes.


SEAN: So are there other people trying to launch their careers like Lasix organically.

REBECCA: Oh yeah. Obviously there are a ton of songs by artists you probably never heard of that go super viral. People like Flo Milli who has a song called “Beef Flomix.”


<SONG> FLO MILLI: Who got beef with me? (I don't know) Girl, you don't wanna compete I'm too fast on my feet (Yes, you don't) And you know where I be Making you mad is my specialty I'm the petty queen I need you to have a seat (Bye)

REBECCA: It’s this very lofi goofy song and there are a lot of artists like that. There's like Sueco the Child.


<SONG> SUECO THE CHILD: I'm at- I'm at Suecos, bitch! Fast, four hundred on the dash

REBECCA: Even people that are like already successful in the industry are trying to emulate it which is like the Jonas brothers just got TikTok and it's all very thirsty and it doesn't come off as natural.

SEAN: What are they doing?

REBECCA: They're just like making like really staged videos which just feels like inauthentic.

<CLIP> JONAS BROTHERS’ TIKTOK: I have fit my entire body in this box (claps)

REBECCA: If you're trying to go viral on TikTok you're kind of like look down upon a little bit.

SEAN: Hmm.

REBECCA: But then again like record companies are extremely always on the lookout for what songs are going viral and how they can make money off of them. Because because when songs go super viral and TikTok that often translates into a lot of Spotify streams.

SEAN: What kinds of songs are going viral?

REBECCA: So we love to talk about the artists that are discovered on TikTok like Lil Nas X. But actually what most have TikTok is is these old songs that have been around for years maybe even decades and some of the cases that have this new life from like challenges and means on TikTok songs that you don't really think about anymore and that just kind of popped up organically.


        <SONG> NICKI MINAJ: A Roman holiday… Bitch!

REBECCA: Nicki Minaj, Roman Holiday. That song got really big on TikTok because there's this really frantic moment in it that makes it feel like the camera's like shaking.


And so what you can do with that is just slap that music on the thing that's going on that's crazy and make it feel even crazier demands something of you visually.


<SONG> MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS: You've been acting awful tough lately.

REBECCA: And then there was this one song by Marina and the Diamonds called I am not a robot. Where she has this twinkly voice. And then at the very end of the section that she's on tape it actually goes like “hee hee.


REBECCA: Which sounds like Michael Jackson and a lot of times you'll just see someone transform themselves with makeup into like creepily look like Michael Jackson and you see the full extent of the transformation right as the “hee hee…”


REBECCA: Happens. And one song that's like 20, 30 years old.


REBECCA: I Wish by Skee-Lo. And this one's really goofy because they just you know how it's like “I wish I was a baller?” This meme just like ends at ball.


REBECCA:  It's on the right side of the ball and then they'll just turn into a ball. You'll just see a ball. That's the extent of the meme. <Laughs>

SEAN: <laughs> Wait. Hold on. You just see… an actual ball?

REBECCA: They'll be dancing and then like they'll cut. And then it's just a ball. <Laughs> I wish I was a ball.

        <SONG> SKEE-LO: I wish I was a ball.

SEAN: So it sounds like TikTok has basically become an unofficial streaming service too.

REBECCA: <Laughs>

SEAN: Like Spotify or something. People are actually listening to and discovering music on TikTok?

REBECCA: Oh yeah. Like I've actually found a couple songs that I really like just from TikTok and was like, “What is that?” It's really easy to find. There are Spotify playlists that you can go to that just like TikTok jams and like find all the songs that you've heard like 15 second snippets of and now you actually like them as a song.

SEAN: Do we know how much streaming is going on. Like how much potential TikTok has to like actually make an impact in the music business?

REBECCA: Oh yeah. I think there was a quote from some record label guy that was like if a song goes viral and TikTok it will show up in Spotify is like viral 50 playlist. It'll get like 20 times the streams that it would have gotten otherwise. So yeah. There's like real increases that TikTok is contributing to

SEAN: Does it translate to other forms as is are comedians into TikTok the way they're into Twitter? Are movie stars into TikTok the way they're into Instagram. I don't know what.

REBECCA: There's an entire generation of comedians and actors that are going to be discovered on TikTok because like and singers too. Like, there's a ton of of people that are like aspiring singers that just like post 15 seconds of of themselves singing and they get a fuck load of followers. TikTok is almost like a teen talent show honestly like it's a really good way to discover like undiscovered talent.

SEAN: So it sounds like all told that like people who are trying who are already established and trying to like maintain some sort of status on TikTok ultimately don't really translate the way someone like Lil Nas X who wasn't trying to do anything does.

REBECCA: Authenticity comes out really clearly on TikTok, at least I would like to think, and that's the kind of content that travels really far and that has a huge impact. And I think what's going to happen is that we see a lot of actual careers come out of being really good at TikTok.


SEAN: So for all like the marketing companies right now that are sitting there trying to figure out how to like game TikTok <laughs> the answer is just try not to?

REBECCA: Yeah, I mean, I think TikTok will be better without you know the hands of tons of record companies. But obviously that's what's going to happen. There's going to be a lot of money poured into ticked off and that's got to change it. For better or for worse but for now it's a very like. It feels like a very pure platform in a way that other social media sites certainly do not.


SEAN: Arite so, if you felt you were missing some of the humor in this episode, but don’t want to go all the way and download TikTok to get the jokes, head over to Today, Explained on Twitter. You’ll find a great thread from Rebecca Jennings with many of the TikToks we talked about today. The show’s at Today underscore Explained.

SEAN: Rebecca’s obviously the tikkiest tok we got at Vox. She mostly writes for The Goods, which is Vox’s section on consumer culture.

SEAN: You also heard from Jessica. The TikTok star. You can find her at Jess dot Fisher 5, if you’re so inclined.

SEAN: Jess spoke with Today, Explained producer Noam Hassenfeld. And right after she got off the phone with him she hit TikTok and posted a video captioned, “an actual interview I just had for a podcast #funny #foryou #fyp #featureme #originalsound #actor.” 

PODCAST PERSON: So you’re an actor


PODCAST PERSON: And you’re well known on TikTok

JESSICA: Yeah I do well

PODCAST PERSON: Do you think your TikTok fame will help your acting career?

JESSICA: No, definitely not

PODCAST PERSON: Really? Video apps helped launched the careers of many actors.

JESSICA: Not this app. I’m telling you, not this app.