Northwestern students explore the weird, wonderful world of TikTok

Wilson Chapman, Arts & Entertainment Editor


Last summer, Communication junior Rishi Mahesh was living in Los Angeles for an internship. Feeling lonely in a new city, he downloaded the popular video-sharing app TikTok and began half-ironically making posts. One night, he came up with the idea for a TikTok making fun of the then-just released Netflix film “Tall Girl,” and quickly shot and uploaded it before heading out to see a show. When he came back, he discovered the video already had a thousand or so views.

“The algorithm works really quickly,” Mahesh said. “If you’re going to go viral, you know you will a couple of hours after you upload it.”

Currently, Mahesh’s video has almost 40,000 likes, by far his most liked video on the platform. Mahesh said the video has made it into compilations of TikToks on Youtube, a true mark of success for a TikToker.

TikTok is a Chinese-made social media platform where users upload short form videos. Since 2018, the app has seen an explosion of popularity, hitting 1 billion downloads in February 2019. Although the app’s primary demographic is high schoolers, its colorful memes and songs have found their way onto Northwestern’s campus.

Communication junior Lauren Tran started using TikTok over the summer when her two younger sisters dragged her into the app, and quickly found herself addicted to the app. Tran’s most liked TikTok is a post of her performing a gymnastic routine to the Panic! At the Disco song “Victorious,” which has over 5,000 views and 400 likes at the time of publication. Tran said she quickly got on the For You page, and within an hour she had 100 views. The likes began to die down, before spiking a week or two later. Tran has recently become a TikTok Brand Ambassador, getting paid to spread awareness of the brand around campus.

On TikTok, Tran mostly uploads posts of her performing viral dances and has received positive feedback, minus a few 11-year-olds who leave her hate comments. Tran said in her sorority Chi Omega, she and her sorority members took to making TikToks during recruitment as a bonding exercise and a way to start conversations with recruits. Tran said during the sorority’s bid night, she bonded with new members by performing a dance with them to the song “Lottery (Renegade)” by K Camp.

“It’s a good conversation starter,” Tran said. “If you talk about how you’re on TikTok and someone else is also on TikTok, you can talk about famous TikToks you’ve seen. And you can do the dances at a party, and you see someone else do them and you’re like ‘did we just have a connection?’”

Weinberg sophomore Kayla Blaise also uses TikTok with members of her sorority. During recruitment, she uploaded a TikTok onto her account, @getawaycar29, of her sorority Delta Zeta doing a routine to a song. Blaise made the TikTok without even putting any tags on it, just doing it for fun, but it blew up and currently has over 140 thousand views.

Blaise, who started using TikTok with her brother during winter break, said she grew interested in the app because it provides a different, more creative outlet than other social media apps. She added that the app captures the energy of the beloved but departed video app Vine, which was popular with the current college age group.

“It’s the new Vine,” Blaise said. “It’s a bunch of short, quick little videos, and a lot of them are funny and have that Vine energy.”

Quite possibly the most liked TikTok in Northwestern’s history was created by SESP senior and Northwestern Women’s Basketball star Alyssa “Byrdy” Galernik, who made a recreation of the Potter Puppet Pals’ “The Mysterious Ticking Noise” video with her teammates. At the time of publication, the video has over a million views and 197.7 thousand likes.

Galernik said she shot and produced the TikTok with her teammates while they were at a hotel in Indiana for a game. After the views plateaued for a few days, she opened her phone after practice to find 50 text messages telling her that the video went viral. Since the creation of the video, the TikTok has been retweeted by Washington Post video editor Dave Jorgenson, and the team has been featured in TIME Magazine.

Galernik said the TikTok went viral in part because it appeals to multiple demographics, as the video is an older part of Internet culture, which attracted people in Jorgenson’s age bracket, while still being funny and relatable to teenagers and college students. Galernik, who now has 2.2 thousand followers on TikTok, said despite its reputation of being for kids, TikTok in general is an app that appeals to multiple people; Galernik’s father has a TikTok account that he uses to watch videos even though he doesn’t post anything.

Since the Women’s Basketball team went viral on TikTok, Galernik has posted another video of the team dancing to Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” which has yet to go viral. Galernik said the team is currently taking a step back from TikTok to focus on schoolwork and their games, but once the season is over, they will start posting more regularly.

“I can never count myself out, because it takes a while to go viral again,” Galernik said. “(The Box video) is a good video.”

Mahesh said when he started using TikTok, he originally was a bit dismissive toward the app. However, since using it, he has found that the app’s lack of limitations and options for experimentation has resulted in a strong user base that creates great content on the app. Although he was wary of its comparisons to Vine, Mahesh thinks the app has in many ways now surpassed Vine in terms of quality.

“It’s always more fun to be a part of a cultural thing than making fun of it or being on the outside,” Mahesh said. “I’m always a fan of letting people have more fun, not less.”

For more great TikTok content, follow The Daily Northwestern’s official TikTok account, @markle_gritty19.

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Twitter: @wilsonchapman6

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