Podculture: TikTok Back to Childhood Fandoms

Madison Smith and Jordan Mangi

From Harry Potter to One Direction to Avatar: The Last Airbender, some Northwestern students have been getting back into their favorite childhood fandoms through the latest TikTok trends. 

JORDAN MANGI: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Jordan Mangi.

MADISON SMITH: And I’m Madison Smith. This is Podculture, a podcast about arts and culture on campus and beyond. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

JORDAN MANGI: On today’s episode, we’re talking to students about the most popular fandoms from their childhood that have made a comeback since the start of the global pandemic. Stuck at home this spring and summer, some students found themselves turning to the shows and music of their childhoods. 

MADISON SMITH: A driving force behind these resurgences was TikTok, a video-sharing app that has skyrocketed in popularity since stay-at-home orders began. And I don’t know about you Jordan, but I spent way too much time on TikTok both over this summer and Spring Quarter.

JORDAN MANGI: Oh definitely. I can safely say that I’ve mastered the Renegade. But one of the most unique features of TikTok is its endless “For You” page. The For You page uses an algorithm to collect data about what TikTok’s users interact with most and shows users more content like it. Because of this, different people might only see niche genres of TikToks. There’s been everything from Harry Potter POVs, to One Direction edits, to remixes of the iconic songs from Avatar: The Last Airbender. 

MADISON SMITH: I know, for me, getting back into some of my favorite obsessions from middle school definitely made being stuck at home more enjoyable. But it wasn’t just me. Tons of people got back into their old childhood fandoms. And the first fandom we’re talking about is One Direction: worldwide, singing, British boyband icons since 2010. Jordan, were you ever a Directioner? 

JORDAN MANGI: No, no I really was very anti-boyband back then, or honestly, just anti-most-pop-music. Now though I don’t really listen to any of their music. I wouldn’t object if it was on, but I’m definitely not a Directioner. Would you say you’re a fan?

MADISON SMITH: We would’ve been friends in middle school. I really thought I was too cool for One Direction too. But now, not going to lie, I’ve really gotten into them! They have some bops. “C’mon, C’mon?” “No Control?” They’re on my party playlist! I mean, not like I’m going to parties right now, but still. Not to mention they’re one of the most successful boy bands in music history! 

JORDAN MANGI: Seems like you know a lot about them.

MADISON SMITH: What can I say? I’m a fan. But Bailey really took it to a new level.

JORDAN MANGI: Oh, totally. Medill sophomore Bailey Richards recently became a Directioner this past summer thanks to TikTok. She also found some unexpected fame along the way. 

BAILEY RICHARDS: I got into One Direction through the gateway drug that is one Mr. Harry Styles. For some reason, I just didn’t expect it to be that good. And it was good. Like, it defied my expectations. And then I went back, and I was listening to his first album a ton and then, as TikTok does, it could tell what was up, and it kind of like slowly started infiltrating my For You page with One Direction and Harry content. And then from there, it just was all downhill, or I guess, uphill.

MADISON SMITH: So how did you go from just listening to Harry Styles’ music to being a full-on Directioner?

BAILEY RICHARDS: So I remember back when One Direction, they were having their 10 year anniversary — correct, I believe? And I posted something — it was just like a TikTok to, I don’t know what it was, some sound — and I was like, “Dang, I’m not even a Directioner, but y’all got me on the edge of my seat because everyone kept posting about this!” I also just made a video recently just talking about like “quick update y’all! These are my favorite songs! I’m having a great time, bought a poster, like been watching the video diaries.” And I plan on making more of those because even though they don’t do that well I know a couple mutuals on TikTok who are interested to see, because they’ve been Directioners for a long time, so I’ll probably keep posting stuff like that as well, even though it’s not like a trend or anything that’s going to get crazy amount of views.

JORDAN MANGI: You have a pretty big following on TikTok — more than 30,000 followers — but there was one One Direction video that really blew up, right?

BAILEY RICHARDS: I made like three videos to this trend, for those who don’t know, where it was just a little snippet of the song “Olivia.” And then it’s this transition where you’re like, all grubby and in your pajamas or whatever, and then, on the beat, you kind of transform and do all these effects and zoom in and blah, blah, blah. The first one I think did really well, simply because I captioned it “decided to be a Directioner at 19” and the comments were just full of people like, “Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome!” And if you know anything about TikTok, you know that comments and stuff like that really boost your videos, so I think that’s why the video did really well in the first place.

MADISON SMITH: I actually saw one of your videos on my For You page. I remember seeing it and being like, “Hold up. I know her!” And it had over, like, 450,000 views, which is crazy!

JORDAN MANGI: Yeah, that’s wild! I might not be a 1D stan, but even I know that Directioners are notoriously intense. What was it like to join such a large fandom this late in the game?

BAILEY RICHARDS: It’s like a good mix of you know, “Hey, I just joined!” “Welcome,” and like, “I’ve been stanning since I was nine.” Like, “You better know all the inside jokes or we’re gonna cut you off.” Yeah, that’s why even though I kind of say Directioner as a joke because I was scared they were gonna come for me if I didn’t actually listen to a couple One Direction songs (and then I actually liked it) but I definitely would just consider myself more of a fan than an actual Directioner. The thing is too, I became a One Direction stan after I got a cow tattoo and named it Simon Cowell. So I know that the fans would cancel me. They would cancel me in a heartbeat just because of my tattoo. 

JORDAN MANGI: For those of you who don’t know, Simon Cowell was the one to sign the boys to his record label after he put the group together on “The X Factor.” But he’s sort of a controversial figure for One Direction fans, right? 

MADISON SMITH: Yeah, like Bailey said, the One Direction fandom is powerful. And a lot of those fans have accused Simon Cowell of being too controlling and manipulating the boys’ public image too much.

JORDAN MANGI: Powerful? Aren’t most Directioners middle schoolers though? 

MADISON SMITH: Well clearly, as we see with Bailey here, the fanbase is much bigger than that and is only growing, even though they’ve been on a never-ending hiatus since 2015. What is it about TikTok and 2020 in general that caused people to return to these fandoms associated with their childhood?

BAILEY RICHARDS: I’m 19 years old, and this year I got a new piercing and got a tattoo, but I also became a Directioner and started collecting Squishmallows. Like, I don’t know what the world wants from me. Age is just a number baby, like, I don’t know. If it sparks joy, it’s going to be in my life. TikTok has been really a gateway to so many different things. It’s how I started watching one of my favorite shows now of all time, “Criminal Minds,” it’s got me back into Harry Potter. It’s got me into One Direction and into Harry. I think I’d just much rather, you know, watch 10-year-old video diaries of some British teenagers than, like, apply for internships that would actually, like, move me forward in life? So that’s what I’m gonna do!

MADISON SMITH: My love for everything 1D aside, it isn’t the only thing trending on TikTok. Jordan, what’s been on your For You page a lot?

JORDAN MANGI: I’ve seen so many Harry Potter-related videos recently. I mean, I was a huge Harry Potter fan, as a kid and now.

MADISON SMITH: Weren’t we all? Every NU kid definitely thought they were a Ravenclaw at some point. 

JORDAN MANGI: That’s so true! I mean, Harry Potter never really went away. It’s one of those things that, if you loved the books or movies as a kid, you still love them now. And people are getting creative with these TikToks. Let’s have Haley explain. Weinberg sophomore Haley Mailender is a Harry Potter fan and is very much on DracoTok.

MADISON SMITH: There’s so much to unpack in that one sentence. Let’s start by asking Haley, what exactly is DracoTok?

HALEY MAILENDER: So, people make POVs like they’re at Hogwarts. But now? People are simping for Draco Malfoy, understandably. He’s everyone’s favorite Slytherin boy, played by Tom Felton who is very attractive. And Tom Felton, he’s actually on TikTok, and he started dueting the Draco TikToks and reacting to them. There’s some that are just fan edits of Draco. There are some that are POVs of Draco Malfoy asking you to the Yule Ball. Just any scenario with Draco in it. I am on DracoTok more than I would like to admit. 

MADISON SMITH: All the Harry Potter love aside, there’s been some controversy over the summer surrounding J.K. Rowling.

JORDAN MANGI: Yeah, so the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has recently come under fire for tweeting transphobic sentiments, like saying that trans women aren’t real women. A lot of actors involved in Harry Potter have publicly disagreed with her and fans have expressed how harmful it is for a really well-known author to say stuff like that.

HALEY MAILENDER: It’s just really funny to me that she creates this whole world with fantastical creatures but the thing she can’t wrap her mind around is a trans person? It’s not cute, the transphobia. Part of the reason I haven’t bought any new Harry Potter merch recently, is that I don’t really want to support her anymore than I already have. I just feel bad buying any new Harry Potter merch now because I’m like, I’m supporting this horrible woman. 

MADISON SMITH: It was a huge let down for so many Potter fans. To have this incredible series that taught kids about love, acceptance and bravery be written by someone who is now preaching the opposite of that was heartbreaking for a lot of people who grew up with the series. 

HALEY MAILENDER: Because Harry Potter is one of those things that was so impactful on so many of our childhoods and for me, there were definitely times where I was sad and Harry Potter made me feel better.

JORDAN MANGI: Wait Madison, I just remembered, my 9-year-old sister has actually made Harry Potter TikToks over the summer. 

MADISON SMITH: No way!

JORDAN MANGI: Yeah like, the ones where you lip-sync over the movie dialogue. She made a couple Harry Potter ones, they’re actually really good! She also just this week made a TikTok to the One Direction song “Olivia,” just like Bailey’s.

MADISON SMITH: Wow, TikTok is really getting both ends of Gen Z invested into some of our favorite childhood fandoms.

JORDAN MANGI: I will say, something she hasn’t gotten into that I loved as a kid and have seen so many people our age watching or rewatching now, is Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” We actually have someone here who’s been an Avatar fan since the beginning, Communication junior Brandon Acosta. 

MADISON SMITH: Brandon, when did you first get into Avatar?

BRANDON ACOSTA: Yes, so I guess I got into it when it was airing for the first time. I always loved it. It’s the coolest. My older brother and I would always watch it together, but I never grasped the power of it until I could watch them all in order. And I did and that rocked my entire world, because it’s so powerful when you watch it the way it was meant to be watched.

JORDAN MANGI: I also watched it on Nickelodeon when I was a kid — I even had the DSi Avatar: The Last Airbender game! I rewatched it when it came to Netflix this summer and binged the whole show in four days. Madison, did you get a chance to rewatch?

MADISON SMITH: I actually never watched the show until this summer. You know a kids show is really good when you watch it for the first time at the age of 19, and you still love it. And I wasn’t the only one — a bunch of other people watched it for the first time over the summer too!

BRANDON ACOSTA: During the pandemic, everyone was watching it. And it made my heart so happy because I got to see all my friends who had seen it before but didn’t remember it, re-discovering it. And then all my friends who have never seen it, getting to talk about it with them.

MADISON SMITH: And, of course, it was also getting popular on TikTok. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you’ve both seen it!

BRANDON ACOSTA: It’s really interesting, the little corner of TikTok that I’m on. I am a theatre major. I do musical theatre. So kind of where I ended up landing in TikTok, I see a lot of TikToks of people who like write original music that’s like, “Oh, if Avatar was a musical, here’s Azula’s ballad for the third season,” and it’s those kinds of things. Or I see a lot of TikToks that are like a Hamilton-Avatar crossover, like people singing Hamilton songs, but in the context of Avatar? That’s kind of where I exist on TikTok.

JORDAN MANGI: My personal favorite TikTok was an indie remix of a song from Avatar called “Secret Tunnel” by TikTok user Wabie. 

MADISON SMITH: Ooh yeah that was so good! But the most common thing that pops up on my For You page is people crushing on Zuko.

JORDAN MANGI: Oh yeah, Zuko was a lot of people’s favorites, and not just because they had crushes on him. He had, notably, one of the best character arcs in the series. At times, his story was really heartbreaking, but it was also really powerful.

BRANDON ACOSTA: I’m gay. And my parents don’t love that. And it’s obviously not the same thing that Zuko has gone through. But like watching him spend so much time trying to work his butt off to get his father’s approval, and fix what they have convinced him he’s done wrong. And shift completely from that to going on his own journey and finding his own path to feeling a sense of honor that comes from within. And like knowing that that is more than enough for a person then doing what your family expects of you, that was super powerful to me, especially when I got to that place in my life where I was like, I have to live for myself first, you know. So, yeah, I love Zuko.

MADISON SMITH: Avatar definitely tackles a lot of complicated themes for a series that was marketed as a children’s show. There’s a lot of discussion of loss and war and doing what’s best for yourself and your community.

JORDAN MANGI: Definitely. I know I picked up on a lot more during my rewatch than I did when I was watching it for the first time at age nine.

BRANDON ACOSTA: I think the reason I enjoyed it as a child was I could turn it on and watch it and feel really challenged intellectually, while still like, “Oh, Sokka made a fart joke.” And that’s funny too. But like it’s, it’s, it’s a complicated story. Rooted at the core of it — and this is the reason I keep going back to it — the story is so deeply political and so deeply rooted in, like, how we, as individuals, like how can we react and how can we respond when people in power are out of control? There’s so many other things, like how people in power monger fear and weaponize hate and how can we respond to that? Aang’s journey of figuring out if he should kill the Fire Lord is like, so fascinating to me. There’s this person who is deliberately causing harm. Like, how do you deal with that? It’s so much more complicated than just the good guys and the bad guys.

JORDAN MANGI: So, Madison, what was your favorite fandom you got back into during quarantine?

MADISON SMITH: It’s gotta be Harry Potter, just for DracoTok alone.

JORDAN MANGI: Oh my god.

MADISON SMITH: Oh, come on, don’t you just love how they just Slytherin to your For You page?

JORDAN MANGI: Okay, we’re done here.

JORDAN MANGI: This episode was reported and produced by me, Jordan Mangi, and Madison Smith. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Alex Chun, the digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Jacob Ohara, and the editor in chief is Marissa Martinez. The outro music is a cover by Wabie, and if you want to get into the next big thing on TikTok, follow @thedailynu!

Email: [email protected]

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @madisonlorsmith

Twitter: @jordanrose718

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