A TikTok ban is nothing to celebrate – its influence on pop culture would be a great loss

The app’s power to allow smaller artists to be seen and heard is changing the world of dance, music and fashion for the better

Alexa Rendell
Tuesday 04 August 2020 14:49 BST
Best celebrity TikTok 'Flip the Switch' videos

With a hefty 2 billion plus downloads on app stores worldwide, TikTok has started a revolution. It’s churned out new memes, disrupted pop culture and gifted us a whole new generation of celebrity influencers. Through lockdown, it’s only gone from strength to strength. If you’re a celebrity and not on the app? Good luck to you.

However, despite his notoriety on other social media platforms, one person who still hasn’t taken to the app is US president Donald Trump. Far from it, instead, he’s looking to ban it state-side thanks to its ties to Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

Unsurprisingly, news of the ban was met with dismay by users and creators alike. For many, TikTok is a hobby; a fun, entertaining way to pass time. For others, it’s a source of income. But for all, the app is radically changing the content we consume.

Previously a relative unknown, US rapper, Doja Cat, dominated radio stations for weeks following the TikTok success of her hit Say So. A fun and easy dance routine accompanies the earworm and has created a new recipe for viral success.

It wasn’t long before other industry heavyweights joined in. A 14-step routine sent Jason Derulo’s hit Savage Love to UK number one and Drake’s Toosie Slide was promoted alongside moves that, within days, even had LeBron James bopping along.

The algorithm, which decides whose videos pop up on your feed, has allowed smaller artists to get their music heard. All it takes is one big user to use your song and … surprise, it’s been heard hundreds of thousands of times. It’s making the industry more accessible and is giving the next generation of talented musicians their chance at being the next “big thing”.

Even in the app’s infancy, when user numbers dwindled, dance routines were a staple piece of the platform. The Renegade, while something utterly unattainable to my uncoordinated self, has become part and parcel of youth culture. You’d be hard-pressed to find a 15-year-old without the full routine committed to memory.

The algorithm is key here. It not only creates space to showcase well-known styles like ballet and tap, but there’s also room for TikTok’s new dance moves. There are those who criticise these viral routines: they’re too simple, provocative, boring. Even if true though, you still have to acknowledge the app’s important role in introducing dance as a hobby to a new generation. Simple tutorials on the app show off the moves required to be “throwing it back” in no time.

The world of fashion also isn’t safe from the app’s cultural influence. Bleaching the front two pieces of your hair? Tie-dying anything you can get your hands on? Putting a broken £1 coin on a necklace chain? These trends all evolved from TikTok.

In the age of the Instagram influencer, finding your fashion tribe and getting to try things for fun marks a real change in the way we talk about style. Breaking Instagram’s toxic, unrealistic narrative has been a huge success for TikTok’s fashion creators, they’re encouraging people to be themselves.

The app also changed the celebrity brand – people are keen to have an “authentic influencer” in their life. 16-year-old American, Charli D’Amerlio, as the platform’s most popular account with nearly 80 million followers, has nailed this perfectly. Sharing dance videos from her bedroom built her an army of fans that respect and appreciate her openness and honesty. She works to support dances of smaller creators, has been open about medical face surgery, and promoted a dialogue around the Black Lives Matter movement.

Replacing photoshop with authenticity went down well with creators and fans alike and traditional media are realising this. D’Amelio and her older sister, Dixie, partnered with Hollister for a back to school campaign and fellow viral success story, Addison Rae, now films content with Kourtney Kardashian.

So why does the app work so well? Largely, its unusual algorithm is responsible. Anyone has their shot at getting famous. A single video can end up being seen by thousands of people with likeminded interests. Communities are created, friendships formed and suddenly, spending two to three hours a day on the app doesn’t seem that strange.

American users dominate TikTok’s list of success stories, so if Trump’s ban passes, a chunk of viewers, creators and ads disappear from the platform. Content and creativity will suffer and international users will really start to notice a difference.

For a platform largely still in its infancy, we’ve already seen some huge cultural shifts caused by it. The charts are changing, dance is cool again, fashion is evolving. To lose all that momentum to a ban? That would be a huge loss.

Alexa is a broadcast production apprentice working in sport with an interest in film and digital culture.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in