How I became addicted to the strange world of memes and lip-syncing on TikTok
"I felt entranced and trapped at the same time"
Until a few weeks ago I was very comfortable in my choice to stay off TikTok. You can blame it on my millennial years, or the fact that my brain felt broken from the other social media apps I was already juggling. This status quo changed almost instantly, when I watched a video compilation of a bald Indian man eating. In each clip, he simply announces, “chicken leg bis” (sic) before taking a big bite of a chicken leg piece. What surprised me were the mostly white fans (or should I say ‘Chicken Leg Piece’ stan?), who wait with bated breath to hear him say the words. He has inspired hundreds of reaction videos, a remix song, and even landed himself a spot on Urban Dictionary. The vibrating TikTok logo in the corner of the video made me curious, ‘Is there a deeper meaning to this joke?’. ‘What was I missing?’
@ulhaskamatheMaple butter waffle 🧇 half boiled omelet 🥚chicken 🍗🍗🔥🔥😋😋#tiktokfoodie#nonveg_lover#tiktok #chickenlegpiece#desifood#enjoy♬ original sound – Ulhas Kamathe
I signed up on TikTok (for journalistic reasons, obviously) and watched the endless pool of dance sequences and comedy sketches it threw at me. Within an hour, I was hooked, forgetting my real intention to get on the video creating and sharing app. My head was swimming, and my brain felt physically lighter from the grey cells I had killed as I scrolled through this queasy no-shame zone. I felt entranced and trapped at the same time.
@themermaidscalemust be the demon under my bed 🤡#zoommyface #foryou #funny #featureme♬ Bagaikan Langit（cover） – _ucil👑
The first rule of Fight Club is you ‘do not talk about Fight Club’, but the opposite is true of TikTok. I actively looked for reasons to discuss it with anyone who would volunteer to watch a video. Were my friends annoyed? Maybe. Did they find the videos cringe-y? Probably. Did I care? Nope! I had newfound respect for the creators who unabashedly put themselves out there, making content in an easy digestible format. There are clever edits, hilarious memes, chart-topping songs, and zero judgement—what’s not to love?
@_niharikajainAll the hacks you need to know to make your foundation long lasting ❤️ #bbnuskhe #foryou #makeuphacks #lifehacks♬ original sound – Niharika Jain
TIKTOK MEANS EVERYTHING AND NOTHING
If you’re trying to find meaning here, you’ve got TikTok all wrong—it’s about irreverence. It’s pretty much anything you don’t expect, like young men crying and lip-syncing a Bollywood song—no hobby is too niche for TikTok. On the surface it may seem meaningless, but TikTok is ground zero for memes that later make their way to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Even music tracks that gained popularity on the app have made it to the Billboard Top 100 (case in point: ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X reached the number one spot after it started trending on the app)
EVERYONE IS ON IT, EVEN IF YOU THINK OTHERWISE
TikTok may not be populated with your friends or people with your interests and socio-economic backgrounds, but its user base of 200 million Indians tells a different story. Here, there’s a place for everyone—whether you’re a floppy-haired GenZ-er from Surat, a police constable in Delhi, a homemaker in Ranchi or Deepika Padukone.
@deepikapadukoneThrowback to one of my most iconic dialogues…Happy Love Day everyone and may we celebrate everyday like today…❤♬ original sound – deepikapadukone
IT’S NOTHING LIKE VINE OR SNAPCHAT
……And only a shadow of its predecessor Musical.ly. The popular lip-syncing app was bought by the Chinese conglomerate ByteDance and merged into TikTok in 2018. Since then it’s seen a meteoric rise in India, China, USA and Europe. TikTok allows users to make 15-60 seconds videos; or you can simply watch, like and comment on videos. Your feed is called the ‘For You’ page that (like Instagram’s Explore tab) is curated on the basis of your consumption habits by the app’s AI. Creators have access to filters, a suite of editing tools, and an exhaustive library of music and sound clips from TV shows and films.
ANYONE CAN BE A CELEBRITY HERE
As a beginner, the app doesn’t press you to focus on building a following, instead you’re encouraged to create more content—the investment is low and access to a large audience seems easy. The real breakout stars are the ones who aren’t worried about making fun of themselves. You don’t have to be well-networked, witty, good-looking or affluent with a warehouse full of stylish clothes to make an impact on TikTok. You just need the guts to shoot a video and put it out there.
Get up to speed
These trending hashtags will give you a taste of what’s in store
#HariboChallenge: Imagine thousands of gummy bears arranged to appear like a concert, while Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ plays in the background. Things get pretty weird on TikTok.
@meryymary10 Kilo- 4200 Bärchen 😅 #haribo #haribochallenge #someonelikeyou #trend #hobbylos #concert #foryou♬ #Me at the concert – #someonelikeyou
#Edutok: Motivational talks, home remedies, instructional dance videos and English speaking lessons—a how-to on everything under the sun in 60 seconds.
@studyiq_mathshow to multiply a number by 11 in ten seconds #edutok #edutokmaths♬ original sound – Study IQ Maths
#HandEmojiChallenge: Creators imitate a series of pre-set gestures, all to the beat of ‘Lalala’ by Y2K & bbno$. Even the Jonas Brothers nailed this one.
#TikTokFoodie: Local street food trumps picture-perfect smoothie bowls in these food logs and recipe videos.
@abhinavjeswaniComment if you know who he is ? #tiktokfoodie #nagpur♬ Baahubali Movie OST – Bhairava
#DogsofTikTok: All the goodest boys in town delivering some furry cuteness to your screen. #DogsofInstagram have nothing on them
@aussiesdointhingsWhen mom takes your Xbox away (IG changalaaussies) #dogsoftiktok #foryoupage♬ original sound – aussiesdointhings
Featured Photograph: Tarun Vishwa