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This week in TikTok: How a dance goes viral

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! For the next few Tuesdays, The Goods’ internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings will be using this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email me at, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how difficult it can be to give creators of viral dances proper credit. Take the biggest dance in the world: the Renegade. It was created by a 14-year-old in Atlanta named Jalaiah Harmon, but when popular TikTokers performed her lengthy and complicated dance set to the song “Lottery” by rapper K-Camp, she didn’t receive any credit or clout.

That all changed when Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times went to Georgia to profile her a couple weeks ago. Jalaiah is a prolific choreographer who posts her dances to Dubsmash, a video app filled with young, black creators sharing routines to their favorite songs, then sometimes cross-posts to Instagram. It’s there that these dances are co-opted by TikTokers, who then spread more widely, creating an ecosystem in which already popular accounts get credit for work done by lesser-known dancers.

“I think I could have gotten money for it, promos for it, I could have gotten famous off it, get noticed,” Jalaiah said. “I don’t think any of that stuff has happened for me because no one knows I made the dance.”

They do now: Jalaiah has since performed at the NBA All-Star Game, gotten a shoutout from Michelle Obama, and experienced the be-all, end-all of online fame: an appearance on Ellen.

Still, the conversation isn’t over. Over at SBNation, Zito Madu dug into the historical problem of cultural appropriation as exacerbated by social media. Meanwhile, TikTok’s digital blackface problem persists, thanks to the ability of white users to lip-sync to black users’ sounds. At best, this amounts to taking credit for other people’s jokes, and at worst, it perpetuates racist stereotypes (Tatiana Walk-Morris wrote a great explainer for Medium here).

There’s still no perfect method for giving credit to dances and memes on TikTok — unlike Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, there’s no easy reposting function, and it’s nearly impossible to determine whose video came first. We’ve already seen this dynamic happen within the Instagram meme community with the #FuckFuckJerry movement, but on TikTok, where ideas spread faster than ever before, users — especially the most visible among them — have to figure out a way to keep original creators in the mix.

TikTok in the news ️

  • TikTok wants its users to log off. Last week the company announced it was adding parental controls to limit the amount of time kids spend on the app in an effort to help them develop “a healthy relationship with online apps and services.” It’s also expressly encouraging breaks: The company partnered with popular creators to make videos that ask viewers things like, “When was the last time you went outside?” or “You’ve been scrolling for way too long now — maybe you should get some food, some water, and then come back later.” Can you imagine Facebook doing something like that?
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to the TSA this weekend requesting that its employees stop using TikTok. Citing national security concerns over the company’s ties to China and its government, Schumer’s letter targeted videos like TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein’s viral TikTok from Thanksgiving week about what items are allowed in your carry-on bags.
  • Even the parents of TikTok stars are now being signed to major talent deals after their children go viral. CNN, however, found the other sort of parents of TikTok-famous kids: the ones who are completely confused by the whole thing. “Up until then, maybe I was a little bit in denial that my son was as popular as he really is,” said one, after recounting a memory of his 15-year-old son being accosted by a group of girls in a hotel lobby.
  • Another day, another controversy about TikTok “mistakenly” deleting a video. This time, it was a hilarious parody about Scorpios being gay made by two queer college students, which TikTok said it deleted because it “wasn’t initially recognized as satire.” While it’s nice that the company is quick to take down videos it deems homophobic, I’m constantly seeing videos on my feed with captions begging TikTok not to remove it, or complaining that previous uploads had been deleted. Perhaps it’s time for the company to reevaluate its moderation process.

Meme watch


Meet Rosa, a Latina high schooler who wears tons of contour and fake eyelashes and is always drinking cans of Arizona Iced Tea and eating Hot Cheetos. She’s the brainchild of TikToker Adam Martinez, a 20-year-old in San Antonio, who posted a video of himself as Rosa in January and has since gone viral.

Rosa — an amalgamation of popular Latinx tropes and in-jokes — now has her own entire cinematic universe, in which other TikTokers respond to her videos as though they’re in conversation with her. The #Rosa hashtag, currently trending on TikTok’s Discover page, has nearly 600 million views.

”Everybody just knows her, everybody loves her,” Martinez told Buzzfeed. “It’s a familiar feeling you get when you hear her voice. It was just something that I wanted to bring back.” It’s further proof that TikTok is easily the best breeding ground for future character comedians, and for expanding the reach of a good bit.


$1,000,000 = The amount researchers from Online Casinos that the highest echelon of TikTokers could be making per sponsored post by next year. We’re quite a ways away from that now: 17-year-old Loren Gray, who got famous on and is the most-followed star on TikTok, is estimated to make around $200,000 per post. So that million-dollar estimate seems quite steep to me, but hey, who knows.

$5,000 = How much Cash App paid one anonymous influencer to make videos about “how broke they are.” The company has recruited dozens of high-profile TikTokers like Hype House’s Chase Hudson and Addison Rae to promote the app, according to Business Insider, most of whom are certainly not struggling to make money.

$14.00 = The price of Rae Wellness’s shady “metabolism drops” that I can’t stop seeing all over my TikTok feed. Teen girls are picking up the drops with very millennial branding at Target in the hopes that they’ll lose weight, despite the fact that the ingredients are mostly what you’d find in an average energy drink. It’s a real bummer to see these videos captioned with hashtags like “#skinnyszn” or “#skinnylegend,” as is the fact that the product currently appears to be on backorder. Meanwhile, videos about “what I eat in a day” and other weight-loss tips are rampant on the app, and few people are talking about it.

Chart check

  • K-pop kings BTS shared a 30-second clip of its new single “On” exclusively on TikTok on Thursday. While the group’s deluge of stans claimed they caused the app’s sound search function to crash, it was actually due to a faulty link. Don’t worry, BTS Army, you’re still the most important fandom on the internet.
  • After six weeks, Roddy Rich is still sitting comfortably at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 with his TikTok-viral banger “The Box.” He also has the longest-running debut rap album to top the charts since 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in 2003. The only way to truly capture the spirit of the song, however, is to watch this viral TikTok of a girl singing it in a car while her mom hypes her up.
  • I love this Vulture rundown of old songs that have resurfaced on TikTok recently. ’90s club hits! Lana Del Rey circa-2013! A Portuguese song that everyone lipsyncs the wrong words to! Lawrence Welk, who these kids are probably not old enough to remember from the Kristen Wiig SNL parodies.

One dumb thing

TikToker Olly B. played “Who’d You Rather: Avengers Edition” with his mom, who doesn’t totally get the concept of the game but clearly loves Thor. Their laughs are very infectious and now I can’t stop giggling at my desk.