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This week in TikTok: Internet fame under quarantine

An interview with a 17-year-old TikToker who has 4 million followers.

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses 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 rebecca.jennings@vox.com, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

Quarantine has been weird for everyone: Some of us are adjusting to remote work, while others are forced to put their health at risk by doing their jobs as normal. It’s also been particularly weird for kids and teens who will be doing the rest of their school year via Zoom (especially seniors who will likely graduate online, too). I’ve been thinking a lot about the kids I see every day on TikTok — they’re bored, they’re sad, and they’re finding charmingly lo-fi ways to keep in touch with their friends, like hosting PowerPoint parties or reinventing the pen pal.

I chatted with one of the more famous among these kids: Alejandro Rosario, a 17-year-old high school junior and TikToker with more than 4 million followers, who until last year was a regular teen in New Jersey. Last summer, he and his two soccer friends, Mattia Polibio and Kairi Cosentino, joined the app, made a video of themselves sharing a lollipop, and today they’re three of TikTok’s most famous e-boys. Here’s what’s been on his mind.

@alejandrozario

quarantine ain’t stopping us from collabs @ayesebastien

♬ Outta there by moe dance by jeanvictorm - jeanvictorm

So how’s quarantine been? Are you at home in Jersey?

Yeah, [with] my mom and dad and my little brother. It’s been pretty boring. I have nothing to do all day, so I’ve just been making content every day. Everyone’s been missing the content of all of us together.

Have you noticed a difference in your likes and comments?

My stuff has been doing good. Before, I got at least 2,000 comments, but now everybody gets 10,000.

Are you spending more time on TikTok?

Every day. It’s the only thing I do. I’m either online in bed watching TikToks or playing Xbox with my friends [besides online school].

I saw the video of you going on the randomized video chat app Omegle and people were so excited to see you! How’d you come up with that?

One day, I was just really bored, and I was like, “I wonder what happens if people recognize me on Omegle.” I went on and then immediately, the first person I saw was like, “Oh my God, this is fake. This is not you.” It’s kind of funny, they don’t think it’s actually me. I went on there one night, and the next morning I was like, I don’t have anything to post, so why not just go on Omegle? It was a good idea.

Was it weird to be looking at all these strangers who recognized you and treated you like a celebrity?

It’s kind of weird, but at the same time, it was nice. I heard that most [famous TikTokers] on Omegle just say hi and leave, but I actually have conversations. I stayed on for at least ten minutes one time. They were telling me how long they had been a fan for. I tested them and asked them questions to see if they’d actually been there that long.

Have you ever experienced that in person?

We went to our first event in Chicago and we saw the traction. Not to say that we were the main attraction, but what we saw the lines for other TikTokkers compared to ours...

Then [social video creator convention] Playlist [Live, in February] was insane. I’ve never been around so many people that have known me. I couldn’t even walk, because I’d get mobbed. I was like, “Oh my god.”

What’s it like being famous while you’re still in school?

At school, when we first started, people would call us names. But the good thing was that we were a group, so it wasn’t just us individually, we had each other. Once they saw that we were actually doing good and blowing up, then just started to be like, “Oh, that’s cool what you’re doing.”

What’s the first thing you’re going to do when quarantine is over?

I’m gonna go out to LA. I just want to visit the [TikTok] headquarters and collab with people. Every time someone goes there, they’re meeting people and making new friends that they can bond with and grow together. After high school, I want to do acting and modeling.

For senior year, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to school anymore [because of TikTok]. We’re either going to go or we’re going to do homeschool, but we don’t know. It’s a big decision. We’ve been thinking about it ever since the beginning. [Getting on TikTok] was just a joke, really, but now that we’re where we are and making money, my mom sees it now.

What’s your favorite TikTok dance right now?

The “Savage” one or the one that goes “I’m gone.”

TikTok in the news

  • You know that delicious-looking but also sort of uncanny fluffy coffee? Terry Nguyen wrote about it for The Goods as one of the first “quarantine trends” to go viral. Dalgona coffee, which originated in South Korea but blew up on TikTok in mid-March, is easy and replicable (all it requires is milk, sugar, instant coffee, and a lot of stirring), but looks cute and expensive. Other highly shareable quarantine trends: breadmaking, Powerpoint parties, and annoying Instagram challenges.
  • TikTok has pledged $375 million in initiatives to help fight Covid-19. $250 million of that will be spread out over various relief funds, while $100 million and $25 million will be for ad credits for struggling small businesses and ad space for public health information from NGOs and health authorities, respectively.
  • The D’Amelio family reality show that of course is happening, is happening.
  • I feel like the hot banana peel TikTok guy would be mean to me! And not in a fun way!

One Last Thing

Please enjoy this flawless impression of every gay character on Law & Order: SVU. Have a happy week!