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This week in TikTok: Every influencer wants a reality show

Plus, Chinese street style fancams!

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! 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, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

Famous TikTok teens are always squabbling with each other — that’s part of the point! — but last week our nation’s top creators of negligible scandals were so angry with each other that the event was given its own nickname: the TikTokalypse. I won’t go into extreme detail because it’s all very byzantine and also I feel weird about speculating on high schooler’s personal lives; plus, plenty of other outlets have already published helpful rundowns.

Basically, it revolves around two former couples — Chase “Lil Huddy” Hudson and Charli D’Amelio, and the Sway House’s Josh Richards and Nessa Barrett. Apparently, Lil Huddy kissed Nessa at one point, and then when a bunch of people started unfollowing him, he posted a Notes App accusing several other TikTokers of cheating on their respective girlfriends. There’s more, but you get it.

If you’re thinking, “This sounds like Laguna Beach,” ding ding ding! You clearly have the mind of a TikTok talent manager, because every single one of them is currently shopping a reality show about their respective collab house. Pitching has been ongoing since pre-quarantine, but it’s actually a lot more difficult to get a TikTok reality show greenlit than you might think. According to Taylor Lorenz’s latest, management companies are trying to sell shows about the business deals that go on behind the camera (boring!), but producers are far more interested in the relationships between its stars (the reason people watch reality shows!).

When the stars are still minors, though, it becomes a bit of an issue. Teenagers aren’t typically cast for reality shows because it can feel “sensational,” according to one production head, and the lack of an existing model for how a show about a content house might work is itself a hurdle when pitching to networks. The linear narrative TV drama is also pretty different from how followers currently track their favorite creators’ personal arcs, which is usually a collage of Instagram Lives, drama accounts, and YouTube apology videos. Said one talent manager, “In many ways, fans are already watching the TV show, just not on TV.”

So do we need a TikTok reality show? On one hand, no, because the people who care about them are already following their every move. On the other, as The Cut points out, social media allows kids to be the executive producers of their own lives. With stars this savvy about what plays and what doesn’t, what might a seasoned reality TV producer be able to craft out of fame-hungry teens with millions of fans? My actual thought, though, is that a reality show about TikTokers will either be very dark and totally mesmerizing or so surface-level that nobody will even bother watching. I’m not sure the world needs either one.

TikTok in the news

  • “What are you going to write about when TikTok gets banned?” is the question I was asked most this weekend, and the answer is that I do not think the US will actually ban TikTok. The Verge has a great explainer on why it would be very, very difficult for the Trump administration to do so. (The answer to the original question is probably meandering blog posts about sexy fruits.)
  • Amazon sent out, then retracted, an email demanding that its employees delete TikTok due to “security risks.” These supposed risks, which virtually all TikTok bans are ostensibly about, have stemmed from TikTok’s parent company ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government. Over the past year, TikTok has distanced itself from ByteDance and China in general, opening headquarters in the US and London and insisting that it does not and will not share any user data with the Chinese government.
  • To prove it, TikTok removed itself from Hong Kong app stores after a Beijing law went into effect stating that the Chinese government would no longer require a warrant to request user data from internet companies.
  • A temporary glitch last week dropped every TikTok user’s follower and view counts down to zero, and everyone reacted very calmly. Just kidding, people freaked out and thought the end was nigh.
  • Jason Derulo makes $75,000 per TikTok. Do with that information what you will.

Meme watch

Last week I tweeted an example of a video genre that’s been all over my For You page, which is this: paparazzi-style videos, sometimes in slow motion, of impossibly attractive and stylish people in China. There is no “deeper meaning” to them; they only exist to make viewers feel ugly and jealous and I love every second of it.

While they’ve been around for years — you can easily find examples on YouTube and Instagram — on TikTok they’re more visible than ever, and many users are posting about their love of scrolling through Douyin, the TikTok app in China, to find more of them. The million-dollar question, though, is whether these videos are staged or just some guy with a camera filming random beautiful people, which would feel sort of creepy. When I asked on Twitter, multiple people told me that they’re typically plandids, or mock-candid films shot with friends. If so, this needs to become a thing in the US too. Normalize dressing amazingly and making your friend film you like a celebrity!!!

One Last Thing

Imagine if TikTok existed in 2003 and you and your friends made a dorky music video for “Heaven” by DJ Sammy. That’s what this video is.