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This week in TikTok: Music is just TikTok now

Head empty, only TikTok sounds.

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.

I’m having trouble writing this newsletter because this is what the inside of my brain sounds like right now:

  • [Country song twang]: “Somebody’s gotta wear a pretty skirt, somebody’s gotta be the one to flirt ...”
  • [Russian techno song whose lyrics I can’t understand]
  • [Dr. Phil]: “Open the door, or I’m going to throw rocks at your window you dumb whore.”
  • [The most uncomfortable “sexy” voice you can ever imagine]: “Uzi ... Uzi, not again ... Uzi, wake your ass up!”

What these all have in common is that they’re popular TikTok sounds. None of them have anything to do with each other, or me, or popular music. They all just happened to go viral due to some random string of millions of people tapping their phones. And they are the only thing I can hear anymore.

This seems to be an increasingly common phenomenon among people I know in real life and those I see online. This woman, for instance, made a TikTok about what the app has done to her mind, which is exactly the same thing it has done to mine:

Unspoken in the video is the knowledge that by next weekend the sounds themselves will be completely different but the effect will be the same, a permanent microchip in our brains looping the same inconsequential audio. The other day I was talking to a friend about the music we’re currently listening to on Spotify, and all of it is just whatever went viral on TikTok recently. I have listened to the ‘70s Euro-disco hit “Rasputin” by Boney M and the 2017 rap song “Rake It Up” by Yo Gotti and Nicki Minaj about 12,000 times in the past month. Sometimes I just skip right to the TikTok-famous verses and then start the song all over again. Is this a weird and slightly unhealthy lockdown habit or a permanent part of my being? Who can say!

To be honest, I enjoy the fact that TikTok is broadening peoples’ interest in musical genres and time periods, much like the whole sea shanty thing (which was an SNL sketch this week even though it feels as though it all happened like 10 months ago). It’s nice watching people discover music, not because it’s from whatever new album dropped that week but because they were exposed to something they never would have been otherwise.

But having this constant track of decontextualized garbage in your head feels a little unsettling, and it gets even more so when it translates into the way you actually communicate with people. Now when I call that same friend we find ourselves speaking entire sentences in the language of TikTok, which is of course heavily borrowed from AAVE and stan culture and queer culture and everything else good on the internet, even though we are two white ladies approaching 30 who haven’t been to a concert or a movie in a calendar year.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with adopting a new lexicon from social media, to the extent that you’re not engaging in harmfully appropriative language or digital blackface. It just feels like at this particular moment, the only novel human interactions we’re experiencing are the one-sided parasocial ones we watch online, and they’re seeping into our real worlds faster and more completely than ever before. Like, when we’re all finally hanging out with our vaxxed-up friends this summer — an apparent possibility! — it’ll be fun and also strange to see what sonic quirks they’ve picked up from a year scrolling through TikTok alone (or wherever else on the internet they spent their time). Just please let it not be “Uzi ... Uzi ... not again.”

TikTok in the news

  • People are sharing harrowing videos of the destruction in Texas, from collapsed roofs to fast-moving floods.
  • A former ByteDance developer in China wrote an anonymous essay on their experience working within China’s heavily censored tech industry and the guilt and moral anxiety that comes with it. (ByteDance is the owner of TikTok, and its moderation processes are different within China and outside of it.)
  • TikTok is testing out a seller marketplace where brands can set up their own stores within the app.
  • For National Eating Disorder Awareness month, it’s also linking to support resources on videos on related issues.
  • Who could have guessed that the “free speech” TikTok knockoff app, Clapper, would be overrun by anti-vaxxers?
  • A viral TikTok about “cooperative overlap” in conversation has ignited debate over whether the practice is rude or a cherished part of certain cultures.
  • Sway House former members Bryce Hall and Blake Gray (why are all their names the exact same?) have pleaded not guilty to pandemic partying charges from last summer.
  • Two ironic TikTok cults, one devoted to hamsters and the other to Lana Del Rey, are feuding.
  • The heartwarming story of a man who saw his family’s old VHS tape full of memories after someone had thrifted it and posted it on TikTok.

One Last Thing

This girl casually Snapchatting her reactions to friends’ messages while eating Chex Mix is the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen.

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