First came Dubsmash, then came Vine, then Musical.ly, and now, there’s TikTok. The internet is not new to short-form music videos and we’ve seen plenty come out of TikTok’s predecessors. Back in the days of Dubsmash, many Nepali performers had found fame on the app, and the same can be said for performers on Musical.ly, another similar app, just about a year ago. Musical.ly had just started to gain a niche among youth around the world when the Chinese company ByteDance, in November 2017, bought them out and merged it with their own app, TikTok.
In essence, TikTok does what all other short-form video apps had done before: it lets you lipsync to famous movie scripts, and dance to clips from songs while also providing you with the tools required to edit and put them together. While the form maybe the same, TikTok offers a simple yet endless variety of editing options, creative and quirky AR filters, and a big library of sounds and music to play with.
Today, TikTok has taken the world by storm. At 500 million users as of June 2018, there were more users on TikTok than on Reddit, Twitter, Skype, Snapchat and LinkedIn. In Nepal, it’s the top trending app on Google Play and is home to many Nepali users, many who’ve amassed fan followings in the hundreds of thousands. These users have not only cemented a space for local Nepali content in front of an international audience but have understood the platform well enough to go viral as well as ignite social media movements in the form of challenges. TikTok might come off as ‘cringy’ at first, especially if you’re an adult, but in a bizarre way, it’s somewhat inviting.
After hearing about TikTok a lot in passing conversations and stealing glances at some videos on my friends’ phones, I finally decided to give it a shot. At first, TikTok came off as goofy and servile, but the more time I spent on the app, the more I grew to love it. TikTok felt like the happiest place on the internet where people made fun videos without any sense of guilt or self-consciousness. It felt like a space where anyone could come, make an ass out of themselves with no fear of social litany or judgment. While on the app, I was gaping at stunt videos and laughing out loud at hilarious recreations of movie scenes or online social media trends. I spent hours on the app and came out of it a happier man.
TikTok builds off the participatory culture that youth on the internet are most known for. On the app, users can duet with each other, and in response, you can add to content other users have posted, making you feel like a part of the community. While custom sounds can be uploaded by TikTokers themselves, users can also employ each others’ sound clips to make their own videos. This helps create viralty and participation. One such trend was recently set by Nepali TikTok dance duo @pradeepthenext and @biju on the song Saani Na Risauna by Buddha Lama. Pioneering a unique dance move on the song’s chorus, the duo managed to get people in India, Australia and Nepal to copy their move.
Movements like these are what creates the dynamic nature of the platform. TikTok is home to many challenges that spur users to create their own take on the challenge. There have been challenges like #showmyexchallenge, #notevenalittlebit, #goodgirl/badguys and #publicchallenge—all of which primarily started and were propagated through TikTok, creating a unique opportunity for users from across the world to find fans internationally. The international #publicchallenge, a challenge where TikTokers had to shoot their video in a public space, also came to Nepal and saw many local TikTokers perform in front of a live audience.
“There is still a stigma,” says Mira Khadka (@meemira), a local TikToker with 90,000 fans. “It feels really weird to make TikTok videos in public because you can see people looking at you and judging you. I like to make videos when I’m dressed up and when I have props, which makes it difficult to find a secluded space for me to make content. I usually make videos at my uncle’s place since his house offers more privacy.”
Mira says that although she feels ostracised inside her real community, she feels accepted inside her digital community. She’s connected with people from India and Pakistan through her videos and says her fan-base mostly consists of users from India. Another TikToker, Reeya Rayamaji (@reeya_rayamaji123) has many Pakistani users among her 40,000 fans.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you come from or even if you understand the language certain clips are based on,” says Reeya. “It’s about making videos, finding your confidence and socialising with different kinds of people. It’s just about having fun. My love for acting initially brought me to TikTok and I’ve used it to share my love for the craft and at the same time, practice with people from all over.”
Although the videos on TikTok are amateurish, a few users have found professional work through their posts. One such user, Reshma Ghimire (@reshmaghimire) has a massive 720,000 fans on the platform and has found gigs in movies and music videos since joining TikTok.
Apart from being used to scout actors, TikTok has also been identified as a prime platform for social media advertising. Uptrendly, a social media advertising company based in Kathmandu, has already started identifying potential social media influencers on the platform and has also conducted a few campaigns. Their current social media campaign #mylovemychallenge has been expanded to include TikTok and its users.
“As social media advertisers, we look towards trends on the internet and TikTok right now is one of the biggest trends,” says Sushant Diyali, brand manager at Uptrendly. “We’ve already worked with many influencers on TikTok for the promotion of many local brands and we have strategies in place for furthering our reach through the platform in the future.”
As big as TikTok is right now, the big question remains—will it survive? Many similar apps, as popular as TikTok, collapsed relatively soon. Many users of the now defunct app Vine said that they quit the platform because it lost its appeal. But with so many Nepali youth active on TikTok right now, it has miles left to go.