Before Charli D’Amelio became the most popular creator on TikTok – she currently has 132 million followers – she danced on the competitive contemporary dance floor in the Northeast, the kinds of theater styles you might know from “So You Think You Can Dance?” once she started posting On TikTok in 2019, especially after her videos started popping up and her family moved to Los Angeles to support the viral dreams of her and older sister Dixie (56 million followers), this type of dance became an afterthought, a relic of an old life.
The D’Amelios family jumped from phone screen to small screen this year with the Hulu documentary series “The D’Amelio Show,” which captures, in sometimes painful detail, the excitement and payoff of TikTok’s success. The most intriguing subplot is about Charlie’s side quest to return, at least temporarily, to pre-capitalist times, pressure in time to work with a coach to relearn what those ancient dances require of her body, and push herself to re-master it.
For Charlie, the TikTok stardom is a rocket ship, potentially a rooftop too. The past year or so has been a testing ground for the app’s biggest creators — sisters D’Amelio and Noah Beck (32 million followers), Chase Hudson (32 million followers), Addison Rae (86 million followers) and others — who may then, either voluntarily and zeal, or simply to satisfy an insatiable need for the occasions of their absolute existence.
It was a mixed bag, a chaotic mixture of behind-the-scenes weakness, a craving to please others, rudeness and bro and lead resistance. Navigating the chasm between the instinctive charisma that fuels the application and the long form (i.e.) seriousness and vision that may lead to a stable and sustainable career in entertainment, is played across reality TV, pop music, movies, books, and other social media platforms – And even TikTok itself.
What’s becoming clear is that the skill set that led to Big Tent’s victory over app in 2019 and 2020 is, by and large, midsize. With more breathing room in other formats, most TikTok stars are still figuring out how to create beyond the phone.
Throughout many of these projects, what you feel is the off-screen number-crunchers hoping to hang potential franchises on the heads and necks of these young, fully creative-thinkers than fan-gathering platforms desperately need content.
“Noah Beck Tries Things,” which appears on YouTube’s AwesomenessTV channel, is a very fresh take on the phenomenon — an entire series, two seasons deep, entirely dedicated to figuring out what to do with that raw man’s meal.
Beck, 20, is a very friendly ex-footballer who, out of all the current crop of crossover stars on TikTok, seems pretty baffled on how to inflate him. “Noah Beck Tries Things” is a frivolous ramble to produce content without consequences. He simply wraps a pickup, puts him through improbable scenarios — cooking a steak, dancing a tango, recording a dis track — and watching him swallow air. In one episode, when someone shows him how to stand on his hands on a flying board, his fear is real – not “Oh my God!” From someone who’s used to shooting it for reactions, but more like an off-cuff “derp” to someone who understands they’ve landed somewhere near the deep end and has no idea how to swim.
On his show, he’s mostly unlucky, apart from the occasional sporting errands. But what has emerged as his calling card is his raging commitment to goodness. The only times Beck’s brow grooves were present in scenes on a Hulu show D’Amelios is when his girlfriend Dixie—who refers to him as a “golden retriever,” TikTok’s familiar good boy model—can’t muster the optics for a mutualistic relationship. In those moments, he seems confused, as if the Apple IIc is being updated with this year’s operating system.
Beck is cute and cute – in short on the app, it’s a sedative. But he never looks really hungry. In stark contrast to this approach stands Addison Ray, or rather, reviews Addison Ray. Among this generation of TikTok stars, she is the most willful, the most iron-willed, and the most determined. Off-camera, she’s been loosely adopted into the orbit of Kourtney Kardashian. Her parents used to play TikTokers. (D’Amelios plays too, but much less so.) Even as 21-year-old Ray was focused more intently on her social media show—often comically behind on trends on the app—she always seemed to be watching. Her eyes are somewhere outside the phone.
It’s no surprise that Ray’s star turn on “He’s All That,” an update to the 1999 teen rom-com series “She’s All That” (which is itself an update to “Pygmalion”/”My Fair Lady”) is the most vibrant performance yet. TikTok of the year. That’s because Ray understands viral stardom not just as a job, but as an archetype.
Like “The D’Amelio Show,” “He’s All That” is a viral, if fictional, debunking of fame. Ray plays Padgett (pronounced, to some extent, “Queen”), a social media influencer who spurs her goodwill. After falling from grace, she began reshaping her fiercely underrated fellow (who wears a GG Allin T-shirt) to be the new hottie. This is followed by high junk, followed by love.
Beauty and popularity are inventions, and it has been a long time before TikTok came into being. “It’s All That” plays those constructions for laughter and oohs. And the film’s ending cleverly mimics a move away from polished inaccessibility toward Emma Chamberlain-type relatability. Padgett is back on social media, but is posting more natural pictures of her new lover: she found herself an Instagram girlfriend after all.
“It’s all this” still cherishes and enhances the big algorithm, even turning off evil skeptics. But some of the young men who thrived on the app in 2020 decided to pivot in the opposite direction: Rejection. In particular, this has been the direction taken by two stars trying to transition into music careers – Chase Hudson, 19, who records music under the name Lilodie, and Jaden Heusler, 20, who records music as jxdn.
Unlike Ray, who this year released the racy single “Obsession,” a training anthem completely devoid of texture, Hudson and Husler (nine million followers) have drifted hard into renegade territory, embracing pop-punk and, in some places, textures The roughest emerged from SoundCloud in the late 2010s. They’re heavily tattooed, dressed in fancy gothic clothes and have their nails painted – their response to TikTok centralism is highly aesthetic (unlike, say, Bryce Hall, a Covid-era party, drug arrest, and a boxing match, which the post-TikTok trend seems to be inspired by Jake Paul).
For content creators intent on making it clear that they aren’t committed to TikTok’s cute videos and algorithm, it’s a purposeful choice. Hussler’s debut album, “Tell Me About Tomorrow,” runs through anxiety and addiction. He has a reedy voice, and when he sings self-tearing lines like “I don’t like taking pills, but I took them anyway,” he still sounds like an accessible teddy bear, albeit his filler has worn off.
By contrast, Hudson appears to spoil a fight on his debut album, “Teenage Heartbreak.” He’s sarcastic: “I’m not sorry I broke your party.” In “Downfalls High,” the surprisingly long-running music video that accompanies Machine Gun Kelly’s latest album, “Tickets to My Downfall,” Hudson plays Fenix, a mysterious recluse with lecherous charisma — basically, the kind of The guy Padgett tries to do this clean up in “It’s All That”. When his girlfriend, who is popular, rich and stumped, asks him what he wants when he grows up, he replies shrugging but not terribly convincingly, “Dead.” It all sounds like a long, elaborate Halloween performance. (Hudson is also one of several TikTokers who have appeared on the feature-length reality show “Hype House,” which will debut on Netflix next month.)
Hudson’s and Hossler’s albums kill two desires with one groan: the need for these TikTokers to find a viable path forward in music, the music industry’s need to amplify and foster a revival of pop-punk music, mostly white rebel music readily available to newcomers with little history or Experience.
Given the apparent desire for safe spaces, it is noticeable, in both “The D’Amelio Show” and “He’s All That,” that non-white characters are deployed as flakes of more knowledge and mundane than white characters. Intentionally or unintentionally, they serve as a reminder that the world outside of the application is more diverse and complex. Noah Beck Tries Things is also taking on a version of this with gay collaborators, which is amazing considering that one of Beck’s most common criticisms during his rise was the meme dispensing. (However, the first episode of the show, where Beck learned how to apply makeup from James Charles, appears to have disappeared from the Internet.)
It’s hard to tell just how important these accusations are about the franchise – they generally serve up the show’s narratives while embodying their stars, who are presented as open to personal growth.
However, “The D’Amelio Show” is often shown to be quietly harsh towards its co-stars, whether in its more experienced cast of secondary characters, continuing to grapple with the painful challenges of growing up in public online, or even in headshots speaking voice High out of the water contrasts ordinary family members relentlessly against their grand mansion in relentless Southern California.
In the end, “The D’Amelio Show” is about the toxins of viral fame and also about child labor. (Charlie is 17 now, and he was 15 and 16 when the show was scoring. Dixie is 20) It is presented as a moral triumph, near the end of the season, when it was decided after a period of deep decompression by Charlie. It will only work three days a week, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Although, on TikTok, life itself is work. You may feel this burden most acutely in how Dixie navigated the fame that had arrived at her feet in the wake of Charlie’s hack. Dixie is older, a little more cynical and less comfortable. For her next step, she chose music, and the show depicts, with disturbing intimacy, how challenging that decision can be, both artistically and emotionally. Her voice is hoarse, her confidence is low and she is surrounded by naysayers online. (The constant Greek chorus of negative comments online, represented in the show in pop-up graphics, is simultaneously effective and perverted.) Her worldview is encapsulated in the opening lines of her first single, “Be Happy”: “Sometimes I Don’t Want to Be Happy.” / Don’t hold it against me / If you’re frustrated just leave me there, let me grieve.”
This heartbreaking transparency is perhaps the definitive legacy of this era of TikTok crossover. It’s in Charli’s book “Essentially Charli: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping It Real,” released in late 2020, which combines the pages of a workbook about friendship and style with confessions about anxiety and therapy. (There is a more complex discussion of this basic tension in stardom in “Backstory: My Life So Far,” the memoir of TikTok star Avani Gregg, 19, who is a close friend of Charlie (38 million followers).) Greg’s book is amazing for her conversations about facts about self-doubt and mental health. .)
Charlie’s anxiety is a recurring theme on “The D’Amelio Show,” which often feels like crisis footage: Charli having a panic attack in the car when paparazzi spies waiting for her, or Dixie breaking down after being bullied online.
But Charli’s most revealing content may be in the form of her secondary TikTok account, @user4350486101671, which she started in April, during a trip to Las Vegas for a Jake Paul boxing match. She only has 15 million followers, and Charlie treats her casually. The videos are generally more fluid than those on her main account, with a wide range of emotions, from exuberance to exasperation. Dancing is smoother and a little less Procedure.
Sometimes the gap between the two accounts is as vast as that between burden and freedom, and sometimes it’s enough for her to lean into syncopating a curse word that might not fly on her main account. She may owe the most commodity version of herself to TikTok, but here she is trying on different selves, and in just about every video, her smile is wide, relaxed. She looks like someone totally at home.