TikTok and the In-Between Generation

By Anna Grace Lee

Recently I have become obsessed with TikTok, the social media of the youths. I have spent entire hours reading about about the newest TikTok craze and watching teenagers on the app do outrageous things—like dancing to voicemails from abusive partners, calling themselves ugly and then dancing, and conducting “hot mom checks”—all in whirlwind, 15-second bursts. Many of these TikTokers were born in the 2000s, and the online discourse surrounding the app is hilariously focused on an attempt at understanding the “kids these days” through their use of TikTok. These TikTokers are not much younger than I am, and yet they feel like members of a completely different generation. They seem so earnest and unashamed in their videos, e-girls pouting and lip-syncing about taking your man, e-boys accentuating their jawlines and snarling for the camera while dancing to the newest sexy pop song. Why is their world of TikTok so bewildering to me, and why does TikTok make me feel so old?

Art by Olivia Bono

I asked my Instagram followers, the majority of whom are over 18, how TikTok makes them feel. One 23-year-old friend replied: “I love that it reminds me of Ke$ha’s banger, ‘Tik Tok.’” Other friends: “Pleasantly bemused,” “scared,” and “shivers.” Many of my friends, the oldest one being 26, said that TikTok makes them feel “old” and “out of touch.” One simply lamented, “RIP Vine.” I asked the people who said that they love TikTok why they love it. Their responses: “It spews out chaotic energy that reeks of rural American ennui,” “It makes me feel like an anthropologist,” and “It’s a never-ending source of entertainment.”

Regardless of the specifics of my peers’ reactions to TikTok, they all articulate a certain anxiety over generational alignment. My friends and I are young enough to communicate by way of meme and Vine references, but too old to feel like we truly understand the motivations of the kids on TikTok. For me, the rise of TikTok and my initial confusion surrounding it was the first time I realized there was a younger generation doing things I didn’t understand. My older siblings are millennials and I grew up inhaling so much of their pop culture, style, and technological leanings that I don’t feel like I’m part of Generation Z. TikTok just solidifies that separation. TikTok makes me feel acutely in-between and lonely in my 1997-ness, but something about that feels exactly how it should be.

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