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It has been called “the Chinese lip-syncing app your kids love, but you’ve never heard of”, and now it has become a hit in the States.
The upstart video-sharing app TikTok is the most popular free download in the App Store in the US, above such behemoths as Facebook, YouTube and Amazon. It has been downloaded almost 80m times in the US to date, including nearly 4m downloads in October alone, making it No 1 in the App Store for that month.
The success of any burgeoning app is often tied to the early adoption of a key celebrity. The fortunes of Snapchat have been closely tied to the whims of Kylie Jenner, Instagram has Selena Gomez, and Twitter now has a certain Mr Trump. For TikTok, late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon may be the user that pushes it over the edge in United States.
“What it is is you post short videos of you doing fun stuff like lip-syncing to a song or a movie clip or acting out a silly scene with you friends, or even your pets,” Fallon said by way of introduction on a segment on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon this month.
Another popular usage Fallon might relish has been lip-syncing along to standup comedy routines.
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Fallon has since encouraged viewers to take part in a series of challenges, such as the #TumbleweedChallenge, where people are meant to stop what they’re doing and roll around on the ground like a tumbleweed while an old western movie soundtrack plays.
While it’s nothing exceptionally novel in the world of user-created video apps, the reason for its popularity just might be how well it incorporates the functions of a host of other similar apps that have come before it. Part Instagram story, part Snapchat, and part, TikTok most closely resembles the concept of the dearly missed (and maybe returning) Vine.
As the Atlantic pointed out last month, one of the more engaging aspects of the US version of the app has revolved around so-called cringe videos. Videos that are “so painful and embarrassing that a viewer can’t help but laugh”.
“We’re living in a world where on social media, it’s about showing your perfect self – not your real self,” Stefan Heinrich, TikTok’s head of global marketing recently told Variety. “What I love about TikTok is that people show their real side.”
There’s certainly no shortage of preening, but like with Vine the users of TikTok seem more interested in presenting themselves as dorky sketch comedians rather than aspirational objects of sex appeal and wealth. At least those are the ones that seem to be going viral most quickly.
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Whether TikTok can hold on to its spot near the top of the app store remains to be seen. Data has shown users open it up far less frequently than they do other “stickier” apps, and so far Fallon and the skateboarding icon Tony Hawk are among the few US-based celebrity users. And then there’s Facebook, which launched its own version of a TikTok-style app called Lasso last week.