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Don’t Overthink These TikTok Videos

Even if you haven’t spent any time on TikTok, you probably have an idea of ​​what’s going on there. Headlines about dance challenges, aesthetics (WitchTok! Cottagecore! Coastal Grandma!) and viral soundtracks have proliferated over the past few years, with each trend treated as a way to decipher the habits of the generation Z.

This tendency – to extrapolate ideas over a generation from, say, a group of teenagers trying to “cast a spell on the moon” – is not entirely wrong. The app has a large proportion of young users and the sharpness of its algorithm has made it difficult for people to turn away from their feeds. Their attention and commitment have helped shape music, politics, retail and more.

At the same time, a lot of the stuff posted on the platform is so goofy and bizarre that the search for meaning can seem downright silly – a truth that Instagram account @favetiktoks420 seeks to hammer home in the surreal and stuffy content it makes. surface.

Most of the videos feature young men performing dance routines and skits about relationships and masculinity. In one, a teenager mimes a self-righteous response to a father’s sexist comments. In another, the starry lip syncs as a squirt of ketchup is poured directly into her mouth.

On TikTok, content like this can be understood as the end of a trend or a joke. As with other social media platforms, the app has its own language and grammar through which native users communicate instinctively. But removed from TikTok’s feed, their videos can seem off-putting or alluring, bizarre.

Leia Jospé, 30, the creator of @favetiktoks420, considers them “the best unintentional art of this generation”. A freelance videographer and photographer who worked on the HBO series “How to With John Wilson,” she opened the account last April after her friends were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of TikTok content she was sharing with them via text.

“They were all interested, but they were like, ‘Maybe you should make a page where you can put this or something,'” Ms Jospé said in a Zoom interview. The goal was simply to keep deliciously weird videos for their enjoyment.

She didn’t like TikTok right away. “I hadn’t found anything that would get me hooked,” she said. Then she came across a clip of a teenager named Jordan, who would later become a recurring character on @favetiktoks420. The video opens with his face framed by Prince Charming’s long blonde curls. He raises a sculpted eyebrow at the camera as he lip-syncs. A bit of text – “meet the boys” – appears above his head. The video cuts to said boys, who preen as their names flash on the screen: Baron, Griffin, Dylan, Baby J, Hub.

“I went through all his videos and the guys he tagged. I was surfing the web of their guy network,” Ms. Jospé said. “By the time I looked up, it had been three hours. “

The algorithm has since adapted to his tastes. “My For You page is totally messed up,” she said.

According to data from her Instagram dashboard, the majority of Ms. Jospé’s 50,000 followers are between the ages of 25 and 34. TikTok’s base is younger: In 2020, the company classified more than a third of its users as 14 or younger, according to internal company data and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

That is, an aging generation on the cutting edge of social media can use @favetiktoks420 to keep tabs on what Gen Z is up to. The account’s bio nods to this – “I watch tik tok so you don’t have to ❤️” – as does its handle, which recalls the wacky millennial naming conventions of the Myspace era. (The “420” is a cannabis reference.)

Despite all the quirks of his account, Madame Jospé does not consider him a mocker. She noted that some TikTok influencers reached out to her after spotting themselves on her Instagram feed.

“Everyone is generally very happy about it, to be honest,” she said. “Because I give them a new audience that they haven’t reached before, I guess. At least that’s what they told me.

It can be easy to forget while browsing @favetiktoks420 that teens use TikTok more intentionally than people realize. Doing content framed around a trend like cottagecore can be an attempt to generate traction rather than a serious expression of interest; bizarre content like the ketchup video is often a deliberate attempt to go viral; and things that seem funny are often meant as jokes.

In one of the clips featured by Ms. Jospé, music plays as a boy leaps into action on a ski slope. He throws his jacket in the snow and performs a shirtless dance. Behind him, against a bright, clear blue sky, other skiers file past on a drag lift heading up a piste.

Pure joy radiates from the dancer’s face. It’s hard to tell what that means, or even what’s going on in the frame. But impossible not to laugh.

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