As an artist in quarantine, I find myself agonizing over the thought that I must create amazing work during this time. I continuously hear the phrase ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine,” an idea that I think is meant to be inspiring, but actually tends to stress me out. I feel immense pressure to produce something iconic, brilliant, stunning during this time when I am trapped.
Each day I awaken with a new goal: to learn a new guitar chord, or start a new piano piece, or sing a little, or do the splits (that one failed miserably). Some days I achieve my goals, while other days, I find myself glued to my bed with little hope for the world.
Of all the art media I have experimented with, most are music related, although I am gaining more interest in theatre and dance. It took a late night, a good deal of panic, and lifting some personal grudges to finally try an art form I resisted even acknowledging until I felt truly bored and desperate: TikTok.
TikTok was released to the world in 2016, although I managed to mostly ignore it until it became extremely mainstream around 2018. TikTok is a rebrand of Musical.ly and is now a video sharing app popular among teenagers and Gen Zers. Functionally, it has replaced Vine which shut down in 2016. As a hardcore Vine fan, I wasn’t ready for a new app to take over.
But it became more and more difficult for me to ignore TikTok, as nearly every person I knew in high school began obsessively trying to become “TikTok famous,” creating short videos up to sixty seconds through covering viral dances, lip syncing to songs, creating memes, or reenacting scenes from movies, television shows, or popular videos. Other social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat soon began featuring highlights from TikTok, so although I didn’t download the app until recently, I was never a complete stranger to it.
Approximately 44 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 16and 24, and two thirds of TikTok users are under the age of 30. As a teenager, I worked hard to avoid the stereotype of being a Generation Z kid: a group of internet-reliant, TikTok-obsessed, spoiled babies who had tons of mental health issues. I couldn’t help my mental health problems, and I was pretty much reliant on the Internet. But I felt that I could avoid TikTok at all costs and avoid being a stereotypical member of the hated Generation Z. More than that, TikTok as an app annoyed me, and I felt that it was another social media app that would diminish in popularity pretty quickly. I was completely wrong.
Coronavirus caused a massive TikTok download boom. The week of March 16, when much of the United States shut down, TikTok saw a 34 percent increase in revenue. TikTokers began creating “wholesome family quarantine content,” demonstrating quarantine activities or showing off new dance moves. Memes about Zoom classes and meetings, being stuck at home with annoying housemates, and other relatable quarantine content began to pop up on the app.
So a few weeks ago, when I finally caved and downloaded the app, I realized something that I’d been missing before: I was so busy feeling high and mighty about not being a stereotypical teenager that I failed to notice that TikTok is an art form just the way music, theatre, dance, and visual art are. Creating these videos takes hours of hard work to create, curate, and perfect.
This semester, visiting professor Michal Zadara is staging Sophocles’ “The Women of Trachis” without live performers or a live audience. So how is the production working? Zadara is programming and editing cues for light, sound, and video. And one of the types of media used in this production is TikTok; the actors created a variety of TikToks telling the story.
And thus, I was forced to admit something that I had been avoiding before: TikTok is just another art form, and one that manages to combine several others into one. Everything from visual art, cooking demonstrations, dances, music, acting, video editing, sound editing, and costume changes can all be found on TikTok. It is not a way for teens and young adults to waste their time creating content, but rather one of the generation’s preferred ways of expressing itself artistically.
As an artist in quarantine, I feel pressure to create, to use this time of deep stress and uncertainty to make something that can be treasured long after this period. While I still spend the majority of my time on creating music and dance, every few days, I take a few hours to create a TikTok, sometimes aiming for comedic videos, sometimes looking to recreate popular dances, and sometimes, just to entertain myself with the hours of alone time I have. TikTok is a one-stop shop for all artistic needs. In an age where everything happens instantly, why travel to a theatre or museum when you could get the same content on an app? While all other live performance types were negatively affected by COVID-19, TikTok thrived because of its convenience. I excitedly await the way that art will change throughout the next several years.
Featured image (company logo of TikTok) courtesy of wikipedia.org