Even if you haven’t spent time on TikTok, you probably have an idea of what’s going on there. Headlines about dance challenges, aesthetics (WitchTok! Cottagecore! Coastal grandmother!) and viral audio clips have exploded in recent years, with each trend seen as a way to decipher the habits of Gen Z.
That tendency — to extrapolate ideas about a generation from, say, a group of teenagers who are “trying to bewitch the moon” — isn’t entirely out of place. The app has a large number of young users and the sharpness of the algorithm has made it difficult for people to turn away from their feeds. Their attention and involvement have helped shape music, politics, retail and more.
At the same time, many things posted on the platform are so wacky and weird that seeking meaning in them can feel downright idiotic – a truth the Instagram account @favetiktoks420 is trying to penetrate into the surreal and stilted content that emerges.
Most of the videos feature young men performing dance routines and skits about relationships and masculinity. In one, a teen mimics a self-righteous response to a father’s sexist comments. In another, the star lip syncs up as a stream of ketchup is poured directly into his mouth.
On TikTok, this type of content can be interpreted as the capstone of a trend or a joke. As with other social media platforms, the app has its own language and grammar that native users instinctively communicate with. But removed from the TikTok feed, their videos can seem obnoxious or appealingly bizarre.
Leia Jospé, 30, the creator of @favetiktoks420, considers them “the best accidental art of this generation.” A freelance videographer and photographer who has worked on the HBO series “How to With John Wilson,” she started the account last April after her friends became overwhelmed with the amount of TikTok content she shared with them via text.
“They were all interested, but they said, ‘Maybe you should make a page where you can put this or something,'” Ms Jospé said in a Zoom interview. The point was just to save deliciously weird videos for their enjoyment.
She didn’t like TikTok right away. “I hadn’t found anything that would make me addicted to it,” 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 on his face, framed by long, blond Prince Charming curls. He raises a modeled eyebrow at the camera as he syncs his lips. 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 from their network of guys,” Ms. Jospé said. “When I looked up, it was already three o’clock.”
The algorithm has since been modified to suit her taste. “My For You page is totally insane,” 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 DailyExpertNews.
That is, a generation older than the social media vanguard may be using @favetiktoks420 to keep up with what Gen Z is up to. The account bio nods to this – “I watch tik tok so you don’t have to ❤️” – as does the handle, which harks back to the funny millennial naming conventions of the Myspace era. (The “420” is a cannabis reference.)
Despite all the quirks her account contains, Ms. Jospé doesn’t see it as mocking. She noted that some TikTok influencers contacted her after seeing herself on her Instagram feed.
“To be honest, everyone is normally very happy with it,” she said. “Because I’m giving them a new audience that they haven’t reached before, I think. At least that’s what they told me.”
When you scroll through @favetiktoks420, it’s easy to forget that teens use TikTok more intentionally than giving credit to people. Creating content around a trend like cottagecore can be an attempt to generate traction rather than a genuine 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 Ms. Jospé’s featured clips, music plays as a boy jumps into action on a ski slope. He throws off his jacket in the snow and performs a dance without a shirt. Behind him, against a clear, clear blue sky, other skiers glide by on an elevator that goes to the top of a slope.
Pure joy radiates from the dancer’s face. It’s hard to say what it means, or even what’s happening in the frame. But it’s impossible not to laugh.