TikTok, purveyor of pop culture, lifestyle hacks, and bits of random joy, has yet again taken over screens and conversations this year, in equal bouts.
For one thing, nearly every app is attempting to transition into TikTok territory. And why wouldn’t they? In September, the social media app claimed that a whopping one billion users turn to TikTok each month. This year, we know people came for the recipes, nostalgic fashion trends, the myth-debunking, but data-wise, it’s tricky to pinpoint exactly what caught our collective attentions.
TikTok’s 2021 trends report solves this conundrum, with the company showing their chosen numbers on what billions were watching, obsessing over, and sharing on the app this year. In a press conference, TikTok stated that the list is the result of engagement metrics and popularity on the platform.
“For us, 2021 was a year for connection and we’ve seen people on TikTok laughing together, entertaining us, starting cultural phenomenons, and teaching us new things,” said Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s chief operating officer.
From a certain bones-possible pug to picking which wild plants we’re OK to eat, there were some creations in particular that had the global TikTok community perking up. And for the creators themselves, making this list is truly a sign of breaking through the noise, considering how many videos there are out there. Here are some of the biggest TikTok moments of 2021, according to TikTok’s report.
The culture connoisseurs, AKA the FYP stars
On TikTok, culture isn’t exactly what hangs in a museum (yet). But the videos have become cultural cornerstones of the 21st century: voiceovers, dance routines, and kitchen restocks (?) that spark fascination and imitation. They’re the videos that dominate the “For You Page” (FYP), or where most top videos are found globally.
This year, we couldn’t get enough of @tracy.oj, with the original Doja Cat “Woman” dance video; @totouchanemu who practically invented drone dancing (AKA dancing while a drone films you from fantastic angles), Olympian Sunisa Lee (@sunisalee) celebrating her gold medal, and @_catben_ with her weirdly soothing restocking videos, taking place periodically in her kitchen. Street art made an appearance, with a delightfully trippy video by @zachking falling and disappearing.
Then there were the go-to animals of 2021 TikTok, beloved and unwitting celebs, who created culture without even knowing it this year. TikTokker @my_aussie_gal posted her extremely talented dog painting, @chipmunksoftiktok truly spoke for itself, and we enjoyed a frog that you just can’t help but smiling at, courtesy of @chaotticgoood. Elsewhere, @felixgabrielmusic delivered the “Here comes the boy” musical edition, starring his cat. Along the same lines comes another voice prompt that seriously took over the app, thanks to @zeddywill and his heartwarming question, “Bro who got you smiling like that?” Cue millions of follow-up videos of pets, babies, partners, all prompting those smiles. Don’t worry, Noodles the pug is coming further on.
Filters got weird
Any TikTok viewer, or creator, will recognize these right off the bat, the filters you couldn’t miss in 2021. The following filters and effects are “only on TikTok”, claims the platform, and assisted true creativity on the app this year — some are hilarious, some aesthetic, and overwhelmingly unexpected.
Spearheading change, one video at a time
TikTok’s not without its problems. It’s long been home to misinformation, from health to elections, a problem the company continues to attempt to combat. But at the other end of this, the platform amplified voices this year campaigning for change, people who advocate for inclusivity and empathy, educating followers on their areas of expertise, and fundraising for causes they care about.
For instance, there’s @joelbervell, who used TikTok this year to shine light on the racial disparities and inequalities in healthcare. Another such creator is Jesús Morales (@juixxe), who wields his influence on TikTok to crowdfund for street vendors in Southern California. Other creators who fall under this space give free haircuts to strangers (@vicblends), educate the TikTok community on ASL (@slntwrlddd), deliver emotional and educational videos on the Native American community (@nativephotography), and bring beauty services and food to the homeless community on Skid Row (@beauty2thestreetz).
This is the side of TikTok the platform focuses on uplifting, seen also in their first-ever Discover List, launched in October. The list and the 2021 report, for example, both feature @AlexisNikole, who educates her 3.2 million followers on nature, foraging, cooking, while enlightening followers on the cultural significance of wild, edible plants. These creators on TikTok promoted not just social good, but also solace and joy (more on that later). Mother-daughter TikTok duo, @scarlettandtiania, also created for this purpose, providing affirmations and spreading the importance of self-love.
Creating joy, with Noodles and hungry sharks
Credit: Credit: Tiktok / Jongraz.
Joy, on TikTok, was individualistic and unexpected this year. Just take Noodle, the 13-year-old pug of Jonathan Graziano, and arguably the biggest mood of 2021. When Noodle woke up each day, TikTok collectively enjoyed a forecast of whether it was a day to seize or not, depending on whether or not the dog could hold himself up (check out Mashable’s interview with Graziano for more bones about it.)
It’s content like that which really delighted the TikTok community. Other notable joyful accounts were @saveafox.rescue, a joyful fox, @andreas.choice with some very clingy cats, @missgunn2u, featuring an animated text from an imaginative (and hungry) kid, @Pudgywoke showing off Pudgy the dog thanking his burgeoning audience.
7 trends that shaped TikTok in 2020
Wholesome family content obviously sparked joy, too: @haylinic, who told her husband she was pregnant, @sarahforwarkholden, showing her baby laughing for the first time, @camifrobabe, with a tear-jerking video of her baby saying goodbye to her grandfather, and @valentinebrothers with an adorable game of family hide and seek.
Finally, a video that you wouldn’t think would fit in this category but definitely does: @deannagiulietti committing to her dress, wearing it the right way.
It’s been a weird year on TikTok but one we’ll remember. Here’s the complete TikTok 2021 trend report if you’re keen.