May 25, 2020

Some people are making bread in quarantine. Others are making TikToks

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TikTok added 12 million unique users in March, and people are spending more time on the app than on Instagram.

TikTok has been in the news for its new CEO, Kevin Mayer, who was poached from Disney, and for record labels who think the service should pay more to publishers and artists for using their songs. It’s also made headlines for actual calls to ban it in the U.S. over its Chinese ownership and security and privacy fears.

But its popularity keeps growing. More than 300 million people downloaded TikTok in the first quarter of this year. That’s 50% more than the previous quarter, for a total of 2 billion downloads.

Laura Pearson, a student at the University of Southern California who happens to be my roommate, started hearing huge buzz about TikTok right before her spring break. Her friends were sending her a lot of links to sketches and dance videos, so she downloaded the app thinking it would be a nice, easy way to kill some quarantine time. “It’s like this cute, little app that you can record videos,” Laura said after giving the app a few tries.

She started to spend more and more time on TikTok — when she wasn’t Zooming into her classes, of course. Soon enough, she started producing videos herself.

She recruited Arlene Pereira, our other roommate. She’s also home now from her teaching job at El Camino College here in Southern California. They chose Zico’s “Any Song” to dance to.

“We spent the whole night trying to figure out how to do the dance and have a certain level of swag,” Laura said.

I stayed out of the way in the living room, while my roommates discovered how much time it takes to perfect a TikTok dance. “That just gave me a whole new perspective on TikTok. You see these super-silly videos, but boy, is it quite the production!” Arlene said.

Then we all decided, let’s do this. We invested in a really nice phone tripod with a cute, little Bluetooth control. On Amazon you can actually find bundles called TikTok kits, which include a ring light, tripod and some other fancy stuff. They can cost up to $90.

My first TikTok tries: two sketches. Not amazing, but still funny.

@jesusalvp

Caught myself wearing work swag to #wfh today, so thought I’d follow suit with @washingtonpost. #MarketplaceTech #WeAreAlsoANewsroom #Radio

♬ Scuz me – oliveworksattjs

Talent agents are also getting in on the action, managing famous TikTokers trying to get work in Hollywood and connecting social media influencers who are already making big money.

Right now, almost two-thirds of TikTok users are under the age of 34. It’s especially popular with 18- to 24-year-olds, exactly our demographic. Laura is showing the TikTok universe her crocheting wizardry. And as for Arlene, she has a few dance TikToks in drafts, including one to the song “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls.

Me? I’m keeping my day job — for now.

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

Lawmakers have their concerns over TikTok and its owner, ByteDance, but it is going to be really difficult to pry this app from the hands of the youth of America. EMarketer reports that TikTok added 12 million unique U.S. users in March and that people spent an average of 8 hours on the app in that month, compared to an average of 5 hours on Instagram. 

Maybe TikTok can be the peacemaker in U.S.-China relations.

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The team

Molly Wood Host
Michael Lipkin Senior Producer
Stephanie Hughes Producer
Jesus Alvarado Assistant Producer