The Year In TikTok: 10 Trends We Can Never Forget
From AOC meets Kendrick Lamar and Farmer Tok to Amy Coney Barrett flunking a Constitutional pop quiz — the year on TikTok kept us amused, informed, and plain old occupied.
My name is Ian McKenna, and I run the @nowthispolitics TikTok account. These are the TikTok trends of 2020 that I will never forget — for better or worse.
1. “I ain’t never seen two pretty best friends”
If you’ve seen it before, you can almost hear him saying it: The expectant pause between setting up his premise (the confident drawl of “I ain’t ever seen two pretty best friends”) and his conclusion (“It’s always one of em’s gotta be ugly”). On paper, it is received as a grossly misogynistic, deeply flawed reading of friendship. But TikTok took the misguided aphorism in a completely different direction, turning it into one of the best “hide-a-memes” since Rick Rolling. TikTokers would tuck it into everything, and you wouldn't see it coming. You thought someone was about to get busted for pot? No, it's IANS2PBF. Did you click on a tech review? Nope, it's IANS2PBF. It was just everywhere.
As of mid-December, the original TikTok has 46.4 million views — a staggering number for something so incredibly un-woke. But turning misogyny into memes is an example of something TikTokers are great at, challenging soft sexism with humor and serving up "instant internet karma," as one TikToker put it. It can be easy to get mad at idiocy in this world, but making fun of it can sometimes be a lot more powerful and way more fun.
2. How did we all get on cartel TikTok? And should I report this to someone?
Remember that one week we were all on cartel TikTok? If you don't, good for you — you are not on the government list I am probably on now. It felt wrong to be watching these videos, as if the FBI was going to knock on your door and ask what you know about the boat chase. “Nothing, sir, I don't know anything!” I imagined myself saying. It was dangerous, but from a safe distance, like watching a 30-second Bond film, except with very real international repercussions. TikTok has since been pretty vigilant about removing particularly egregious examples of narcotic trafficking, smuggling, and the like.
It’s weird to see drug-running pop up between videos of kids telling jokes and millionaire teens dancing, and that’s why it caught a lot of us off guard. As The New York Times noted in a write-up on cartel TikTok, the thing it doesn’t show is the violence and bloodshed associated with these scenes.
3. The high drama and relaxing tunes of the Arby's TV menu hostage negotiations
It all started with @h1t1 trying to buy a TV only to find it was an Arby's menu (or so they say). “We've been looking for this!” commented Arby’s, one of the more playful and palatable brands on TikTok. And so began a month-long cat and mouse saga. Arby’s wanted the menu back. @h1t1 wanted something in return. Getting more and more desperate, Arby’s dispatched planes, publicly negotiated through restaurant marquees, and shipped gifts in the hopes of getting the menu back. And soon, other people were finding Arby's menus in their electronics: in cameras, cars, calculators, and even at a 2020 campaign rally.
I actually do not care at all if this is really real or a viral marketing stunt (though it definitely turned into a heavy-handed one by the end)! It was a fun ride, a great distraction, and a testament to TikTok's affinity for collaborative bit-building, like a highly sophisticated national improv team. (Also, the Jack Johnson tune is catchy).
4. 🎵 Remy, the ratatouille/ The rat of all my dreams 🎵
Emily Jacobsen posted a 14-second diddy praising “Remy, the ratatouille/ the rat of all my dreams,” in August, and it absolutely blew up. The song was a certified bop, and it hit that way for a lot of people, so much so that it sparked a TikTok-wide effort to stage a musical adaptation of “Ratatouille,” the 2007 Disney Pixar film about a Parisian rat that dreams of cooking. In a COVID-19 world without live theater, it seemed like high school drama kids, out-of-work Broadway professionals, and everyone in between took it upon themselves to contribute: TikTokers wrote songs, demoed stage designs, auditioned for roles, and constructed Remy puppets. They even have a Playbill ready for opening night.
You don’t have to be a Musical Theatre Geek®️ or a Disney Adult™ to get into the Ratatouille Musical (I am neither). The thing that is so compelling about this trend is the talent it showcased and the dedication that it inspired. Not to get sappy, but the distance between us all in quarantine seemed less jarring when you saw collaboration like this.
5. Amy Coney Barrett flunks Constitutional pop quiz
“What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment?” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) asked Trump SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing this fall. It was likely meant as a slam-dunk question; she had been marketed by Trump as a top-notch legal expert, a constitutional scholar the likes of which you've never seen. But she flunked it. After the initial reaction (“RBG sweetie, i'm so sorry” and “she literally can't name all five but can take away our rights,” some choice comments read), the audio took on a life of its own, and Coney Barrett's fumble became memeworthy. That fifth right represented that thing you SHOULD know, but conveniently keep forgetting, used to dunk on lackluster teachers, psychoanalyze why you keep falling for “that type,” help you understand your coping mechanisms, or purposefully omit Ed Sheeran from your top 5 on Spotify Wrapped.
Did I put this on this list because I made it and am chuffed it became a meme? Yes, yes I did. 8.3 million people watched it, and tens of thousands used it to make their own memes. That is pretty cool. TikTok is pretty cool. @President-elect Biden, please don’t threaten to shut it down like your predecessor.
—Ian McKenna, Politics Producer
Hi everyone! I’m Scout, and I run the NowThis TikTok account. Before 2020, I barely knew what TikTok was, and between you and me, I still haven’t wrapped my head around the app’s various subcultures, trends, and intricacies. That being said, there was a lot of stuff on TikTok in 2020 that I won’t forget, and I wanted to share some of it with you. So here we go.
1. When AOC met Kendrick Lamar
Like most millennial women, I’m obsessed with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), so when a TikToker remixed her now-famous clapback to Rep. Ted Yoho with “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar, I was pretty excited.. When it became the thriving, feminist anthem 2020 didn’t know it needed, I was overjoyed. Many TikTokers paired the AOC x “HUMBLE.” remix with makeup tutorials in a seamless ode to powerful femininity (and the lawmaker’s signature red lipstick). In case you missed it, we rounded up some of the best AOC x “HUMBLE.” TikToks into one glorious masterpiece here.
AOC turned 31 on October 13, and that’s right around the time the AOC x “HUMBLE.” mix was released and started gaining widespread popularity on TikTok. Many who lip-synced to the audio also wished the representative a happy birthday in their posts.
2. Going viral about the virus
TikTok proved its worth this year as far more than just a social media app for dance videos and lip-sync extravaganzas. It became a valuable source of information for one of this year’s most important topics: COVID-19. TikTokers including Dr. Leslie, Dr. Austin, Christina NP, Dr. Kat, That Sassy NP, and more took to the app to educate, dispel myths, offer advice, and promote safe practices as the world lives through a pandemic. Getting advice from medical professionals in such a down-to-earth, accessible way has no doubt helped millions of people wrap their head around a life-changing virus, and for that, I’m thankful to TikTok.
With the good also comes the bad, and like any social media platform, TikTok isn’t free from misinformation. TikTok says it’s had to delete tens of thousands of coronavirus-related videos that contained false or misleading information, so if you’re using the app to get COVID-19 info, always check your source.
3. Farmer Tok is everything you could imagine and more
There are so many delightful TikTok subcultures, but perhaps one of my favorites is Farmer Tok. My obsession began when I discovered Australian farmer Peter a.k.a. malleeboy3490’s account. His ongoing feud with an alpaca named Patrick brought so much joy to my 2020. As did his tempestuous relationships with Allen, Brenda, Deborah, Pip, Wendy, and more. But Peter isn’t the only farmer using TikTok in a way that makes people smile. CEO of Owyhee Produce and Buck Naked Onions Shay Myers schools viewers on the agriculture business. Then there’s the extremely wholesome British farmer who runs an account for Caenhill Countryside Centre and charms viewers with his gentle farm life updates. Basically, Farmer Tok is the best, and I can’t get over the fact that it’s a thing.
If you buy a North American onion between November and April, it’s probably been in storage for a few months. Yes, millions of people also seem to find this fact fascinating based on how popular Myers’ TikTok about onion storage has been. That’s perhaps one of the things that tickles me the most about Farmer Tok; you’d never think a video of a man talking about farming onions would gain so much traction, yet it did.
4. Meet the ”influencer” famous for making fun of influencers
Just like every social media platform, TikTok quickly grew its own crop of influencers, as product unboxings, green smoothie recipes, and skin care regimens were TikTok-afied. It’s a bit exhausting, to be honest, especially because the app initially showed promise as a respite from Instagram’s over-saturated influencer market. But there’s hope, and it comes in the form of Erika Priscilla. Priscilla also finds influencer culture ridiculous, so she started parodying it. She’s amassed more than 400k followers, and her videos are starkly refreshing. Priscilla spoofs every influencer standby, from couple pranks to avocado toast to unboxing and often includes her equally hilarious partner in her videos.
Priscilla’s comic genius doesn’t stop at influencer jokes. She has a brilliant series of videos about TikTok references and makes hilarious TikToks about life events such as getting engaged or catching up with a friend. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Priscilla isn’t even a comedian! She works in marketing and started her TikTok account for fun during lockdown.
5. The year we became preppers
Maybe it’s because 2020 has felt like a never-ending, apocalyptic poop storm, but one thing I’ve noticed that consistently gets interest on TikTok is survival techniques and info. Can’t stop imagining the worst? That’s ok, we gotchu. Here’s what to do if you get stranded on a deserted island, if you see a shark in the water, if you witness an abduction, if you get stuck in an elevator, or if you get followed by a cougar. We recognize that NowThis isn’t the only place you can find survival tips on TikTok. Of course Survival Tok is thriving, and I’ve learned so much from it, like how to extract drinking water from plants and what to do if you get swallowed by a whale (because with the way 2020 has gone, who knows?).
In the world of Survival Tok, there’s one character that reigns supreme: Donny Dust. The self described “Professional Caveman-TV Personality-Author- Veteran-Survival Expert-Artist-Dad” spends a good amount of his time living in caves in the forest. (Really.) So if you want to learn how to make a fire, a dagger, or a small game trap, check him out.
— Scout MacEachron, Producer
This article was edited by Natalie Daher and copy edited by Luria Freeman.