A meme from 2010 starts playing, then a clip of Ryan Gosling crying in a car. Then - wait - is that Dobby? A cat wails into the night. A single tear trickles from an anime eye. There’s an ominous synth track bulging in the background, and a hundred comments saying one word - “real”.
Welcome to #corecore. You’ve heard of cottagecore, goblincore, fairycore and the rest: The “core” suffix dates back to old-school music genres like hardcore, but has since been used as a catch-all for increasingly niche internet aesthetics. What was once “Dark Academia” – a wholesome collection of sepia filters and leather-bound books – dissipated into the more chaotic “cluttercore”; “goblincore” fractured off into “weirdcore”; now we’re onto things like “hard-boiled egg girls” (something to do with pastel pinks and glazed nails). It was only a matter of time before Gen Z lapped itself completely: The core, perhaps, to end all cores.
Scrolling through the #corecore hashtag on TikTok feels a little like you’ve intercepted some bizarre in-joke without the context, and maybe that’s the point. While the genre is inherently difficult to define, most videos constitute a collage of out-of-context clips – memes, news segments, celebrity interviews, film scenes – crammed into a surreal 15-seconds over some variant of emotionally-rousing lo-fi. Some have likened it to TikTok’s take on Adam Curtis, “meme-poetry”, or a dodgy acid trip - others are calling the videos a genuine art form.
It’s unclear when this format first came about: The TikTok hashtag was first used in July 2022, but corecore wouldn’t get its own page on internet bible Know Your Meme until December. Even their description – “meme compilations of glitzy, moldy and deep-fried shitposts” – doesn’t make it any easier to understand. Since then the hashtag has skyrocketed to 410 million views and counting, with its equally-chaotic cousin #nichetok – a similar offset of the same format – racking up a further 360 million.
John Rising, known on TikTok as @HighEnquiries, started making corecore-like videos two years ago, and is generally credited as one of the originators of the genre. “I've never really felt a need to give it a name, I was just trying to make videos that evoked some sort of reaction in people.” he explains. “The subject can be anything I want to talk about, like the cost of living crisis, but some of them are a bit vague - you could say they’re about the general human condition.”
Rising, who is 40, always wanted to get into filmmaking after studying media at university, but “life got in the way”. He now runs a laundry business and TikTok is an accessible way for him to get creative with video. “I scour the most random news websites for footage,” says Rising, who finds seemingly disparate clips from, say, a documentary or news reel and mixes them into a theme. “It's quite a nice challenge to see if you can tell a story in that small amount of time, using only imagery or cinematic shots.”
Now Rising gets millions of views on his Nam June Paik-inspired videos (a 70s video-artist he calls “the true father of corecore”), and many messages from other aspiring filmmakers or student artists, asking for advice on their corecore videos. “It's a very strange time because I never went into it thinking it’d get a lot of attention,” he says. “But it's great that people get to see this version of expression, and understand you don't need a budget to make someone feel something.”
Fellow corecore creator Dean Erfani, 18 - AKA @plantaniac - started making videos “as a joke” before realising they resonated with people. “I always wanted to make an impact of some kind, so I thought why not take advantage of the platforms given to me,” he says. “I believe it’s a form of self-expression that connects people.”
It actually makes sense. Where former generations made collages out of old magazines, or strung different music tracks together onto mixtapes, the internet age is using the medium they’ve grown up with: Internet content. Creators like Rising don’t claim to have invented the video montage, but still there’s “something special” in videos that can be knocked together with nothing more than an internet connection and some basic editing software.
Digital culture reporter Kieran Press-Reynolds first came across corecore back when it “wasn’t that deep” - before it’d gained widespread traction.
“When I found it, it was just a lot of video game footage and cats and weird internet music. I thought it was fun,” he says. “I think it was satirising our internet culture, capturing that feeling of it just being too much - when you want to just delete your social media, throw your phone in a lake and go live in a hut in the wilderness, you know?”
For many corecore fans it was an “anti-trend”, Reynolds says, an impasse to the runaway-train of micro and micro-micro trends. Erfani, who has nearly three million likes across his corecore videos, agrees: “It’s about trying to wake people up to realise they should find a lifestyle that doesn’t consist of consuming,” he says.
A lot of the videos revolve around themes of anti-capitalism or over-consumption: A Starbucks advert clip might be spliced with footage of worker exploitation in its factories, or a hungry crowd violently scrambling towards the Tesco reduced section. But for a genre that started as a jibe at dangers of internet culture, its growing popularity risks throwing it into the same trap.
“We’re simply getting another fad of passing aesthetics, and I think this is really dangerous,” says one TikTok creator in a video about the decline of corecore videos. Mitch Therieau, a PhD student and researcher into internet aesthetics, is sceptical about the value of the genre. “I don’t see it as art,” he says. “I think it’s collapsing under its own contradictions.”
As the hashtag gains momentum, videos are shifting away from their meme-centric forefathers and treading a line of irony that, at times, ebbs towards genuine isolation and anger. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” one commenter writes under a clip of Homer Simpson yelling with rage. “So real - it’s all hopeless,” says another.
Social media algorithms have been known to lead users down increasingly dark rabbit holes. “The corecore videos have a sheen of smoothness and detachment, but it's like people are screaming underneath,” Therieau says. “One detects a hint of white male rage in some of the videos, especially with the use of Joker clips.”
But for Rising - the accepted “King of Corecore” who never got to make it as filmmaker - more people creating things online can only be a good thing. “Now there's lots more corecore and people expressing themselves which is fantastic,” he says. “The internet has a way of liking something really intensely and burning that flame out very quickly, but I’ll always keep making them - even if the trend completely dies.”
Maybe it’s just another passing trend on the internet highway to whatever-the-hell, but corecore has a point: Once we’ve cored all cores, it’s hard to see where’s left to go. Not to be all deep about “deep-fried shitposts”, but if a trend about the internet eating itself actually eats itself, surely that is a bit “real”? Just saying.