A 15-second video of a woman shaking her hair as she mimes to the first line of “Freak” by Doja Cat has been liked 5.9 million times on TikTok. In another, the 19-year-old mouths along to a remixed version of J Cole’s “Work Out”. It has 4.9 million views. Kourtney Kardashian joins her in a third video, which has been watched 7.8 million times. Kardashian and the teen wear matching jumpers as they dance to a Lil Uzi Vert song.
The woman’s name is Addison Rae, and after just a year of posting dance and lip-sync videos to the Gen Z-favoured social media platform, she now has 50 million followers.
Rae shot to viral fame after a video she posted of herself dancing to Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” was liked by the singer. Now, she has left college to pursue her social media career and is linked to the Hype House, a collective of TikTok content creators based in LA. A rapper I’ve never heard of recently released a song about her, featuring the lyric: “Uh, Addison Rae / Lil' shawty the baddest / Yeah, but she got away”. In short, she is the epitome of TikTok fame.
I can’t deny that having an unknown rapper release a song about how hot I am, or making money by dancing in front of my iPhone, sounds like a pretty good life. In fact, developing a popular profile on TikTok is fast becoming as lucrative as being a YouTube influencer. Singer Loren Gray is said to be the most “marketable” current star on TikTok, with researchers estimating she could charge as much as £152,000 per post. When Rae was a guest on YouTuber David Dobrik's “VIEWS” podcast, she said that some TikTokers have earned $90,000 per post. So, when my editor asked me to try becoming TikTok famous, I of course jumped at the chance.
But at the ripe old age of 24, was I too old to chase after TikTok fame? The platform is known for being popular with teenagers, with almost a third of its users aged between 13 and 17. Happily, Tim Armoo, CEO of FanBytes and creator of the UK’s first TikTok house, says that age is no hindrance to TikTok fame. “There’s no cut off point,” he tells me over Skype. “There’s a guy on TikTok called Grandad Joe – he’s like 87.”
I'm not a sweet elderly man, so that sadly excludes me from making videos about being alive in the 1950s or having a granddaughter. I ask Armoo for tips on becoming TikTok famous if you don’t have a USP like Grandad Joe. He tells me it is all about “being creative”.
Armoo explains: “It’s one of those platforms where you get a following due to authenticity and the creativity you have. The more creative you can be the more people you will have an audience for. You can jump on dances all day if the song is popping and you’re good-looking, but that ship has kind of sailed now. It’s content optimised for watch time that does very well.”
Armoo adds that comments and shares are the most coveted form of engagement on TikTok. The key is to make sure that people want to watch all of the content you make until the very end. “[It’s based on] the average proportion of a video that people watch. The higher the ‘watch time’ the more TikTok says this is good content and shows it to more people,” he says. “It’s less about what content does well it’s more which kind of content increases your watch time.”
“You’ll find that the stuff that builds up to the end of the video works well. That’s why a lot of jokesters and pranksters become famous. The video starts and people wonder what it’s going to turn into.”
He leaves me with a tip on how to get a start on securing my TikTok fame: “If I was trying to get to my first 50,000 fans I would go on TikTok and copy stuff and just put my slight bit of spin on it.”
So, I get into bed and spend the next three hours furiously watching as many TikToks as I can fit in before I fall asleep. I discover that @rohitroygre, a man documenting his struggle to give up his “addiction” to fizzy drinks, has amassed 205,000 followers. But with my willpower, it’s unlikely that I’ll give up anything during lockdown. Then I watch three different girls who live in surprisingly nice homes on the coast refurnish and redecorate their bedrooms over several days. I am simply too lazy and broke to even consider doing anything like that. Finally, I land on beauty TikTok, and watch a mix of makeup tutorials, skincare reviews and nail videos.
I look at my own grown-out nails in the light from my iPhone and inspiration strikes. I will create a TikTok of a nail tutorial, combining the two most important bits of advice Armoo gave me: creativity and high watch time.
ATTEMPT ONE: BEAUTY TIKTOK
The TikTok that I hope will propel me to fame takes me about three hours to successfully shoot and edit. First, I teach myself how to do the fancy transitions you see in fashion and beauty TikToks – the ones that make it look like snapping your fingers has changed your outfit. I watch a few tutorials, which takes an hour, and then attempt to incorporate it into my own nail TikTok. I want to make it look as though running a nail file along my nails has magically transformed them with glittery varnish. Pretty creative, right??
After ten minutes spent trying to execute this, I give up. Instead, I use the transitions on TikTok’s in-app video editor to create choppy jumps between shots. It’s surprisingly hard and the clips soon jumble together, moving erratically between bare nails and nails suddenly covered in glitter. In the end, I’m too embarrassed to actually watch back.
Instead, I force my housemate to watch my creation and after a long pause, she gives me a pitiful look and delivers her verdict: “It’s fine.” But isn’t all great art unappreciated at first? I go to sleep dreaming of gifts from PR companies and mentions in beauty influencer round-ups in Elle magazine. But when I check my phone, 24 hours after posting my masterpiece, I’ve received a grand total of 143 views and 14 likes. Surprisingly enough, I have not become TikTok famous overnight.
ATTEMPT TWO: LITERALLY JUST LOOKING WISTFULLY INTO THE CAMERA
With my ego slightly bruised, I decide to exert a lot less energy, and do an Addison Rae-inspired TikTok. I am in awe of the fact that she has been able to establish a career from being a generically hot person who films themselves listening to music. While I do not consider myself generically hot, I can definitely listen to music. I decide to try my luck.
Despite TikToks like these essentially being a POV of what your phone sees when you’re trying to find the right light for a selfie, filming them requires a surprising amount of effort. I shoot the video in one take – not just because I'm lazy, but because I want to be known for my off-the-cuff authenticity. Still, I base my pose on Rae's in her "Freak" video, cupping my face and looking directly into the camera.
I post the video and receive another whopping 14 likes. I decided to actually watch what I’ve posted this time. A stark warning: looking at yourself posing in front of the camera is a lot more embarrassing than you can ever imagine. It’s kind of like when you post a picture of yourself and stare at it for too long.
I delete it my POV video out of shame, but decide to give my shot at TikTok fame one more try.
ATTEMPT THREE: REACTION VIDEOS
In a last ditch effort to achieve TikTok fame without having to use any of my own creativity, I decide to try the laziest bit of content I’ve seen on TikTok: reaction videos. This involves watching someone else’s TikTok or the scene from a film or TV show, and simply recording what your face does as you watch. The trend started in June, when teens began filming themselves reacting to the opening scene of Love, a NSFW film about a couple who decide to have a threesome.
I get the film up on Netflix and record myself watching the opening scene while the voice of @bella_ashley, the instigator of the Love reaction trend, plays over the top. I’ve seen the film before but I try my best to feign shock. Sadly, I just end up just looking bored. I’m not an actor, OK?
After my lukewarm reaction video, I finally admit to myself that I will probably don’t have the lip-syncing skills or excitable facial expressions to become truly TikTok famous.
I delete my TikTok account and go back to using social media in the way God intended: posting thirst traps to my Instagram Story and sharing memes about my mental health. You can keep your 50 million followers, Addison.