TikTok’s lack of polish is its charm

TikTok is blowing up because it’s everything sites like YouTube used to be and now aren’t. We should be happy it’s here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the rise of TikTok. It’s yet another social network focused on video, and thanks to COVID-19 and quarantine, it caught fire in the past year. But why? Why is TikTok so intriguing to so many, when there are plenty of other places to post such content?

To me, TikTok is a rousing success because of the type of content it encourages. TikTok is a place where trends take shape and gather momentum. And because these trends are like a bus that simply rolls past the station without every really stopping, you have to leap quickly to get on board.

There is no time for production. You record, you upload, and it’s off to the races. It’s sort of what YouTube used to be, back before the pros came along.

Once upon a time, you could browse YouTube and find more oddball clips and more videos of people just talking off the cuff. It’s become clear, though, that most on the platform are now too good at it. Everything is too polished, as though every single creator went to the same YouTube bootcamp and learned how to produce and market their videos the same exact way. The entire progression of an upload — from start to finish — is entirely formulaic and predictable, right down to the “please like this video and smash that subscribe button” at the end. Oh, and don’t forget to “ring the bell” or whatever.

What TikTok offers — like Vine did before it — is a trip back to the past. It’s a reminder that scrappy underdogs uploading low-res videos can still be interesting or hilarious or anything else. I occasionally find myself wishing TikTok celebrities weren’t a thing, but then I immediately scold myself for having such thoughts.

At least they’re trying new things and experimenting a little bit. That’s more than you can say for most YouTubers nowadays.

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