TikTok: The unlikely meme-generator you’re about to see everywhere

A seemingly obscure app is about to become a social media household name. 

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If you went to an American Walmart sometime in the last three months, you may have heard a teen voice shout “hit or miss” in the middle of the store. Most of the time, this would be met with silence, customers looking around for who said it, and then everyone going on their merry way. But if you were lucky, you would have heard the response “I guess they never miss, huh?” shouted back. If you were REALLY lucky, you would have heard kissing noises, shouts about boyfriends, and the running footsteps of the callers and responders trying to find each other.  

Confused? If your answer is yes, you are increasingly alone.

From lyrics in the diss track “Mia Khalifa” by musical duo iLOVEFRiDAY, a global Gen-Z meme has been born. The song was a response to an apparent insult from the Lebanese American pornstar Mia Khalifa (the tweet was, in fact, fake; the full story is explained succinctly in this Twitter thread). But the lyrics have since taken on a life of their own. Teens across the world have taken the lines “Hit or miss? / I guess they never miss, huh? / You got a boyfriend / I bet he doesn’t kiss ya” and turning them into an internet challenge, in which you enter a school, a store, or any public space and shout “hit or miss” in the hope of finding someone else who knows the meme to respond back. 

And where did this hundred-million-view meme come from? The app you’re about to see everywhere: TikTok.

Millennials may recognise TikTok as a successor to Vine – an app that allows users to share short, looped videos (in this case 15-second clips, versus Vine’s 6-second ones). First launching in China in 2016 with the name “Douyin”, TikTok grew to 100 million users in the space of a single year and a billion views daily. The app became the most downloaded app in several Asian countries (such as China and Thailand) by the start of 2018.

TikTok’s popularity has exploded in the English-speaking world since it was launched in the US on 29 September 2018. By the end of November, the app had over 80 million downloads in the United States and had inspired popular memes, internet challenges, and celebrity attention. Popular talk show host Jimmy Fallon participated in the TikTok #TumbleweedChallenge on his show in November, which draws an average audience of 2.4 million. In the challenge, Fallon dropped to the ground at the sound of music and rolled down the corridor like a piece of tumbleweed.

TikTok’s popularity in the West could also be down to a recent merge with Musical.ly – a popular app amongst American teens which effectively served the same purpose (post short-form videos). Musical.ly’s sister app, Live.ly, which was used to post live videos, came under fire at the start of 2018 for its questionable practices of allowing its popular users to extract money from minors. Live.ly was shut down immediately after Musical.ly was acquired by TikTok’s owner, the Chinese internet company Bytedance.

All three of these apps could be categorised under one header: Wildly Popular Apps Amongst Teens Most Adults Have Never Heard Of. TikTok is a part of a new wave of social media platforms that, like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before them, are on the cusp of becoming household names. Already, compilations, clips, and memes from TikTok have enjoyed millions of hits when reposted on more mainstream social media platforms, always (in a clever move from the marketing team at TikTok) stamped with the brand watermark in the righthand corner to direct new users to the app.

Part of TikTok’s popularity, though, is born out of people mocking it. TikTok in and of itself has become a meme on Instagram and Twitter. It is notorious for its “cringey” lipsync clips, to the point of inspiring YouTube compilations of the most gratingly embarrassing videos. But writing about TikTok’s rise in the US in The Atlantic in October, Taylor Lorenz argued that the hatred merely inflates TikTok’s influence. “TikTok stars may get the final laugh,” she said. “As viral cringe compilations continue to spread, more people are becoming aware of the app and downloading it.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

@virat.kohli ’s new #one8 collection drops in February. Here's a sneak . #canyoukickit #tiktok #PUMALove

A post shared by PUMA India (@pumaindia) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Who do I look like??? Everyone. #tiktok @leticiafgomes

A post shared by TikTok (@tiktok) on

In the UK, searches for TikTok have been slowly creeping upwards since the end of the summer in 2018. And although download numbers have yet to be released, the app’s visibility is undoubtedly on the rise. While the Hit or Miss Challenge may still not have penetrated UK Asdas, Aldis and Tescos, we should expect to see viral British TikTok memes in just a matter of months.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.