Ask somebody to think of a social media influencer, and they’d probably picture young, manicured teens and twenty-somethings making content for audiences for the same demographic. We’d expect them to have perfectly styled pictures, high-production videos, popular hashtags, and thousands of followers who are ready to smash a like on any content posted. And we think this because, on average, that’s what influencers look like.
But on TikTok, things are changing. While TikTok’s audiences are still largely the digital native tweens and teens common on most social platforms, the creators aren’t just other fellow Gen-Zers. A new type of TikTok influencer is emerging: the TikTok mom.
TikTok, for the uninitiated, is the latest mainstream social media app that has become known for its Gen-Z heavy audience (you can read an explainer of it here). Similar to the millennial-favourite (and now-defunct) Vine, users on TikTok can share videos up to 60-seconds long, and is commonly used to post pranks, short, Vine-style comedy sketches, and the platform’s bread and butter: lip-syncing videos.
While, “mommy bloggers” who post about being a parent are common on YouTube, Instagram, and blogging platforms, the TikTok mom is something different. TikTok is a platform predominantly used for, and even built for, memes. So rather than making videos for TikTok to discuss parenting, TikTok moms lean into the trend – creating the same meme videos that are being made by their Gen-Z offspring.
One of the biggest mom stars of TikTok is Varli Singh, known to her followers simply as “Varli” – a mother of two living in New York after spending several years in Texas. Despite being a normally dressed, mid-40s mom, Varli has nearly half a million followers (441K) on her TikTok account @Varlicious and posts near daily videos that regularly get tens of thousands of likes.
While her content started as a series of “prank” clips and music videos – typically featuring her kids and sometimes other children – she has found a hungry audience off the back of her video meme series “Don’t Fear, Varli Is Here”. In these videos, which are seemingly responsible for skyrocketing her from mid-tier influencer to one of the app’s most popular accounts, she casts herself as a saviour swooping in at the last minute to “save” children from intimidating situations. Most of her recent videos have over 50K likes, with some getting over 100K.
Despite her meme-filled presence, Varli was, until last year, a food writer. Her personal website doesn’t once mention her TikTok stardom and instead merely hails her achievements in covering the Indian food scene in the United States; and how her “Asia and Middle East” upbringing has given her a deep understanding of “eclectic cuisine”. Her YouTube channel (which she started nearly a decade ago in October 2010) is entirely dedicated to food interviews bar a few videos from the last six months showing “behind the scenes” coverage of how some of her music videos were made, and a call out post calling YouTuber Danny Gonzalez a “hater” for mocking her TikTok content.
If Varli’s videos seem heavily staged and badly acted, that’s because they are. But despite her easily mockable content, the numbers reflect a hungry audience. Even on top of her half a million followers and tens of thousands of likes per video, her recent meme has inspired others to create similar content. At the time of writing, the hashtag she uses for her videos #dontfearvarlishere has over 11 million views (its misspelling, #dontfearvarliishere, has 400K).
While Varli is perhaps TikTok’s biggest mom-fluencer, she is far from the only one. Just Joyce (@author_lady_j) has accrued over 20K followers with fewer than 250 videos. While it’s hard to assess how many times a video has been viewed on TikTok, as the platform only shows the number of “hearts” (ie “likes”) a video receives, Joyce has still managed to get nearly 400K hearts off her relatively limited content. The fittingly named Mommy (@mommy1961), too, has a bafflingly large follower count given her video content – with 112K followers – despite the formula of her videos, which are largely just her cooking and smiling at the camera, along with a couple standard TikTok lip-sync vids.
Like Varli, most popular TikTok moms have had other day jobs until joining TikTok in the last year. But they are increasingly garnering the audiences far larger than the average full-time influencer.
Although popular on other social media channels, family TikToks are an emerging, popular genre on the video-sharing app. The Gott Family, which has 306K followers under the dad’s account @CarlGott, is one of them, with both the mother and father sharing videos of themselves pulling “pranks” on their kids to the sound of hundreds of thousands of likes. However, unlike the light-heartedness of most prank content (and the TikTok moms previously mentioned), the Gott Family’s videos tend to have darker themes. The average Gott video sets a scene of their kids, in some way, disrespecting their parents – which ultimately leads to a grim cliff-hanger for their mother or father. Examples include videos where somehow the kids jumping out from behind a door to spook their dad leads to his implied death, or how the kids dismissing one of the Gott parents leads that parent into a car crash.
These videos appear to show a “morale to the story” in order to teach their audiences lessons about respect and family. As YouTuber Drew Gooden put it, “I get the idea, but the execution here… It’s like that running gag in Arrested Development where the parents teach lessons to the kids through some elaborate situation where someone always, like, loses an arm.” But despite the cringe factor, the Gott family’s account has some of the most consistently liked videos across TikTok and cuts through hordes of lip-sync videos by offering something different.
It’s not just middle-aged moms and families raking in views on TikTok though – TikTok grandmas, too, are gaining audiences in the tens of thousands. Carey Jolly (@c_ima_jolly) is one of these grandmas, who has made hundreds of lip-sync and duet videos (where you lip-sync a song with another TikToker with your videos playing simultaneously side-by-side) for her over 50K follower audience. Grandma YoYo (@ocdocdonecutediva) is another TikTok grandma with over 90K followers, who went viral on both TikTok and Twitter earlier this month for an objectively lovely video describing her planned day out for Mother’s Day.
While not to the level of stardom as Varli or the Gott Family, both Carey Jolly and Grandma YoYo have total “heart”-counts of over half a million and both of their videos regularly crack 10K hearts.
Of course, TikTok is still largely dominated by Gen-Zers and young millennials, both in terms of content consumption and creation. When it comes to the biggest stars on the platform – those cracking the one million follower barrier – mom accounts are scarce. But while most influencers across all social media platforms have tended to be Gen-Zers and millennials, that trend, on TikTok at least, is changing. While it’s the younger demographics who are those consuming and creating content on TikTok, their appetite for meme-ing moms shows no sign of ceasing.