Has TikTok Hit a Celebrity Tipping Point?
Like many viral memes, the video sounds unremarkable when written out: A man is longboarding to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. He smiles, takes a sip of cranberry juice, and starts lip-synching along with Stevie Knicks.
Nathan Apodaca, who goes by @420DoggFace208 on TikTok, wasn’t a stranger to TikTok fame: earlier videos of him dancing have reached over a million views. But the “Dreams” video was something else: it currently has over 22 million views on TikTok, but the video has been uploaded to other social platforms and is being shared enthusiastically on Twitter, Instagram, and beyond, making its true reach nearly impossible to calculate. It’s even caused a boosted downloads and sales of “Dreams”: according to CNN, streams increased by 88.7% immediately after the video went viral.
The popularity has been so great, and gone so far beyond the existing TikTok audience, that Mick Fleetwood himself posted a response.
Mick Fleetwood knows what TikTok is! He saw the video! He’s doing his own version! It feels like a delightfully unexpected end to a delightfully unexpected video. Yet while the first video was a completely unscripted moment (when Apodaca captured the moment, his car had broken down and he was longboarding to work), Fleetwood’s video was the product of some of forethought. Did he simply want to celebrate Apodaca’s tribute, or did his team propose it to him and convince him to shoot it? Regardless of how involved he was in the conception and creation, it’s hard to imagine the 73-year-old Fleetwood captioning his own video “Dreams and Cranberry just hits different.”
While there are far more cynical (and more widely viewed) versions of brands and celebrities cashing in on internet memes, Fleetwood’s still feels like a big moment for TikTok. The platform has celebrity accounts, but it is best known, right now, for being an app that makes people famous for being on TikTok. While TikTok’s most famous stars, like Addison Rae and Charli D’Amelio, are already experiencing a path to fame similar to traditional celebrities (movie roles, make up brands, being hounded by paparazzi), other popular accounts seem to act as an antidote to traditional fame. There’s something refreshingly authentic, for example, about an Australian man speculating about the color of paint, or being welcomed to mail carrier TikTok.
Modern celebrity, whether you’re a multi-platinum singer or Instagram influencer with a few hundred thousand followers, is a carefully curated business. It gives famous people visibility that previously was achievable largely through intermediaries like the paparazzi or magazine profiles. Without traditional media as an intercessor, however, we are still getting a version of that celebrity that is ultimately beneficial to their brand. Of course, we are all tweaking ourselves for social media, famous or not. No one is simply live-streaming their every moment, and choosing which seven-second version of yourself you do post is its own form of curation. But even still, a video of an aspiring comedian’s reaction to Kombucha is going to hit differently, to borrow a phrase from Mick Fleetwood, than a Hollywood actress posting a picture of her holding Butterball turkey in an empty kitchen. (#Spon #Poultry #Partner.)
Right now, celebrities are getting little of our attention on TikTok. The home-grown creators making snacks and sharing videos of their frogs are far more compelling than what famous people have to offer. But, as celebrities keep flocking to the platform, whether to respond to viral videos or simply to profit off the app’s success, we’ll be seeing more of them and less of the baby witches, skateboarding fans of Fleetwood Mac, and whatever mootopia is. It feels like the inevitable march of many social platforms, from fringe early adopters to mainstream acceptance and use. But if TikTok simply becomes another platform where celebrities push out content, what will set it apart?