Tiktok’s black viral dance creators taken for granted are a new twist on old injustices

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Bmissing TikTokers has had enough, and they have gone on strike. Last week, a sprawling group of Black TikTok users, known for making viral dances available for free to other users, announced that they would not be creating a dance for rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s recent outing “Thot S” ** t, “which was viewed by industry insiders and social media users as a viral dance sensation. Their demands? That black creators, who choreograph most of the most popular dance routines of TikTok, be recognized for their work.

“I never thought I would live to see the day we walk through it and see how much some of you need us,” TikTok creator capnkenknuckles said last week with reference to white users. . unsuccessful attempts to create a surrogate viral dance in the midst of “strike” action. “Especially by doing dances that you can all rip off and say you ‘made’ them all.

Capnkenknuckles is undoubtedly referring to the string of incidents over the past few years in which high profile white TikTok users have co-opted and benefited from the dance creations of less decorated black users. Most notably, dancer Jalaiah Harmon, then 14, created a viral dance in 2020 on K Camp’s “Renegade” – but her contribution has been largely buried in the media and on the platform. To add insult to injury, 20-year-old most recognized social media star and dancer Addison Rae was asked to perform other black users’ TikTok dance and routines on American TV on Jimmy Fallon. Tonight show in March. This isn’t the first time this model has been played out – Color TikTokers have long accused the platform of systematically delete their content – but the strikers are determined to make it last.

The strike is both fun and fascinating for a number of reasons, not least because it draws attention to the increasingly co-dependent relationship between TikTok and the music industry. If the decision do not doing a choreographed dance routine on “Thot S ** t” can be considered disruptive enough to be a low-key form of “industrial action”, so it’s worth taking a look at how the chain works. factory. TikTok is now an established hit-maker, with users’ choreographed dance routines playing a vital role in the success of songs such as “Up” by Cardi B, “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion and “Supalonely” by kiwi singer Benee. . This process was only sped up by the pandemic, as the initial lockdown led both TikTok teens and record labels to the platform.

Not only is this pipeline changing the way we dance – with complex and energetic upper body movements becoming the new style – it is also changing the way our music sounds. Weird production parts, raps with quotable or conversational lyrics, trap beats, big bass drops and a particularly striking 15-second segment are often part of the formula. Take Justin Bieber’s empty song “Yummy”, which has an undeniably catchy chorus but was instantly recognized by critics as being essentially made for TikTok. Bieber joined the social networking platform the day the song was released and immediately began uploading videos of himself lying in his bed topless, skipping over the song. It was hopelessly embarrassing, but it arguably worked: Today the hashtag #YummyChallenge has 2 billion views on TikTok, and the song inevitably peaked at No. 2 on the US Hot 100.

Nothing in the TikTok-to-chart-hit pipeline is inherently bad or evil. He obviously offered young people, blacks and non-blacks, a space for creativity and humor. And, as British indie rockers The Vaccines highlighted earlier this week, artists thinking about how their music will translate on TikTok isn’t that different than how it might work in a club, on the radio, or in the background of a TV commercial. But it’s worth asking who’s doing the heavy lifting to get these songs into people’s heads: mostly young black creatives, who have to be willing to play ball to get the process started. If they don’t, songs made for TikTok – whose appeal, at worst, is largely incomprehensible to those not on the platform – risk getting lost in cyberspace.

The strike also makes it clear how inequality interacts with the so-called “cultural exchange,” rekindling an old conversation about co-opting black contributions for whites. Yes, portraying black creators as deserving of “remedies” might be a crude analogy for intellectual property in the online realm. But black users are right to be pissed off that white women seem to be the only ones who are signed to talent agencies, guest on national television, and making entire careers showcasing TikTok culture. As YouTuber Tee Noir has it mentionned, the gains white TikTokers have made from black user creations aren’t just about weight: they’re also financial.

In light of this, many of these teens have investigated what the law says. Unfortunately for them, it would probably be difficult for the creators to have their dances legally recognized as theirs. In England and Wales, copyright suggests that you need written or filmed evidence that you were the first creator of a dance, and that anyone charged with the offense did not independently invent the routine. Meanwhile, US law distinguishes between social dances, such as the conga, and “choreography” performed by experts. It also doesn’t offer protection for “simple” dances made up of shorter sequences – a claim that came to a head when Alfonso Ribeiro, who played the awkward dancing Carlton on The prince of Bel-Air, sued in vain the creators of video games Fortnite for using a version of the “Carlton dance” in the game.

Jimmy Fallon addresses Addison Rae controversy

None of this bodes well for trend setters TikTok who might seek financial compensation when they see their dances at American football games or on Jimmy Fallon. But then again, isn’t this all against the spirit of social media anyway? Apps like TikTok, as well as Twitter, Tumblr, and many of their ancestors, are built on the idea of ​​instant sharing and replication. As of 2021, it’s integrated into pretty much every social media platform, and that’s why hashtags, challenges, and meme formats work the way they do. Still, the young people pointed out that there is more TikTok could do to ensure creators are at least credited for their complex viral dance sequences – for example, allowing users to sort videos chronologically.

Despite all the hubbub that’s going on on TikTok, the collective action that has swirled around this latest saga is nothing new. As Ribeiro filed a lawsuit against Fortnite, black rapper 2 Milly did it too – for his own dance, “Milly Rock”. Before that, black people were frustrated with Miley Cyrus’ twerk at the 2013 VMAs (Video Music Awards), and even before that, Madonna had taken black ballroom culture and introduced Voguing to the mainstream. In the clubs and the streets, nobody has historically been able to prevent people from doing the running man, the electric toboggan, the dab or the woah – and especially not the artists, who always benefit from a cultural exchange which is a mixture of manufactured and organic. But the intensely stereotypical and extractive nature of the TikTok dance trends pipeline has simply given the creators the means to actually name what is going on. They threw an unexpected wrench in the works, and I for one live for it.


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