From "OK, boomer" to repurposed audio from Frank Ocean’s hit song "Chanel," TikTok is an infinite avalanche of videos, dominated by Generation Z — and some UNC students are getting their fair share of TikTok fame.
Slightly similar to the now nonexistent Vine, TikTok allows users to express their creativity through videos that last from 15 to 60 seconds. Neil Pierre-Louis, a first-year computer science student, wishes he had a phone during the Vine era — he thinks it was probably more entertaining and simplistic.
But Vine went extinct in 2017, so Pierre-Louis uses TikTok. He has over 120,000 followers, with more than two million likes. He downloaded the app last year as a joke with his friends, with the idea of making funny videos. He never thought millions of people would ever see what he created.
“We never thought about making TikToks to blow up, but it just kind of happened one day,” said Pierre-Louis.
Pierre-Louis said his video was put on the "For You" page and received over one million views with 108,000 likes.
He was in the jazz band in high school and one day thought the band should play "ZEZE" by Kodak Black on the steel pan.
“My friend played the intro of the song, and I said ‘D.A. got that dope.’ Then I posted it,” Pierre-Louis said. “I never thought about it until I got home and saw so many notifications on my phone.”
Getting on the "For You" page and going viral may be a motivation for many users today on TikTok, and people usually don't blow up with their first video — but that wasn't the case for Gary Kayye, a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Elizabeth Davis, a senior journalism student in Kayye's social media marketing class, suggested he download the platform to see what it was about.
Kayye's first video was an instant hit.
“I was asked to guest lecture to talk to students who aren't journalism majors yet, and I thought this might be a good way to try a platform like TikTok because most of the people were freshmen and sophomores who are going to be using TikTok,” Kayye said. “I said, 'Hey, do y'all wanna do a TikTok experiment and see if this can go viral?'"
His first video shows him attempting to dance while walking around the lecture hall while over 300 students cover their faces to avoid participating in class. The video got 460,000 views and 81,000 likes. Kayye said he believes short, instant content like the videos on TikTok are great for consumers because it requires less dedication than if someone were to watch an hour-long episode on Netflix.
The most obscure videos can go viral when you're trying to stay up-to-date with what is trending. Senior broadcast journalism student and women’s basketball player Emily Sullivan went viral by posting a video of herself putting purple shampoo in her hair.
Emily got wrapped into the TikTok world by looking through a thread of "cringe-y" TikToks on Twitter. The first time she downloaded the app, she said she spent three hours scrolling on the "For You" page and knew she was hooked.
While in her Sports Xtra class, she and her classmates wondered how easy it would be to get famous. For Sullivan, it was easy — her shampoo video was an overnight hit.
Along with TikTok, Sullivan's team enjoys making Triller videos when they have some free time.
“Our team is really into Triller, and there is a big crossover between the two, so we do a lot of dancing trends,” Sullivan said.
After practice one night, she made the first of a two-part video where she put shampoo in her ombré hair. Paired with popular hashtags that landed her video on the "For You" page, Sullivan's video got 10 million views with over 686,000 likes.
She wishes she had more time to post, but athletics and academics keep her busy. Sullivan believes TikTok is a good way for people to grow their personal brand. She has a large group of followers on social media and even though she can't profit off of it as a student-athlete, she thinks it's a good way for people to market themselves without being a celebrity.
Emily, Neil and Kayye are not the only famous TikTokers at UNC — but you'll never know until you spend hours scrolling through the "For You" page on your own phone.
“TikTok is the new emerging darling of social media," Kayye said. "And everyone’s going to try it out."
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