TikTok: The Loopiest App of All Time

By Lyssa

In my class presentation, I talked broadly about how TikTok uses loops in a variety of ways. Here, I want to do a close reading of one video in particular; one that embodies the variety of ways that TikTok utilizes loops. 

In “Please Duet This: Collaborative Music Making Lockdown on Tiktok” D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye talks about the duetting scene on TikTok, primarily by citing the ways that duetting can produce collaborative results, especially in the music scene. Admittedly I am not on JazzTok or even MusicTok in general, however everyone once in a while, a video that traditionally only circulates within a small subset of people becomes circulated outside of the circles. One example I can think of is the chronically stuck-in-my-head interaction between Megan thee Stallion and Keke Palmer at the 2022 Met Gala. You can click here to watch it.

This duet encapsulates loops in the way that all duetting does: it uses footage already created. Just like experimental videographers who use found footage or music that samples past songs, duetting draws on someone’s original work and the ability to modify it. In this case, the comparison to reusing footage is even more poignant as neither Palmer nor thee Stallion asked for people to “Duet this,” they simply conducted an interview, and other people modified it. Much like Report by Bruce Conner- he uses news footage that wasn’t meant to be changed, didn’t ask for people to modify it.  

But TikTok presents loops in more ways than the duetting that Kaye explores. The first way I’ll talk about is in relation to “sounds.” Sounds on TikTok are what they sound like- a sound that goes over the visual (and sometimes audio-visual) portion of a video. People most often engage with sounds by lip-syncing to them, or can simply let them play in the background. The Megan\Keke sound became a meme in the way that sounds often do on TikTok. People put the sound over their videos to make a joke about not seeing someone in a long time, or as the inverse to give that original meaning an ironic twist by making a joke about seeing someone you see often. Tangentially related is also the way that people used the sound to make a joke about someone who would traditionally be an other in a group.

In these ways, the loop in this video becomes more than just the way that duetting presents loops: it also does it with sound. The sound is widely circulated and shared, a sort of collaboration in itself. Someone sets the standard for how the sound ought to be used, and other people engage with it similarly, making small deviations where they see fit. They create their own versions of the same meme over and over. But these variations are also important: the minor sense of agency that comes with using the same sound and the same video structure but attaching a different meaning- by adding an ironic twist to a meme that possibly didn’t begin that way or by adding a different meaning. And then that meaning is additionally circulated. While I only gave one example of each way the sound was used, there are a little over 190,000 posts under the sound, the sound is used multiple times in all of these categories. 

This breadth of sound and video is my next point: there are loops with the way TikTok is set up itself. Once you like one video with this sound you will see more videos with this sound. Even if one just looks at the comments of a video with this sound one will hear this sound more and more. Megan thee Stallion begets Megan thee Stallion. The ever-present loop of TikTok gets even more complicated when one thinks about the ways that the app insists that when a trend happens it becomes a trend. The only reason that trends happen is because TikTok’s algorithm makes possible a user’s engagement with a sound they’ve engaged with multiple times.  Someone who is engaged with the app is aware of a number of videos related to a trend because the FYP cycles through them until the trend cycle is over.

This all leads me to my main point: these loops assist in making TikTok “the zone.” As Natasha Dow Schüll defines it in Addiction by Design: “a state of ongoing, undiminished possibility that came to trump the finite reward of a win.” (Schüll,97). Although there is no “winning” TikTok there is a state of ongoing, undiminished possibility. The knowledge that as long as one scrolls there will always be something new to watch and engage with. TikTok’s algorithm will continue to take what a user had already watched and use that to shape what they believe a user will also enjoy. At the same time, TikTok uses the looping sounds to help curate the zone as well. The video it suggests may be familiar because sounds often cycle through, but even those videos–with their everchanging meanings and new variations–will be different enough to be engaging. 

Tiktok’s curation of “the zone” is even more obvious when confronted with the fact that no other social media that I’ve been on has needed a piece of media to interject all the other media one is consuming to tell people to take a break. When someone has been scrolling on TikTok longer than a consecutive hour a video will pop up on their FYP telling them that they may want to take a break. The captivatingness of the app–perpetuated by its use of loops–necessitates the app intervening so people don’t get too invested. In this way, TikTok is a social media site that is immersed in loops. 

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