Lockdown life led to the flourishing of TikTok. In 2021 the upstart social platform exploded, drawing celebrities, chefs, and plenty of dogs into its orbit. Social media can, largely, become toxic – see also whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony on the ills of Instagram and Facebook – but there is a particular joy and irreverence to TikTok, with its dancing and creative splicing, that feels like an antidote. Read on for an in-no-way-comprehensive list of some of our favourite TikToks of 2021.
Avril Lavigne’s Inaugural TikTok
The Noughties icon merely joining TikTok would have been enough, but cutting to Tony Hawk during the sweet, nostalgic sounds of “sk8er boi” was the pièce de résistance.
The Violence At Home Signal For Help
An example of social media at its finest, TikTok popularised the Signal for Help hand signal, an unspoken way for domestic violence victims to communicate a cry for help. (It was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2020, anticipating that people in lockdown with abusers would need it.) In November, a missing 16-year-old girl was rescued on a highway in Kentucky, after law enforcement said another driver recognised her using the hand signal.
Viral Food TikTok
Early 2021 gave us TikTok pasta, the visually stimulating and beautifully straightforward “recipe” of baking a sheet pan of tomatoes and a block of feta and folding a pot of pasta into the creamy goodness. Later, came Emily Mariko’s viral salmon rice bowl, a quickie, microwavable concoction that includes a single ice cube for moisture.
The Birth Of “Cheugy”
TikTok usurped Merriam-Webster as the forum that clocks new words when “cheugy” entered the canon. It’s a made-up term that means “the opposite of trendy”, and reeks of elder-millennial staleness (think “Live, Laugh, Love” signs and the notion of the “girlboss”), but it turned out to be wholly necessary, and rather hilarious.
Nothing screamed triumph 2021-style like the newly minted Gold medal-winning gymnast bopping around and eating pizza with her prize. Lee’s apt caption: “on top of the world”.
Taylor Swift’s Influential Debut
Swift teased the multimedia domination of her re-release of Red when she joined TikTok in August, rapping along to Dave’s “Screwface Capital” lyrics: “My outstanding payments swift like Taylor” and wearing a sweet Reformation dress that sold out instantly. The debut made clear that music and fashion influencing was alive and well on the platform, and not just on its predecessor, Instagram.
Bama Rush TikTok
One of TikTok’s true sensations in 2021: first-year students going through high-stakes (to them) sorority rush at the University of Alabama detailing their OOTDs (outfits of the day), head-to-toe, down to the bangles. Strangely hypnotic, morbidly addictive, and the best organic advertisement that local Montgomery boutique Painted Pink could ask for.
The “Bones” Day Dog
The national mood was still delicate, to say the least, in 2021, but it got a boost – or at least a new barometer – from a 13-year-old pug named Noodle. His owner, Jonathan Graziano, posted daily TikToks of Noodle to predict how the day would go: If Noodle picked his head up and rose from slumber, that became a “bones” day, or a day to treat yourself. Noodle remaining burrowed foretold a “no bones” day.
AnnaMarie Tendler’s Life Hacks
Instructional videos: not just limited to YouTube! Despite finding herself in the news over her divorce from John Mulaney, Tendler brought valuable, snackable life hacks to TikTok, including one of the most vexing household tasks known to man: putting on a duvet cover!
Ghosthoney’s Dada Antics
One of the oddball joys of TikTok is the way in which it gives a platform to people whose genius seems truly incompatible with more established mediums. Perhaps the best example from 2021? Ghosthoney, aka former art student Tyler Gaca, who turned his adorable plant-filled home into the backdrop for some of the most wonderfully weird clips of 2021. Didn’t you always wonder how God came up with the “liquid jelly umbrella with eight legs” we’ve come to know as the octopus?
Adrian Bliss’s Drugstore Costume Theater
Another winner in the “imagined scenarios” category: Adrian Bliss’s alterna deep dives into the perspective of a dinosaur confronting its descendent (the chicken), Noah confronting a shrimp that insists on his place rightful on the arc, Eve deciding she’s had enough of paradise while Adam munches on a suspicious apple pie, and other absurdists confrontations. The low-fi costumes paired with Bliss’s satirical wit amounts to a delightfully odd and entertaining combination.