The unsustainability of TikTok trend cycles

by Anika Bastin (’23) | October 7, 2022

Art by Megan Wang (’25)

Social media has been omnipresent since the Internet itself emerged. Starting with more casual forms of communication, like MySpace, social media has now grown into a massive industry dominated by corporate superpowers like Facebook and Snapchat. In 2016, TikTok completely disrupted the market. With its quick, flashy videos and diverse viewership, TikTok has skyrocketed in growth, already accruing over 1 billion monthly users. Indeed, its success has even prompted similar interfaces on other platforms, like Instagram Reels and Youtube Shorts. TikTok’s format has majorly influenced trend cycles.

Trends define what is popular at any given time, and trends on TikTok can especially be bizarre. Videos range from simple dance routines to POV (point of view) videos, with this latter category unlocking another subset of absurdity. For instance, one such video starts with a person on a waterslide, who manages to then fall into another dimension. The many opportunities for personalized niches offered by the platform are in part why TikTok has managed to retain such a large following. 

The proliferation of such factors has driven the short-lived trend cycles on the app, with many individuals going viral for their easily-made videos. Thus, because of TikTok, the length of such cycles has dropped from an average of seven to ten days to an average of three to five. This decline has also been observed in other facets of the app, especially fashion. TikTok has managed to throw off the industry’s long-held twenty-year rule, which dictates that a style will go into, out of, and back into fashion all in the span of twenty years. Now, such fashion moves in and out of style with just a few trending posts.

The speed of these cycles has created many controversies: on one hand, some argue that the trends allow for more expression of individuality and more opportunities to interact with people of similar tastes. On the other hand, dissenters believe that the quick pace spawns overconsumption of the items on which trends are based. For better or worse, however, these quickening cycles are here to stay; in fact, they may have always been inevitable, with or without the rise of TikTok.

Members of Generation Z have grown up surrounded by the Internet and all of its services. Modern companies primarily emphasize their convenience; Amazon’s prime shipping, for instance, advertises a same-day delivery service. As a result of these norms, Gen Z has grown up more oriented towards instant gratification, causing them to prioritize ease of access. Even before TikTok’s rise, the growth of industries based on quick turnover, like fast fashion, was already well on its way. As a result, Gen Z was primed to make shallower choices in favor of quicker analysis and information flow. Thus, while TikTok has added quirks to the perception of these trends, its only revolutionary aspect was the streamlining of an already existing shift towards instant gratification. 

Trend cycles are moving at lightning speed and only accelerating as more users join TikTok and buy items promoted by influencers. However, the hastening pace is more a symptom of its young user base and their demands than an innovative disruption on TikTok’s part.

Categories: Opinions

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