“Wow, she’s really gorgeous.” My friend commented as she scrolled aimlessly through her TikTok ‘For You’ page. She paused on a video of verified creator Charli D’Amelio performing a now-viral dance to the song “Say So” by Doja Cat[b]. With 3.7 million likes, the video depicts D’Amelio on her balcony dressed in a white crop top and straight-leg jeans, moving her arms and hips in sync to the beat of the song.
Over the past four months, D’Amelio has amassed over 17 million followers on TikTok, a video-sharing social media platform first popularized in September 2018.[c][d] Her rapid rise to internet stardom, characterized by viral videos of her dancing and lip-syncing to songs, resulted in the creation of a new term, “the hype.” In the world of TikTok, the hype first began when viewers started duetting D’Amelio’s videos, performing similar dances, or simply commenting on how attractive she is. In one video from October 2019, a group of teenage boys just stare at a phone screen, mesmerized by a video of D’Amelio dancing. That video alone garnered over 40,000 likes.[e]
At the time, I just didn’t understand the point of the hype. “Charli’s really pretty, and she’s a great dancer, but there’s nothing that special or unique about her,” I responded. However, the more time I spent on TikTok that night, the more I realized that the hype was not as complicated as I had originally imagined. To me, the hype became simply a reflection of the underlying materialistic and superficial values of the TikTok community as a whole.
Comparing Charli D’Amelio to other girls who have received the TikTok hype, I have noticed striking similarities between their physical appearances and wider societal notions of the “ideal teenage girl” according to Western beauty standards. Both D’Amelio and viral creator Alex French are skinny, white, tall, and have clear skin and perfectly straight, white teeth. In a video created by the members of the Hype House, a group of nineteen “hyped” creators that include D’Amelio and her sister, not only is every single person in the video white, they also all have very similar body types and even hair color.[f] Unsettled by the lack of diversity, one user commented, “They really just prove that only white people get the hype.”[g]
Groups like the Hype House demonstrate that the people we choose to idolize in a community like TikTok reflect the values that many people feel are central to that community. Although many users on TikTok were upset or disturbed by the whiteness of the Hype House, nobody seemed to be considering its broader implications on the TikTok community as a whole. While a large portion of TikTok is made up of silly videos made by absolutely normal people who have great senses of humor, the people we choose to ‘hype’ do not necessarily reflect that, instead reflecting an unhealthy obsession over people who all look and act a certain way.
As TikTok continues to take up a lot of my time, I challenged myself to think more broadly about how the idea of hype relates to other communities in my life, as well as teenagers as a whole. Through this lens, I have noticed that we tend to ‘hype’ the same types of people over and over again. TikTok is just one example of this. On TikTok, we look up to the fifteen-year-old with a skinny waist and straight blonde hair, the rich girl with a seemingly endless closet and the latest shoes, the boy who is really really good at sports, and the teenager with perfect skin and a seemingly perfect group of friends. For those of us who reside outside of these “desirable” categories, the hype prompts us to compare facets of our identities to those we idolize. This creates an unhealthy environment which only seems to exacerbate the broad superficial values of the TikTok community altogether.
It can be easy to get wrapped up in our individual pursuits for the hype. In doing so, we run the risk of ignoring our own smaller accomplishments and the achievements of those around us. Both on TikTok and in real life, we can spread positive hype by giving each other compliments and words of encouragement. Paying attention to the smaller details, such as your friend’s cute outfit or the perfect goal your teammate scored at practice, gives us the opportunity to spread the hype to one another, or even ourselves. By intentionally diversifying the types of behaviors and people that we hype, we can help create more supportive and inclusive communities in all areas of our lives.