The Rise of the Machines

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TikTok

I recently joined TikTok. I was really resistant to it for a long time. A friend showed me the app back in February 2020. I tried using it but found it too frantic and frenzied for my fragile synapses. I felt a tangible sense of anxiety, it felt like eating too much candy. It made me think of the Tricky lyric “MTV moves too fast / I refuse to understand.” Oh, how quaint his pre-millennium tension seems today. I was disturbed by the idea that I might be forced to sing and dance to stay relevant. I quickly deleted the app.

Turns out I was wrong! There’s room for a little bit of everything on TikTok. The same nerdy, granular posts that I write for this newsletter could be synthesized into short clips and appreciated in a similar way over there. That doesn’t mean I’ll be quitting music and writing to move to LA so I can join the Hype House or whatever but it just goes to show that you shouldn’t limit the methods you use to translate your ideas. There’s more creativity on this side of the internet than I thought there was.

Don’t get it twisted, it still has some problems. When I first started using it, it was only showing me content that was pre-selected for the Average Male, meaning I exclusively got porn star memes, sports videos and dirty jokes. Once I started searching for my interests and liking specific things, the machine learning kicked in and started sending me stuff I liked: music producer memes, anti-capitalist screeds, rap jokes, racial commentary, song recommendations. Had I not made that adjustment, I’d still be getting toxic yet extremely addictive content blasted into my temporal cortex on a daily basis.

The algorithm also still seems to favour young, white, pretty people, just like the rest of society. Smiling is encouraged. Nuance is not prioritized. Eight to thirteen second videos are more likely to get boosted by the algorithm. Marketing language abounds, with creepily successful teenagers extolling the virtues of using the right hook to keep someone from scrolling away after a split second. Children are on here talking about “leading with value” and “establishing a pain point” like seasoned advertising execs. Most people are on the app are trying to hit a viral home run, which actually seems tantalizingly possible in a way that it isn’t on other platforms.

As a jaded geriatric millennial outsider, I used to perceive TikTok as the most artificial of all social media apps. But what I’ve come to learn is that the Gen Z kids who use it actually prize authenticity over everything. They appreciate true expressions of personality that aren’t prioritized on Instagram, the app that platforms aspirational gestures, virtue signaling, selling products and faking it until you make it over all else.

TikTok is parent-proof. The app is impenetrable and hard to pin down, constantly moving and shifting. Creating videos on the app has a moderate learning curve that selects out your average uncle sending Facebook Messenger spam. It takes me an hour or longer to produce a 30-40 second video (any film producer looking for the next great editor should be watching the kids on this app). Scrolling on TikTok can feel like trying to collect water from a rushing faucet with your hands. It’s like watching culture in motion, seeing the jokes and memes trickling down onto the rest of the internet days and weeks later.

TikTok harkens back to the golden age of Tumblr where you could see young people constructing their taste profiles in real time. Vaporwave is currently trending like it never happened before. City pop is actively blowing people’s minds. They just discovered MF DOOM after his death and have turned him into something memeable. It’s charming to see how basic kids can be on there, watching them make lists of the most obvious “alternative” albums possible. You don’t really see this kind of open sharing of interests online anymore so I’m all for it.

I find it very freeing to just post videos of myself rapping on there. There isn’t really room for performing like that online, where people actually want to see you do your thing. I’ve been enjoying doing duets with random producers and beatmakers. I’m gonna try and do at least one every day as a fun way of practicing and experimenting with different flows. I feel like I’m the last artist to take the leap but now that I’m using the app, I finally see the potential it has as a creative outlet.

Come watch me experiment on TikTok here

Happy to announce that I’m going on a US tour with my rap brother Fat Tony this fall. Can’t believe I have some actual shows planned, it’s emotional for me to imagine myself performing live again. Here’s the dates:

9/30 - Denver, CO - Hi-Dive
10/2 - Chicago, IL - The Empty Bottle
10/3 - Cleveland, OH - Beachland Tavern
10/6 - Brooklyn, NY - The Sultan Room
10/8 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl
10/13 - Houston, TX - White Oak Music Hall (Upstairs)
10/15 - Austin, TX - Far Out Lounge
10/16 - Fort Worth, TX - Wild Acre Live
10/20 - Los Angeles, CA - Zebulon
10/21 - San Francisco, CA - Bottom of the Hill
10/22 - Portland, OR - Polaris Hall
10/23 - Seattle, WA - Clock Out

Get your tickets here, can’t wait to see y’all IRL!

This is the homegirl Jayemkayem rocking the Parallel World shirt, which is shipping now. Seeing them out in the wild has been really fun so far.

You can find me at my website, updating my playlist or on TwitterInstagramSpotifyApple Music, Bandcamp…… AND TIKTOK. I usually DJ on Twitch every Saturday but my laptop died (possibly from streaming). I’ll be back soon!