Generational Insights from TikTok

For old heads and people living under rocks, TikTok is a social media app that allows people to post (usually 10 seconds to one minute) of content. Very similar to the app Vine that was a big deal circa 2015-16. TikToks can be comedy sketches, informational blips, recipes, and generally anything. TikTok has a remarkably care-free feeling about it (more on that later), and normal people have just as good a shot at stardom as the elite (well, perhaps not an equal shot, but disproportionately better than say Instagram or Twitter. Wealthy and famous people just have too much social capital for it to be anything other than a boon to a social media account). For the purposes of this article, I want to talk about interesting trends I have noticed from TikTok that point to a “new” type of young person as the teenage and young-adult torch is handed from Millennials to Gen Z.

Gender Wars 2.0

Millennials grew up in the “you go girl” era. Think of the HBO sitcom Girls. A wildly popular (and entertaining) show about leisure class women living it up, usually while showing the weak despicable men that frustrate them. Much of what we have seen in the Me Too Movement has been a (necessary) criticism of men and masculinity, largely from Gen X and Millennial women. In my experience, Millennial men are super cautious when it comes to women and relationships. Millennial men have been hearing for decades how women are smarter and better than men. Interestingly enough, that is borne out in the number of women going to college as opposed to men.

Here is where it gets interesting. TikTok is full of (mostly polite) banter between the sexes. But the cultural change with Gen Z as opposed to with Millennials is that Gen Z seems much more inclined to validate the importance and value of men. Videos that disparage men (or women) do not go down unopposed. I think this is great. My feeling is that Gen Z has seen the gender wars tear apart their families and communities, and they are searching better alternatives to hating each other. I know that this is anecdotal data, but I suspect that more scientific data will back me up soon enough. 🙂

Style and Self-Expression

BORING millennials in flared jeans circa 2006
A cooler and more eccentric Gen Z. Looks a lot like Gen X’ers in the late 80’s and early 90’s

Gen Z seems to resemble most closely their Gen X predecessors in their stylistic tastes. We see much more ripped jeans, goth, crop tops, interesting colors, and hats and beanies than we did with the Millennial generation. I think this will be with a concomitant relative rise in risky youth behavior (and a nicotine addiction thanks to companies like Juul). Millennials were a relatively tame cohort of young people. They had lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and are famously risk-averse.

Contrast that with Gen Z and the revival of cool. Gen Z has a budding nicotine addiction, mental health crisis, and I would suspect rising rates of other risk taking behaviors. Gen Z has embraced the “outcast” aesthetic. Think of popular rap stars from 2017-2020 such as Xxxtentacion, Post Malone, Tripe Redd, and 6ix9ine who have face tattoos. Even the most hardcore rappers of the 2000’s were reticent to sport face tattoos. Looking at Billie Eilish, Ava Max, and Dua Lipa, you can barely see a commonality to the Millennial darling Britney Spears. Both cohorts make sexualized music, but the Gen Z artists more closely resemble grunge and punk rock style.

As a curious person (and a teacher) TikTok has given very interesting insights into the next generation of teenagers and young adults. I, as a Millennial, am happy to see that our sullenness hasn’t completely consumed our successors. Just joking. Kind of.

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