Left to Right: Ian Jeevan (@ianjeevan), Isaac Lim (@iz_cream), and Joy Chongmin (@joychongmin).
It used to be Vine, followed by Musical.ly and finally, it’s time to hop onto the TikTok hype train. Be it dancing to a viral “TikTok song”, uploading videos about “hidden gems” in Singapore, or showcasing hidden talents, TikTok is the up-and-coming social media platform for those seeking a creative outlet, and for those looking for quick entertainment.
Since its founding in 2016, TikTok has become one of the largest social media platforms with over 689 million active monthly users as of July 2020, and its user base is still growing. In the month of June 2021 alone, 56 million users downloaded the application.
What keeps users hooked is TikTok’s sophisticated algorithm that pushes well-tailored content to its users based on their preferences. Matched with a variety of editing functions that give content creators creative freedom to express themselves, Tiktok has become home to a range of viral hits, turning some individuals into influencers almost overnight.
To find out more about the platform and its impact on those blessed with newly-found fame, I spoke to three up-and-coming TikTokers — Joy ChongMin (@joychongmin), Isaac Lim (@iz_cream) and Ian Jeevan (@ianjeevan).
These three notable TikTok figures have raked in a fair amount of views and likes, proving that people resonate with their content. Additionally, based on hypeauditor.com, Jeevan and Isaac both rank in the top 100 most followed accounts on TikTok in Singapore.
The rise to stardom
During the circuit breaker in March 2020, bored with nothing to do after her A-level exams, Joy decided to upload her first TikTok video after scrolling through the platform.
“I just made TikToks for fun… (and) decided on dancing because it’s my passion although I can’t really dance — it’s more of a hobby,” said the now year two Business student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), adding that TikTok dances are easier to pick up.
At first, she doubted anyone would view her TikToks — until a video of her dancing in a Halloween costume with her friends in Nov 2020 went viral. As of Aug 25, her viral hit has over 10.2 million views and 446,000 likes, and Joy has slightly over 44,900 followers on the platform.
Just as bored while trapped at home during the circuit breaker, fellow TikToker Jeevan joined the platform to entertain himself and his friends. What was meant to just be a way to pass the time turned into a jackpot in July 2020 when he created a TikTok video — featuring a classroom management technique he used while working as a relief teacher previously — which went viral in Singapore and the United States with nearly two million views.
Riding the wave of virality, the year four Singapore Management University student maintained his popularity by continuing to upload relatable and comedic content for his more than 114,000 TikTok followers.
Some of this content includes his comedic Vaishnavi series, in which he re-enacts plots of Vasantham shows as the lead characters, and his relatable classroom series such as questions students would commonly ask their teachers or what students often do during lessons.
As for year two NTU Chemistry student Isaac, he started off just viewing TikTok for months in 2020 before he uploaded a video of his ‘glow up’ on Christmas Eve in 2020.
“I just scrolled through (the application) and didn’t produce any content (at first). But after a few months, I decided to try because it looked fun… when my first video went viral, I continued posting more and more,” said the 23-year-old.
Things started picking up for him when Oli London — an English Internet personality known for his numerous plastic surgeries to look like K-pop star Jimin of BTS — commented on his videos about his good looks. In response, he “roasted” London in a video that quickly went viral.
“After Oli London (interacted with me), I started this whole series which brought a lot of attention to my page. It was both good publicity and fun… it helped (spurr) my creative side,” said Isaac, who has had a slew of viral hits since he started uploading on the platform.
He now creates content for his more than 462,000 TikTok followers based on current trends, and has been frequently posting videos of himself dressed up in a maid costume with cat ears as part of his well-received cat-maid boy series.
The invisible pressure
While they have huge smiles plastered on their face during these short clips, it masks the pressure TikTokers face behind the scenes.
At the peak of her TikTok fame, Joy felt that her TikTok views and likes were indicative of her happiness. She started feeling a strong urge to make TikToks deep into the night during her school semester which resulted in her “grades taking a hit”.
For every TikTok she uploads, around 20 to 30 takes are rejected and end up in the trash. While some TikTok clips are created within 30 minutes, others can take up to an hour, she said.
What began as a platform to create content for fun slowly became a source of stress for Joy. She admitted that when she first started gaining popularity, she felt that her life was “going downhill” if her videos did not get as many views as her previous uploads.
The pressure to “not waste” the sudden popularity of his videos had an impact on Jeevan. As he struggled to constantly produce content while ensuring they were as good, or even better, than his previous videos, he found himself allocating little time for rest as he was “posting nearly everyday”.
“Trends are so fast on TikTok. It moves from one trend to another, one creator to another. You might become irrelevant and there is that pressure there”, said Isaac. In order to keep up with TikTok trends, he scrolled through the platform for hours everyday.
At one point, he felt so drained from producing content that he decided to take a three week hiatus in June from the platform. When Isaac came back from his break, he had rejuvenated his passion to continue creating TikToks.
Similarly to Isaac, Joy bounced back and stayed positive when she realised that “views were merely just a number”. As for Jeevan, he managed to find the suitable pace to post.
“I’m not a machine and if I rush to post everyday, the quality (of my videos) would be affected,” said Jeevan.
“I don’t think TikTok is the right platform to boost your confidence.”
Despite receiving largely positive and supportive comments from his viewers, Isaac opened up about how posting TikTok videos may sometimes take a toll on one’s mental health.
He said that every TikTok video posted “always (has) the possibility that it does not get as many views as expected, or even run the risk of attracting negative attention and hate comments.” In turn, content creators may feel a dip in their self confidence.
Unlike Isaac, Joy feels a boost in her confidence whenever she posts on TikTok. However, she believes that this might not be an ideal way to gain confidence as she finds validation from the Internet to be “somewhat bad”.
“Validation should come from yourself,” she adds.
To make matters worse, it is a common occurrence for hate comments to flood certain TikTok videos for no proper reason, exacerbated by TikTok’s ease of anonymity. This influx of negative comments can impact the content creators’ confidence — something which Jeevan adds that he’s learnt to “drown out”.
“I hope I don’t ever get cancelled…”
While Joy said that “negative comments are unavoidable anyways” and keeps herself positive regardless of the hate, she also admitted she has a fear of getting cancelled.
More often than not, many Tiktokers have found themselves treading on thin ice as many careers have ended instantaneously for content that others deemed offensive, be it intentional or not. “I hope I don’t ever get cancelled…”, said Joy, and added that she worries that she might “unknowingly offend a handful of viewers”.
Cancel culture is when someone does something that is considered offensive and internet users decide to “cancel” these offenders on social media, with the intention to bring down one’s reputation.
Similar to Joy, Jeevan also shared that he feared making a mistake online. ”When you make a mistake publicly, people will hold you accountable publicly”, he said.
Having been active on TikTok for over a year, Jeevan has met fellow Singaporean TikTokers who have been cancelled for using “certain terms that are deemed offensive by the society”. Furthermore, some families of these TikTokers have even faced backlash for their actions.
Beyond the hate
Despite the cons of Tiktok, Joy still sees the platform as a way to express her creativity and relieve pent up stress. Apart from feeling satisfied and accomplished whenever her TikTok videos are well received, Joy likes how TikTok has the flexibility of allowing her to consume a variety of content with different genres such as comedy.
As for Jeevan, he continues making videos on TikTok as he enjoys posting light-hearted content and wants his viewers to feel positive, hoping to bring a smile to their faces. Besides forming new relationships, the platform has opened up other exciting opportunities for him such as brand sponsorships and appearing on TV, which he said have been “unexpected but exciting”.
Isaac finds motivation by aiming to achieve his goal — building a community that can watch movies and play games together via the messaging platform, Discord.
“I use TikTok to grow my community in that sense, and having a community is kind of fun. It’s also rewarding for me to see my community grow,” he said.
Isaac has also joined WahBanana, a local Youtube channel, as a talent. TikTok is both a part-time job and hobby for the content creator, who also added that using the platform helps him grow his brand image.
What it takes
When asked if the trio had any advice for budding TikTok content creators, Jeevan’s immediate response was for content creators to find out “what your purpose is, (and) don’t let fame be your main driver.” He suggested everyone to have a few goals in mind, such as creating a difference and having a good impact on others.
“Don’t be caught up in the whole popularity, followers, likes, all that. It’s not a space that’s healthy,” said Jeevan. He also encourages aspiring TikTokers to not compare themselves to others as that can affect one’s mental health.
Joy shared a similar point that content creators should just post whatever they want to post, rather than compare themselves to others. “If you don’t feel like making TikTok videos, it’s okay to take a break.”
Isaac emphasises that one should always prioritise their own mental wellbeing, and not to be swept up by the pressure to constantly create content.
Referencing his own three week break from the platform, he said: “TikTok will not leave you in that short span where you go on a holiday and come back”.
At the end of the day, TikTok is a platform that has opened up new opportunities for many like Joy, Jeevan and Isaac — yet it also has its drawbacks such as on the content creator’s mental health.
Whether you are an aspiring creator or just a casual commenter, remember that behind the screen are everyday people.