October 6, 2020

TikTok trend: late 2000s revival (scene girls, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, pop punk)

As of this year, we've left the vulnerable / refractory phase of the 15-year excitement cycle, and entered the restless / warm-up phase -- the most recent one being the late 2000s. So it's only natural for there to be a revival and fondness for that mini-era today (the RAWRing '20s).

That revival is finally making its way into TikTok trends. Here is one that's already over 1 million views in a few days, along with two follow-up videos here and here. It's hard to call a "trend" with only one example, but something that insanely popular is bound to be repeated by others.

It's not just the references to pop culture of the time that make this a revival, but the social-emotional zeitgeist that she's channeling. Namely, one where guys and girls were starting to come out of their shells, after the refractory phase of the early 2000s, which we will see repeating over the next several years, after the refractory phase of the late 2010s. Her nurturing and encouraging role in rehabilitating her anon bf, and her fun-loving and free-spirited persona, are right out of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie of that time.

Since TikTok is for much younger users than other major online platforms, this is quasi-cosplay of one mini-generation by another, rather than those who were the main participants reminiscing about their own experiences. Girls in their late teens now were just kindergarteners in 2008.

There is a sweet spot for those born in the late '90s, though -- they were in middle school in the late 2000s, and could have easily gone through a scene-girl phase. And they're just in their early 20s, so re-enacting a youth culture would still fit with their current life stage (as opposed to trying to do so in their 30s or later).

I think even the original scene girls, who were born in the early '90s, could still pull off a re-enactment in their late 20s, if they haven't ruined their looks and energy levels in the meantime.

This is similar to the '80s revival of the late 2000s, BTW, which was mainly conducted by people born in the '80s and therefore too young to have participated in the teenage or adult culture of the time, but who were still alive and had memories of the zeitgeist. Only now, they were going to re-live the time as adolescents or young adults.

To close, a reminder that TikTok is the least politicized of the major platforms. Think of how easy it would've been for her to insert a reference to "that guy from The Apprentice" being the president. Instead she chose the coronavirus pandemic from today to emphasize how much better the good ol' days were.

Every politicized TikTok that you see on social media has been deliberately curated for hate-views by Millennials, whose online consumption habits are still stuck in the parasocial and parapolitical 2010s.

The largely Zoomer user base for TikTok doesn't know who RBG is, or that there's even an election about to happen. They're too engrossed in the coming-out-of-your-shell zeitgeist -- simple step dances, calling your crush, kissing your best friend, and playing an earthly guardian angel role to your down-but-not-out bf. None of these feature parasocial personas with armies of followers who remain glued to whatever their idol is doing at the moment, but are super-individual trends whose viral stars may never have another big moment.

If you're a Millennial driving yourself crazy from social media, you're doing it to yourself, to compete for cyber-status with your fellow Millennial online striver peers. Ditch Twitter and start a blog if you want to do something cerebral, or make wholesome fun TikTok videos for mindless corporeal entertainment. In other words, RETVRN to the late 2000s online culture, where early YouTube was like TikTok.


  1. tfw no down-but-not-out bf to rehabilitate #mpdgproblems

  2. When she leans in to share her earbuds so you can listen to a band that no one's heard of yet -- that's a perfect echo of the scene in Garden State where the protag meets the MPDG for the first time.

    The headphones were still the huge honking type back in 2004, so she had to give over the set to him, and she couldn't hear it at the same time. Whereas the earbuds in the TikTok allow her to share the music between the two of them simultaneously. Nice embellishment. (Pretty sure she was playing them from an mp3 player back in '04 as well.)

    This has to be a case of independent convergence, because she drops so many overt pop culture references -- why not also name-drop "Garden State," or choose the song to be by The Shins to reference that movie, rather than Owl City? Garden State wasn't a staple of scene / emo culture, and she probably hasn't seen it. But given how similar her TikTok character and motivation is to a MPDG from the mid-late 2000s, she arrived at the exact same behavior.

    That goes to show that this isn't "just a LARP," that it's mainly a repetition of a phase in a cycle, so that each time a particular phase happens, it produces similar outcomes, without conscious or deliberate attempts to copy earlier incarnations of the current phase.


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