Lurking on Live: TikTok
👋 molly soda joined
Before we begin, I’m screening a selection of my video work alongside Cory Arcangel and Mike Kelley on November 2nd at Cinema Village. The event is hosted by NPCC and starts at 11pm. Buy tickets here. 💞
I’m longing for someone to write something thoughtful about TikTok LIVE. Interfacing with this side of the app feels like being on a completely different platform with its own set of rules, language, and forms of engagement. TikTok LIVE received some attention this summer during the rise of the NPC livestream, where streamers perform stock reactions, mechanically and repeatedly, as items are gifted to them by viewers. Even that didn’t seem to result in much beyond everyone discussing how weird they thought the fad was.
The NPC trend has died down, but that was never the most unusual thing on the platform to begin with. I scroll past streams of people selling wigs; hamsters running on high speed wheels while techno music plays in the background; women wearing numbers and dancing on command; karaoke singers refusing to sing until 200 viewers join; people begging others to debate them on various hot button issues. Being on LIVE feels like looking into an uncomfortable simulation of the future.
Currently, I’m teaching a class on live streaming at NYU. As I prepare for my lecture on platforms, I’m going to write about some streams I watched on TikTok. I want to give credit to Genevieve Belleveau, whose What I Saw On Live series directly inspired my desire to document these fleeting experiences.
LIVE HOST! HIT THAT 🔔 Mindful Enthusiast, Interior Designer, Mom of 3! 👇
Out of all the live streaming platforms, TikTok LIVE feels the most directly concerned with making money. Ranking, gifting, pinning, and subscribing all stimulate an individual stream’s economy. While other platforms feel more opaque financially, TikTok LIVE builds it into its infrastructure, influencing the nature of the streams themselves.
A woman with blonde hair and glasses sits in the corner of a room in front of a potted plant hanging in a macrame holder. There is purple mood lighting behind her. It seems the entire purpose of this live is for users to grow their accounts and follow each other back.
“We are increasing our accounts and showing support for one another on our content,” she alerts new viewers as they come in.
A user named Sara Jean sends 30 roses. The host thanks her and addresses the 270 people watching, “She’s performing for y’all.” Sara Jean has now sent 40 roses.
The chat consists of users tagging each other. At one point, I ask what this is and another user tags me. The host encourages everyone to “work the chat.”
Sarah Michelle Wong @sarah.michelle.wong
💜Transformation Coach✝️🦖Diny Fam🦖👑🔴LIVE DAILY 6&10PM EST 👇 WORK WITH ME
I’ve seen this one before. A woman is sitting in a room surrounded by stuffed animals with extra large eyes. A neon dinosaur sign hangs on the wall behind her. What looks like a galaxy light, the kind that you see advertised in the comments of a viral tweet, is lighting up the room. Soft piano music plays in the background. A candle flickers in the foreground. She holds up a handmade sign that says “I AM HOLDING SILENT SPACE SHARE WHATEVER YOU NEED ❤️ ALL ARE WELCOME ❤️”
There are 881 people in the room. The comment section moves quickly.
Ur so pretttyyyyyyyy omggg
I have no clue what my purpose in life is. I feel so empty
When i fard i shid sometimes
I’m tired of being Angry all the time
I need help, bad.
I wish I was a better person.
She sways back and forth, nods, and sighs a little.
I feel I don’t belong even though they say I do
Whats up YALL👀👀👀
If I could do it again I still would in hopes you’d finally do right but apart of me knows you-
Im tired im so tired
It looks as if she is wiping away a tear. She sniffles and taps the camera.
Are you okay? You look sad
I can’t understand why my dad doesn’t love me
Why wasn’t I enough? Why wasn’t my love enough? Why wasn’t my faith in YOU…enough?
My boyfriend of two years best friends of 6 years…wants to do distance after living together 1yr😭
I’m trapped in a loveless marriage we haven’t posted each other in over a year
Your gorgeous girl
Just trying to be happy
I feel stuck
I’m crying right now
I self sabotage and I’m sick of it
This is boring and depressing
She makes a heart with her hands and points at her username. Someone sends a gift of a moon kissing a star with the words “goodnight” over it. She whispers, “Thank you.”
💚slaylien from mars💚 LIVE Monday-Thursday 9/10pm Central
I would say that I’m a SLAYLIEN fan. I’ve stumbled upon their live streams a few times. They dance in a full body green alien costume. There is nothing in the room. I imagine they are in a suburban home somewhere with an empty room designated only for TikTok. The same galaxy light from the previous stream is happening here as well.
There are 60 viewers. Everyone is leaving encouraging comments as they watch the alien lift their hands over their head, swaying their hips from side to side. A Kehlani song from the Suicide Squad soundtrack starts to play and they make a coy gesture by putting their hands in front of their mouth. They dance against the wall and then drop down to the floor. Someone in the chat asks if they take requests.
‧͙⁺˚*･☾༓☆𝕸𝖆𝖗☆༓☽･*˚⁺‧͙ · @Cyb3rc0wg1rl
@cyb3rbr4tz is my makeup acc🤠
Some of my favorite live streams are of people at their jobs. I ended up watching this one for the longest amount of time. A young woman with complicated makeup and facial piercings is streaming from her job at a 24-hour smoke shop. She’s wearing two different colored contacts, one black and one white.
A customer walks in; off camera, she tries to exchange a vape that isn’t charging. There are 497 people in the room. We watch as she tells the customer that all sales are final. When the customer begins to walk away, she looks back at the camera and rolls her eyes a little. She proceeds to walk the phone around the counter and show the audience a large red and white sign on the front of the register that reads, “ALL SALES FINAL NO REFUNDS NO EXCHANGES.” She points at the words with her long black fingernails as she reads them out loud.
She casually interacts with the chat, answering questions about her piercings and whether or not she asks for ID. Whenever a new customer walks in, it feels like she’s being disturbed, like when you’re a teenager and your parents knock on the door while you and your friends are hanging out. Two performances are happening: one for the viewer, another for the person inside the store. Sometimes they happen simultaneously, when she glances at the camera while she waits for a customer to make a purchase. We as the viewer are in on it, the customer is not.
Gelle trends closet @twingky22
Your Original cartoon seller😉 GO SIS! CHECK IT OUT 😍
I can’t end this roundup without acknowledging the breadth of DIY Home Shopping Network style videos that are rampant on the platform. At any given time jewelry, hair care, wigs, clothing, and even handmade pottery are being sold via live stream. I also must acknowledge how cursed (for lack of a better term) scrolling LIVE can feel. There are some really uncanny, bizarre things happening on the app that perhaps I can approach in a future post, “Cursed Images: TikTok LIVE Edition.” For now, I’ll recount a small sliver.
A woman stands in the corner of a room in front of a dress form that has a beige dress on it. She is wearing what appears to be a dark brown version of the same dress. Her face is obscured by a filter meant to make you look like you’re a character in the Disney movie Frozen or any Disney CGI movie for that matter. The filter seems to be affecting the pitch of her voice, making her sound child-like. She holds up a tube dress with a rose pattern on it. Later, she begins to model the outfit she is wearing. She lifts up a flap to reveal there are shorts built into the dress. She speaks quickly in another language, the only words I can make out are “comment down below.”