If you’ve been on the internet for a long time, you’ve probably seen the creation and popularization of many fandom spaces. Online forums and wikis, Tumblr, Reddit, Archive of Our Own (AO3), and Twitter have all been places that fans gather to discuss the things they love, to argue and to create their own fan content. Recently, TikTok has taken on a somewhat transformative role in how fandom functions.
In other fan spaces, there have always been limits to their role within fandom. AO3 is for fanfiction (and occasionally fanart), while Reddit and Twitter are for fan discussion and theorizing. Tumblr takes somewhat combines all of these elements, while also making it easy to post gifs and promote work from other sites. Even it has its downsides, though. You have to curate your own internet experience and filter through the stuff you don’t care about. Try going on a Tumblr tag and not finding it overwhelmed by its most popular couple or white boy of the month. You can’t.
TikTok, which, if you somehow don’t know, is a popular app that allows users to create 15 – 60 second videos. It’s renowned for its algorithm’s ability to figure out who you are and what you like, barely ever serving up unwanted content past the first week of use. I’ve never had a Charli D’Amelio video come across my For You page, and she’s one of the app’s most popular creators! TikTok serves up ultra-specific content that can be tailored — sometimes uncomfortably — to your identity.
The app has a user-friendly video-making and editing system, as well accompanying apps that allow users to automatically caption their videos (making them accessible to everyone and easy to watch with the sound off). Anyone can turn on their camera and talk about the latest episode of WandaVision, or do a silly sketch impersonating their favourite characters, or use the “duet” feature to act out full scenes with other cosplayers.
TikTok has all the functions of previous fandom spaces but with an algorithm that keeps unfavourable content from the same fandom off of your screen. After showing me a string of Reylo (Rey and Kylo Ren from Star Wars) content, TikTok quickly figured out that I did not want to see that content. Now, I just get Star Wars content that I would otherwise have to dig for on Tumblr.
The app also allows for more unique forms of transformative works! Lately, there has been a proliferation of musical projects on TikTok. You may have heard of the Ratatouille Musical, which was somewhat on the jokey side and not very consistent tonally, but other creators have been committing time to write, compose, and cast musicals based on their media of choice. Most popular are Katherine Lynn-Rose’s Avatar: The Last Airbender musical and most recently Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear’s Bridgerton musical.
While fan works like these are nothing new, the ability for anyone to put their work out there and have it delivered directly to people who want to see it gives them a greater chance of exposure and support. This is especially valuable during a time when in-person conventions aren’t feasible, but it’s also great for those who don’t have the time and resources to attend such events. It isn’t perfect, but mark my words, the future of fandom can be found on TikTok.