Julian is a filmmaker and photographer. He received his M.A. in Communication from Wichita State and currently works for Yale University.
The Top 21 TikTok Trends of 2021
As a platform, TikTok runs through trends so fast it's hard to keep up with them unless you're on the app regularly. It's easy to miss them, and sometimes you might have witnessed a trend (whether directly through the app or even in person) without knowing it. Here's a look back on 21 defining trends that ran their course in 2021:
- Adult Swim Trend
- The "Alors on Danse" Trend
- "Nobody Knows" Trend
- Sea Shanty Trend
- "I'm Getting Ripped Tonight" Trend
- "Oh Lord" Trend
- "Girlfriend Hostage" Duet Chain
- "Into The Thick Of It" Trend
- Dua Lipa "I Want You" Trend
- "Hey, Don't Be Surprised If One Day I Just..." Trend
- "No No Son Of A Fuu-" Trend
- Make People Think It's A Picture Trend
- Bo Burnham "Buffering Laugh" Trend
- The "Look At Where You Came From, Look At You Now" Trend
- The "Stay" Trend
- The "Momma Said That It Was Okay" Trend
- The "John McGinnis Food Dance" Trend
- The Life Simulator Trend
- Oh No! Our Table! It's Broken!
- The Rock's "Face Off" Trend
1. The Adult Swim Trend
Starting the list on a more nostalgic note for many is this wonderful gem of a trend paying homage to late-night, adult-oriented cartoon programming. If you're not familiar with Adult Swim, they play short videos (called "bumpers") between their programming. These bumpers typically have white text (with their logo stylized [adult swim] or [as]), utilizes irreverent humor, and is meant to indicate that the programming is about to begin again.
Earlier this year, Tiktok users began putting making their own bumpers to a remixed song by VANO 3000, featuring users making creative sets, scenarios, and reveals for the logo.
In true TikTok fashion, the trend took off, and users started trying to "out-adult swim" each other by creating more and more elaborate and creative bumpers—and really, there were some truly impressive creations.
2. The "Alors on Danse" Trend
A dance trend on the chill side was started by @usimmango features a group of friends dancing easily to the song "Alors on Danse" by Stromae. In just a short while, the video had garnered 120 million views and inspired 3.6 million videos where people would mimic the group's dancing, many times using the original video in the background through the use of the green screen effect, making it seem like they were there dancing with the guys.
3. The "Nobody Knows" Trend
Featuring the song "Nobody" by Mitski, the Nobody Knows trend features self-deprecating humor where users run away from their problems, with the camera chasing them as if their problems are difficult to evade (reasonable, really). It's used as a way for users to show disgust as they run away from someone, or a habit, that they find distasteful.
4. The Sea Shanty Trend
One of the first big TikTok trends of 2021, the sea shanty began to make its viral rounds on the platform in January 2021 when Scottish musician Nathan Evans uploaded a rendition of the song an 1860s sea shanty of New Zealand orgins, to TikTok.
From there, it didn't take long for other users to spread Nathan's video through the use of TikTok's duet feature, creating their own covers, adding their own vocals to accompany Nathan's, or even making jokes about how incredibly catchy the song is.
A trend so explosive it caught the attention of Time Magazine, it was easily seen as a fun and uplifting trend to keep people's minds off the pandemic and the tumultuous year that preceded '21.
5. "I'm Getting Ripped Tonight" Trend
This trend started with a simple dance routine uploaded by TikTok user @ali.scyn set to a song by Doja Cat and StarBoi3 that features the line "I'm getting ripped tonight." It's been described as a relatively easy dance and was picked up by a number of users with huge followings and spread from there.
And on a more wholesome note, the phrase was used by New York City-based band Adam and the Metal Hawks in their TikTok uploads, most notably before various renditions of Jack Black's music in order to get the actor to duet with the band's videos.
This trend, like so many others, evolved from the individual dance it began as and transformed into a platform-based phrase used to allow other artists to creatively express their mediums and connect with other creators (like Jack Black!).
6. The "Oh Lord" Trend
This trend revolved around users sharing their existential thoughts or unsettling realizations through overlaid text set to audio from a 2007 Nike commercial featuring Lebron James, where he said the phrase "oh lord" before a dressed-up version of himself jumped into a swimming pool.
When used in the TikTok trend, the camera angle becomes increasingly erratic or further away from the subject as the soundtrack becomes higher pitched. This was often used to comedic effect as well.
7. The "Girlfriend Hostage" Duet Chain
This trend developed from a video posted on May 4th, 2021, by TikTok user @marcus.dipaola titled "Meet Brittany." Marcus' channel is dedicated to sharing breaking news with the TikTok community where he acts as the anchor bringing his followers the latest news. On May 4th, popularly known as Star Wars Day, Marcus enthusiastically introduced his followers to his girlfriend Brittany, and she appears to be sitting awkwardly in his lap in the video.
This led to a rabbit hole of comedic gold as other TikTokers began to use the platform's duet feature to add visual pieces to the original video to build a narrative in which Brittany is actually being held hostage. From adding limbs to the couple on screen all the way to creative additional perspectives (like the anchors covering the story to the White House press secretary briefing the media on the hostage situation), the duet chain became increasingly complex, absurd, and hilarious with each user tacking their part of the story onto the whole.
8. The "Into the Thick of It" Trend
An unreasonably catchy trend set to a song from the Nickelodeon show The Backyardigans, the "Into the thick of it" trend was one part lipsync challenge and one part dance trend. The lipsync version of the trend had TikTok users mouthing the words to the song without the track playing and then putting the song to their video after the fact to see how well their lipsyncing matched up.
And the dance portion of the trend incorporates two people: one sitting in front of the camera, usually with sunglasses on, and lipsycing to the song. The second person stands behind them and acts as if they are walking, and dancing to a remixed version of the song.
9. Dua Lipa "I Want You" Trend
This hilarious trend, set to Dua Lipa's song "Levitating" featuring DaBaby, has TikTokers attempting to venture out of their comfort zones before quickly falling back into their habits or breaking stereotypes and habits. In the trend, their old habits (such as ordering chicken strips at a restaurant instead of being adventurous) say "I want you," to which the user responds by lipsyncing the next "I want you, baby" lyric, indicating they're falling for their old habit or comfort zone after all.
10. "Hey, Don't Be Surprised If One Day I Just..." Trend
Meant to showcase a user's desires for their future aesthetic, this trend has users put up a montage of photos that are supposed to show what they desire their future to hold for them. One user might put a montage of beautiful landscapes to show their desire to travel, while another might show expensive houses or mansions to indicate their desire to live a lavish lifestyle.
Some users, of course, got sarcastic with the trend to comedic effect, but regardless of the aesthetic, the trend absolutely made its rounds on everyone's For You pages.
11. "No, No, Son of a Fuu-" Trend
In this trend, TikTok users put two decisions or actions on the screen, one desirable and the other undesirable. From there, they use the Time Warp Waterfall effect to make it look like they're reluctantly being pulled toward the unintended or undesirable side of the screen, often warping their body in the process due to the effect.
The audio comes from popular YouTuber jacksepticeye and perfectly fits the scenarios and expressions evoked in each of the hilarious versions of the trend.
12. Make People Think It's a Picture Trend
One of the simpler trends on the 2021 list, the "make people think it's a picture" trend is exactly as it sounds: users would remain as still as possible at the start of the video, in the hopes of tricking viewers into thinking it was a photograph, and then move when the beat of the song dropped, effectively proving that it was a video all along.
Though easily debatable as to whether or not some of them were actually stills or photos, a majority of people tried their best (or made sarcastic videos making fun of those who couldn't hold very still for the "photo" portion), and this trend solidly circulated around the app for a significant portion of the summer.
13. Bo Burnham "Buffering Laugh" Trend
When Bo Burnham's released his Netflix special "Inside," its incredible success made it no surprise that a number of TikTok trends sprouted from the content and ideas he had planted, which is also why this is the first of two Bo Burnham-inspired trends on this list!
The buffering trend utilizes TikTok's buffering feature used in time with Burnham's track "Welcome to the Internet," where users share shocking realizations or occurrences or everyday annoyances like workplace problems or buying groceries at the store.
14. The "Look at Where You Came From, Look at You Now" Trend
The second of two huge Bo Burnham trends, this song uses another of the tracks from his Netflix special "Inside" as the soundbed, the lyrics of this one revolving around former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
In this trend, users swap out Bezos' name for their own in their on-screen text as well as their birth year. When the line "look at where you came from, look at you now" happens, they put up back-to-back images of themselves—one when they're a child and a present-day photo to showcase how much they've grown.
15. The "Stay" Trend
This trend, while picked up by a number of people on the platform, was largely carried by one creator: @totouchanemu. The trend started after user @maxtaylorlift posted a video dancing to "Stay" by The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber, garnering millions of likes.
Totouchanemu's video started with him looking startled at the number like Max's video got, and then whipped into a montage of him getting his drone ready to fly before doing the same dance Max did in his video, letting us watch from the drone's perspective.
Totouchanemu has since been collaborating with many well-known TikTok creators with his signature video style for the trend, and those who have created similar videos follow the editing style he set up for them.
16. The "Momma Said That It Was Okay" Trend
Borrowing an excerpt of Lucas Graham's song "Mama Said," this trend lets users share something they do that might be questioned by other people, along with an explanation as to why they feel supported in what they do. When the line "mama said that it was quite alright" plays, they share photos of their idols or role models (and sometimes images of themselves when they were younger) doing the same thing to support their stance.
17. The "John McGinnis Food Dance" Trend
Similar to the "Stay" trend, this trend was carried by Canadian TikTok creator John McGinnis. The premise is simple: he finishes plating some food in front of the camera as a song plays (oftentimes, the food is piping hot), takes a bit of the food, and then begins dancing as the beat drop, holding one hand across his stomach and pumping the other hand to the beat.
John's videos circulated around the app like crazy during the latter part of 2021, and while many people jumped on the trend imitating his dance (even Gordon Ramsay paid tribute to the trend), nobody could hold a candle to the man who originated it himself.
18. The Life Simulator Trend
This video game-based trend uses a music track from the Square Enix game Life is Strange and features people attempting to leave a room or exit an area, but they can't, and a voiceover makes a vague statement hinting toward a task they need to complete before they can leave. Often used to incredibly comedic effect, this trend takes a ubiquitous video game trope and applies real-world and all-too-relatable instances to them.
19. Oh No! Our Table! It's Broken!
This trend seemed to explode out of nowhere and came from a 2016 submission to America's Funniest Home Videos in which a young boy breaks the family table by stacking bricks on it.
Once it found its way to TikTok, the sound quickly became part of at trend where people tried to lipsync to the audio without laughing and even remixed it.
20. The Rock's "Face Off" Trend
For several months at the end of 2021, the Face Off trend was everywhere—even in the comment sections of videos. Using an excerpt featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's feature on Tech N9ne's song "Face Off," it quickly became a meme and was used to mock "hustle culture" that The Rock typically exemplifies, especially through the aggressive lyrics oh his rap feature.
Users began attributing his line "it's about drive, it's about power" to more mundane things than pumping iron, from studying for exams to working out with Animal Crossing.
Ultimately, The Rock took it in stride (likely because the entire thing was a marketing campaign anyway, so even the "negative" feedback and attention accomplished his goals), and the lyrics to his verse could be found nearly ubiquitously in comment sections, too.
I don't know what to say about this one except that TikTok is a really odd place. A wonderfully creative playground, sure, but weird nonetheless. The Sheesh trend features audio of people saying "sheesh" (go figure, right?), usually in a high pitched tone, while typically making a gesture with their hands, originated by NBA player D'Angelo Russell, that means "ice in my veins."
The phrase is typically used to express surprise or excitement about something. If you've been anywhere in public this year with a lot of people, you've probably heard someone say the phrase in a high-pitched tone, reminiscent of the trend.
And as trends change and evolve as they circulate around the app, a new take on the trend emerged when user @veryveryvinny harmonized the "sheesh" vocals, which lead to a wider array of videos being created.
This trend tops the list for 2021, I would argue, because of its prevalence both on and off the app. It was fascinating to watch the trend take hold of TikTok by storm and even more fascinating to begin hearing people say "sheeeeesh!" when I was out in public at events and concerts. This trend was really the epitome of the way in which a digital trend originating on the app can make the transition in everyday interactions outside of TikTok, and that's amazing.
And that's just 21 of the TikTok trends that were peak 2021. Did I miss any that should have been included? Leave them in the comments!